So it’s apparent the Celtics don’t need to make a major move before the Thursday afternoon trade deadline. Their roster is stacked with players who can contribute. They like all of their players. Most of them have defined roles.
Yet, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is, of course, going to push “accept” when his phone lights up Thursday. The Celtics have three first-round picks and first-round picks have become valuable commodities in today’s NBA, where salaries are steadily increasing but owners are wary of the luxury tax.
First-round picks are of high demand because they sweeten deals, and the Celtics have their pick, the Memphis pick, and Milwaukee’s pick from the Aron Baynes trade last June. So Ainge has an advantage because he doesn’t feel completely pressed to make a move and can use his first-round picks to perhaps lure a team into an 11th-hour deal that would benefit the Celtics.
Do the Celtics need an additional player for the stretch run? Yes, if they plan on overcoming the Milwaukee Bucks. The rest of the competitors in the Eastern Conference are beatable.
“Obviously these guys [Celtics’ brass] will bring ideas that are being discussed or they’ll ask if they want somebody and there’s something discussed,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Most of our discussions happen throughout the course of the year. You play a team, talk to Danny the next day and say I’m intrigued by him, him and him, put an asterisk next to that and find out what happens around this time.
“I don’t anticipate any huge changes with our team.”
But there are some intriguing players who wouldn’t cost the Celtics multiple first-round picks or a prized rookie. Let’s look at five of those players:
■ Markieff Morris, Detroit — Morris signed a two-year deal with a player option for the second season at an economical $3.6 million in 2020-21. Morris is bigger and more physical than his brother Marcus, who is also on the trade market. Markieff can play power forward and center and is a 39.3 percent shooter from the 3-point line, perhaps giving the Celtics a floor-stretching element with a big man they don’t have. If the Celtics truly believe Robert Williams will return healthy and contribute and have confidence in Vincent Poirier, then they’ll stand pat. Markieff is not a shot blocker or true rim protector but he would bring physicality to the center position.
■ Alec Burks, Golden State — Burks is making $2.3 million this season and has played well for the Warriors because he can score and is finally healthy. He could give the Celtics pop off the bench and he’s averaging a career-high 16.1 points and is shooting 37.5 percent from the 3-point line. Burks couldn’t stay on the floor in Utah and was expendable, but he will be a good addition off the bench for a playoff team. The Celtics need a spark in their second unit.
■ Evan Turner, Minnesota — Could ET return to Boston? It’s a possibility because of his ability to play multiple positions. Turner is in the final year of that five-year, $70 million package he signed with the Trail Blazers. The Celtics wouldn’t trade for Turner but would add him if he gets a buyout from the Timberwolves. He played well during his years in Portland and would like to come back to the place where he played the best ball of his career.
■ Dario Saric, Phoenix — Saric likely would be an upgrade from Poirier and is a restricted free agent this summer. He is having a poor shooting year from the 3-point line but is a big man who can rebound, pass, and score when needed. The price for Saric may require a first-round pick but he could fortify the frontcourt and give Stevens another player who could play multiple positions.
■ Off the street — There are two players currently unemployed who could add something to the Celtics’ bench, but they come with the proverbial red flags. Jamal Crawford is nearly 40 years old but is a three-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner and can still get buckets. Put him in a winning situation such as Boston and he could serve as both a spark off the bench and a mentor. J.R. Smith is younger (34) and also available but he comes with obvious baggage but is still an above-average 3-point shooter. It’s highly unlikely the Celtics would take a chance on Smith.
Ainge said last month he doesn’t feel the pressing need to make a trade and would definitely not trade major assets for a rent-a-player, such as Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson. For the first time in a few years, he’s in an enviable position. The Celtics haven’t been completely healthy all season and could just as easily wait for Williams, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart to return from nagging injuries to make a playoff run. But the lure will linger for Ainge to make that one move that could put his team in better position to beat the Bucks, because they have proven to be the team to beat.