It’s evident over the past few weeks the Celtics have turned themselves into buyers before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, so it would be disappointing if president of basketball operations Brad Stevens doesn’t make a move to enhance the roster.
The Celtics have been working the phones. According to an NBA source, the club is working on a package to acquire Orlando swingman Terrence Ross, who has one more year left on his contract, with Dennis Schröder, another player and likely a draft pick headed to the Magic.
Celtics fans should be familiar with Ross, who has given Boston fits over the years with his scoring barrages and is the perfect instant offense the team needs to come off the bench.
The organization initially believed the bench would be enough with Schröder, Josh Richardson and a combination of Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith but it hasn’t worked out.
Schröder was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate two years ago in Oklahoma City but his splits as a starter and reserve for the Celtics are so drastically different that it appears bringing him off the bench would be a detriment.
Schröder is averaging 18.6 points, 48.6 percent shooting and 38.1 percent from the 3-point line in 25 games as a starter compared with 9.9. 36.8 and 29.7 in 24 games as a reserve. What’s more, Schröder’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is 114 as a starter and 95 as a reserve.
With an expiring contract and the collective bargaining agreement only allowing the Celtics to offer 120 percent of his $5.89 million salary, Schröder is most likely to be traded, especially since the club isn’t certain his presence will boost their chances down the stretch.
The Magic are in total rebuild mode, and they don’t seem an appropriate fit for Ross, who turned 31 on Feb. 5, has watched his minutes decrease this season as the club tries to implement younger players. There isn’t much use for an offensive sparkplug when the primary goal isn’t winning games.
And despite a subpar season, Ross managed to score a season-high 33 points against the Celtics at TD Garden last month.
“I think we have a lot of room to improve with who we are,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. “We’ve been whole for the last 10 [games] or so and we’re playing the right way. Some of the early season losses that we had and being competitive in those without all of our personnel stung a little bit early.
“Myself and Brad, we’re having dialogue, seeing names being floated out there and we’re always talking about what we can do to improve.”
Stevens has been active on the phones, realizing the Celtics don’t need to make a blockbuster move to turn the roster into a legitimate NBA Finals competitor. They would be far from the favorites, but a streak of six consecutive wins along with other Eastern teams going through considerable struggles has the Celtics within 4½ games of the top spot with 26 to play.
The starting lineup — specifically Marcus Smart — has proven capable enough to not only compete against, but beat contenders. But the bench has faltered in recent games, with Udoka unable to rely on anyone consistently besides Richardson and Grant Williams.
Pritchard may soak up some of Schröder’s backup point guard minutes if he is traded but Nesmith — who is 6 for 40 from the 3-point range since Dec. 7 — has not proven to be reliable, leaving his status in the organization in question despite being a first-round pick less than two years ago.
Teams may request players such as Langford, another former first-rounder, and Nesmith because their economical contracts are under organization control for a few more years. The question is whether Stevens will be as reluctant as his predecessor Danny Ainge to part with former draft picks and prospects.
Ainge packed the previous roster with younger players Stevens couldn’t use in crunch time or in key situations. Udoka is in a similar position because it’s apparent he doesn’t trust the trio of Langford, Nesmith and Pritchard. Pritchard would be the player the Celtics are most reluctant to part with because he’s shown the ability to score and play point guard.
Stevens also has several trade exceptions to use in deals such as the $6.8 exception from the Kemba Walker deal or a $5 million exception from the trade of Daniel Theis to the Chicago Bulls. The $17.1 exception created by the sign-and-trade with Evan Fournier going to the Knicks is likely to be tabled until the offseason because of its size.
Those trade exceptions could be paired with players to execute deals and Stevens will most certainly become creative with those exceptions to upgrade the roster. Another lingering concern for Stevens is staying below the luxury tax. It will be fascinating over the next 18 hours to see if Stevens gets approval by Celtics ownership to become a tax team with the right deal.
Yet, there are a handful of players on the trade market who are reasonable enough for the Celtics to use Schröder’s contract — and perhaps another player — to facilitate a deal and boost a hot team down the stretch.
Ross is the Celtics’ primary target as trade talks intensify, but it’s uncertain what the Magic will want in return, and how many suitors will be in the running for Ross.