As a trade-deadline week filled with some of the most seismic moves in league history came to a close Thursday, the Celtics chose to operate on the fringes of their roster, feeling no need to disturb the core that has helped craft the NBA’s best record. The Celtics issued a statement Thursday night announcing that ahead of the 3 p.m. deadline, they sent wing Justin Jackson and two second-round picks to the Thunder in exchange for veteran big man Mike Muscala.
Muscala, 31, averaged 6.2 points and 3.1 rebounds for Oklahoma City this year and will provide added depth behind Al Horford and Robert Williams. The 6-foot-11-inch big man is a career 37.9 percent 3-point shooter, and a league source said the Celtics intend to deploy him with smaller, skilled lineups that are filled with other shooters.
“We are excited to welcome Mike to Boston,” president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said in the team statement. “Mike is a great teammate who adds to our depth, and will be able to enhance several different lineup combinations with his size, skill, and competitiveness.”
Although Muscala is averaging just 14.5 minutes per game, the Thunder outscored opponents by 9.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and they were outscored by 2.0 points per 100 possessions when he was on the bench.
Luke Kornet has played well while backing up Horford and Williams, including his excellent performance in Wednesday’s win over the 76ers, but Muscala’s shooting will provide a different dynamic.
Muscala might not even be part of the playoff rotation, but Horford — a former Hawks teammate of Muscala’s — turns 37 in June and missed Wednesday’s game due to knee swelling, and Williams made his season debut in mid-December following offseason knee surgery and has been battling an ankle sprain. Neither player has appeared in games on back-to-back nights, so Muscala figures to get plenty of opportunities over the rest of the regular season.
According to a league source, Muscala was acquired using the $5.9 million trade exception created last February when point guard Dennis Schroder was sent to the Rockets. Muscala is in the first season of a two-year, $7 million deal that includes a team option for 2023-24.
For the Celtics, the cost of acquiring a dependable veteran was minimal. According to a league source, in addition to Jackson, Boston will send the Thunder its 2029 second-round pick, as well as the lesser of its two second-round choices this year.
The Celtics previously traded away their own 2023 second-round choice but are due to receive the Trail Blazers’ pick, and the second-round choice of either the Rockets, Heat, or Mavericks. The Celtics will get Houston’s pick if it falls 33rd or lower, and if it is 31st or 32nd, they would get the lesser of the Miami and Dallas picks. At 13-42, the Rockets currently have the NBA’s worst record. If they stay slotted there, they would pick 31st and keep that second-round choice.
Jackson, who claimed one of the final roster spots after training camp, appeared in just 23 games and averaged 0.9 points. The Celtics still have a roster opening after trading Noah Vonleh to the Spurs last month, so they could still be active in the upcoming buyout market.
There were more sweeping changes around the rest of the Eastern Conference this week. The Nets traded Kyrie Irving to the Mavericks and Kevin Durant to the Suns. Although there was some belief around the league that Phoenix overpaid for Durant, with a package highlighted by young starters Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, as well as four future first-round picks, the deal removed Brooklyn from title contention this year.
Before Durant suffered a knee sprain three weeks ago, the Nets were the hottest team in the league and nipping at the heels of the Celtics at the top of the conference. Now, that rivalry has likely been extinguished.
The Bucks, who will probably pose the greatest challenge to the Celtics in the East, bolstered their frontcourt by adding former Celtics wing Jae Crowder, who was sent to the Nets by the Suns in the Durant deal before being rerouted to Milwaukee in exchange for five second-round picks as part of a four-team trade also involving the Pacers.
Crowder has yet to play this season due to a contract dispute with the Suns, so it remains to be seen how long he will need to return to game shape. The Celtics face the Bucks in Milwaukee on Tuesday.