If the Boston Celtics managed to get Nikola Vucevic, he would immediately be their best big man.
But there are a whole lot of reasons why such a trade probably won’t happen.
Vucevic is among the best centers in the NBA. In addition to doing the typical things you’d expect from such a player — rim protection, solid rebounder, etc. — he actually can shoot from outside the paint. That alone would represent an upgrade over what the Celtics have now.
He’s also in the middle of a career year, averaging 24.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. In years past it would have cost a lot to acquire him, and the way he’s playing only will make him more difficult to get.
The 30-year-old is on a pretty good contract, one the Celtics could fit in with the trade exception they received in the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade. That is appealing, since there won’t be a bunch of salary matching needed in order to get a deal done.
But the problem is what the Celtics would have to give up in such a case. Since they don’t necessarily need to send out a ton of money, they could hold on to a Marcus Smart type. Fine, but you would think the Magic are going to want, at the very least, both a first-round pick and some collection of useful roster players.
Again, Vucevic is good, so giving them a first-rounder and Carsen Edwards probably won’t get it done.
For the sake of making the fit work, Boston would likely have to part with one of its centers — Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson or Robert Williams. Besides, keeping all of them plus adding Vucevic would make rotations complicated.
The model that comes to mind is what the Indiana Pacers did with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, but they learned relatively quickly those two couldn’t coexist as well as they thought. The Celtics doing Vucevic-Thompson or Vucevic-Theis might pan out the same way.
Theis is on an expiring deal, so the Magic probably won’t want him. Thompson is an unrestricted free agent after next season. And, wouldn’t you know it, Williams is blossoming into a really solid big man. If the Magic didn’t demand him in return, especially since they’re giving up an impact center, they would be stupid.
But Williams and a first-rounder alone also is unlikely to be enough, so then you’re adding another piece. The Celtics at times look lost without Smart, so he’s probably not the one to move. Then you look at their bench prospects: Edwards, Grant Williams, Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard and Romeo Langford come to mind (no, the Celtics can’t just palm off Jeff Teague on the Magic).
Edwards has underperformed. So, no. Grant Williams has been versatile and useful, but he’s a little redundant in a trade package that already includes Robert Williams. Pritchard has been arguably the most effective bench player for the Celtics this season, and they’re still trying to figure out what they have in Nesmith. Langford also has been hurt most of his NBA career (and hasn’t played at all this season), so the Magic might be reticent to do that.
So we’d guess you’re looking at a first-rounder, Robert Williams and another youngster — probably Pritchard or Nesmith.
And while you might be sitting there thinking, “OK, I would do a first-rounder, Williams and a prospect,” among the Celtics’ biggest issues this season has been utter ineffectiveness on the bench. Giving up all of that for Vucevic is a lot, and it still might not be enough. So at what point is the bloodletting of the bench and draft capital too much given what we know about this year’s Celtics? Not only that, but trading first-rounders obviously will impact their ability to continue to build toward the future.
Danny Ainge hasn’t done a good enough job this season building the roster. Adding Vucevic makes sense in a lot of ways, and if nothing else would get some Celtics fans to pipe down for a little bit, but it wouldn’t solve all their problems. In some case, it would only exacerbate them.