The Celtics are known as one of the more active and aggressive teams at the trade deadline and in free agency. And with their treasure chest of assets and their future salary flexibility, they are one of the few teams that would be in position to close most deals.
As such, it is no surprise that whenever stars from other teams are said to be available, the Celtics generally appear on a short list of potential suitors. It is not that they necessarily want these players; it is that they have enough to give up for them if they did.
Despite escalating buzz with next Thursday’s trade deadline approaching, though, the Celtics are taking a cautious, measured approach. According to league sources, Boston is reluctant to mortgage its future in exchange for players who could become free agents at season’s end. The Celtics are content to move forward without making a trade, and they will be careful not to get caught up in an unnecessary bidding war.
“This team is not in it for the short term,” one league source said.
The Celtics have been linked to Rockets center Dwight Howard and Hawks forward Al Horford, both of whom could be available on the trade market. But sources said the Celtics are unlikely to acquire either player before Thursday’s deadline.
The Celtics currently have almost no interest in trading for Howard, 30, a talented center with a history of back issues and a questionable work ethic. He can opt out of his contract at season’s end, and even if he wanted to re-sign with Boston, the team would have reservations about offering a long-term deal. Also, Howard is not viewed as a player who would help attract another top free agent to Boston this summer.
The Celtics do think highly of Horford, sources said. They admire him as a player and believe he could be a good fit in Boston. But there are a few major hurdles that are likely to keep the Celtics from completing a deal for him if he is available.
Primarily, he will be a free agent at season’s end. Horford, 29, declined to sign an extension with the Hawks this summer. He is making $12 million in the final year of his contract and could be set to receive a maximum deal of five years, $146 million from Atlanta next year.
The early indications from the Hawks, who seem to be weighing the prospect of breaking up their core that won 60 games last season, is that the asking price for a player like Horford would be quite high.
“I doubt they’re gonna get anywhere near his value,” one source said, “simply because he’s a rental.”
Horford is not viewed as a transcendent talent who would put a team like the Celtics over the top this season. And sources said the Celtics would be reluctant to trade an impact player or a valuable draft pick for Horford not knowing whether he would even re-sign with them this summer.
A more likely course of action would be for the Celtics to pursue Horford during free agency, and if the pursuit falls flat, they would not have relinquished assets in the process. Of course, if Atlanta ultimately decides to clean house next week and the asking price for Horford somehow plummets, he could potentially reemerge as an option for Boston. But right now that prospect is unlikely.
Last year the Celtics were in a kind of hunting and gathering phase, as they cobbled together assets and young, improving players to build a new core. But now that core has been established ahead of schedule, as Boston enters the All-Star break at 32-23 and in third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics will be careful not to disturb team chemistry with minor moves, as they turn their focus toward the pursuit of a transcendent talent. But it remains to be seen if such a player will become available at the deadline.
League sources said that the Kings have made it clear All-Star forward DeMarcus Cousins is not on the market. The Nuggets have also indicated that forward Danilo Gallinari is not on the block, and he has had a history of knee issues and is not seen as a transcendent star anyway.
Teams have been inquiring about the Celtics’ first-round draft pick that they will receive from the Brooklyn Nets in June — it figures to be a top-five selection — but there is an understanding that it would come at a cost. As of late Thursday night, a league source said, the Celtics had not engaged in any trade talks of real substance. A report on Thursday linked the Celtics to Timberwolves guard Shabazz Muhammad, but one source said that Boston was not interested in acquiring the 23-year-old before the deadline.