With one surprising trade request, Nets star Kyrie Irving ensured that most of the buzz ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline will be centered on Brooklyn. The Celtics have to be breathing a sigh of relief that Irving is the Nets’ problem now, but the front office is still expected to have a busy week ahead as it looks to refine the roster.
It would be a mistake to expect any sweeping changes. Boston has the best record in the NBA and remains the favorite to win the championship in June. There is no need for an overhaul. But there are always opportunities for minor upgrades.
Jayson Tatum has been overworked and Sam Hauser has come back to earth after a hot start, so the Celtics could probably use some wing depth. Robert Williams is injury-prone and Al Horford turns 37 in June, so while Luke Kornet has been serviceable a new third big man would not hurt. The guard depth seems sufficient. On most other teams, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White would start, and Payton Pritchard would be in the regular rotation.
For matching purposes, injured forward Danilo Gallinari’s $6.5 million salary this season could be a valuable piece for Boston in any deal. The Celtics also have several expiring trade exceptions with which to work, most notably the $5.9 million exception that was created when Dennis Schroder was sent to the Rockets last February. But the Celtics do not own their first-round pick this year because they traded it to the Pacers last summer in the Brogdon deal.
With that in mind, here are five options president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and his staff might want to consider.
Stevens has already shown an inclination to reunite with familiar players. During his first year in the front office, he reacquired Horford and center Daniel Theis, who both played for him when he was coach. Stevens likes Olynyk, the sweet-shooting 7-footer who spent his first four NBA seasons with the Celtics.
Olynyk, who is making $12.8 million this season with the Jazz, has one season remaining on his three-year deal, but just $3 million is guaranteed for 2023-24. He is shooting 40.4 percent from the 3-point line and would give the Celtics a scoring dynamic they don’t get with Williams or Kornet.
This would be a fascinating negotiation, since former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is now in charge of the Jazz. He still has close ties to Boston and his son Austin remains an assistant general manager. And everyone knows how much Danny Ainge likes to stockpile future trade assets.
The 27-year-old Spurs big man is averaging 12 points and 9.1 rebounds while playing just 26 minutes. He is not a perimeter threat, but he is an excellent post player and a good defender. The asking price could be hefty for a player who might not even be part of the Celtics’ long-term future, though, as Poeltl will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and Horford and Williams are both on multi-year contracts.
Stevens and Spurs coach/president Gregg Popovich have made their mutual admiration clear, and they have been willing trade partners over the past year. The Spurs traded White to the Celtics last February, and Boston sent Noah Vonleh to San Antonio in a cash-saving move in December.
▪ Javonte Green: This is a good example of a player who would make sense to target, except for the fact that he probably wouldn’t be part of the Celtics’ condensed playoff rotation. Another former Celtic who played for Stevens, Green is an excellent wing defender and is also shooting a career-best 38.2 percent from the 3-point line for the Bulls this season.
Green has been sidelined since Jan. 1 because of a knee injury but is expected to return soon. He’s making just $1.8 million this season and would easily fit into one of Boston’s smaller trade exceptions. He’s also close friends with Tatum, and the organization has done all it can to appease its franchise player.
The 31-year-old is a dependable 3-and-D wing for the Pistons and is shooting a career-high 44 percent from the 3-point line. Although the play-in tournament has made some fringe teams more reluctant to make deals, the Pistons are in last place in the East and nowhere near contention, and Burks is not a part of their long-term vision. He is making $10 million this season and has a team option for next year.
There is a Tatum connection here, too. The Celtics star is the godfather of Burks’s daughter.
The 6-foot-7-inch forward is still just 24 years old and is making $5.8 million this season. He’s due for a hefty raise once he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. For now, the Hornets are just spiraling toward the bottom of the standings and positioning themselves to be players in the Victor Wembanyama draft sweepstakes.
Washington is averaging 14.8 points but just 4.5 rebounds per game, a low figure for a player his size. He is more of a perimeter threat and is a career 36.6 percent 3-point shooter. The Celtics could fit Washington into their Schroder trade exception. Washington’s situation could hinge on how the Hornets plan to approach his free agency if they do not find a suitable trade partner.