DETROIT — It’s becoming apparent the Celtics need to make a move before the Thursday trade deadline or make an addition in the buyout market.
The need for a swingman and a third big man has become evident as the Celtics progress deeper into the season with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown playing heavy minutes and the team’s disinterest in playing Robert Williams extensive minutes, creating a need for another center.
While Luke Kornet has played well in stretches, the organization would like to acquire a more productive and offensive-minded big man for those short stints. That role was supposed to be filled by Blake Griffin but the Celtics have found that the well-traveled and oft-injured big man isn’t physically capable of playing consistently but the team loves his locker room presence.
The wingman position is interesting because the Celtics entered this season fully invested in Sam Hauser, who they have tutored to be their knockdown 3-point shooter to stretch defenses. It worked marvelously for the first six weeks of the season.
In his past 29 games, though, Hauser has shot 29.7 percent from the 3-point line and his minutes have declined. The Celtics need more scoring off the bench unless the plan is to rely on Grant Williams and Derrick White to emerge as consistent scorers. They are capable, but the Celtics need a bucket getter.
“I think it’s what the person’s process is and what they’re working toward,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said when asked how long before a slump turns into just who the player is. “And I think where your team is at. If your team is in dire need of what that person brings to the table, it’s important that we get that out of them. And if it’s a situation where someone else is bringing something that gives us a different look, then you manage that.”
The Celtics need shooting, and the deadline will present opportunities to upgrade. Terrence Ross has been mentioned and he has fallen completely out of the Orlando rotation, going eight consecutive games on the bench as the Magic go younger in their quest for a play-in berth.
Ross is in the final year of his $11 million contract and will most likely be a buyout candidate unless the Magic can find a trade before Thursday. Ross’s ability to score and his success against Boston are well known by the Celtics faithful. He would be a strong addition to the bench, especially if the Celtics don’t have to give Orlando anything in return.
Another player the Celtics should show serious interest in is Charlotte forward P.J. Washington, who is a starter for the downtrodden Hornets but also a restricted free agent this summer. With owner Michael Jordan and Charlotte having to come up with potentially $200 million for a LaMelo Ball contract extension and perhaps another $50 million to $60 million to re-sign Jalen McDaniels, the Hornets may pass on a Washington extension.
Trading for Washington would mean the Celtics would not only have his rights this season but the option to match any offer for Washington this summer, similar to the situation with Grant Williams. The Celtics organization may have a decision on whether to re-sign Washington over Williams in this situation.
The agents for players such as DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge, Hassan Whiteside and Dwight Howard are keeping abreast of the Celtics situation at center and have let the organization know their clients are available.
Another possibility is Detroit center and Malden native Nerlens Noel, who is languishing with the Pistons after his contract was traded by the New York Knicks for salary cap relief. Noel is still only 28 and hasn’t played much over the past few years, but he’s still long, athletic and a legitimate rim protector.
Again, a trade for Noel would be challenging because he earns $9.2 million — meaning Danilo Gallinari’s contract would have to be offered. The hope for the Celtics would be a Noel buyout and an opportunity to bring him in on a veteran minimum contract. Cousins, 32, played for the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets last season and posted decent numbers as a reserve center.
Of course, the concern with Cousins would be his impact on a cohesive and youthful locker room but he has proven he can adapt to playing limited minutes. The Celtics are confident in their ability to compete with any club and they have the personnel to win an NBA championship but their depth has taken a hit with the decline of Hauser and the loss of confidence in Griffin, so they require reinforcements.
Former Celtics such as Kelly Olynyk and Javonte Green, who is coming off knee surgery and hasn’t played since Dec. 31, are available as well as Utah defensive ace Jarred Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is another intriguing option but Danny Ainge is going to want more from Brad Stevens than a trade exception and a pat on the back in the deal. Vanderbilt is signed through next season, increasing his trade value.
Stevens has a plethora of options before Thursday but there will also be more opportunities in the buyout market, where there will be several players eyeing the Celtics as a possible destination.