Before the season started, it was widely believed the Boston Celtics would be the team to rise to the top of the Eastern Conference following LeBron James leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics took James and his Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, and managed to do so without two of their best players. It seemed that nothing would be able to stop a fully healthy, fully loaded Celtics team from taking the crown in the East.
Nearly two months later, the East doesn’t seem to be as much of a foregone conclusion. The Raptors, Bucks and 76ers sit atop the conference, and the Celtics are 6.5 games behind Toronto in seventh place. It’s still early, and Boston has plenty of time to turn things around, but it must be said that this team has underachieved so far. The roster simply has too much talent to have the record of a fringe playoff team, especially at this point in the season.
It’s difficult to point to one reason for the Celtics’ struggles, but one way to shake things up is through the trade market. Coach Brad Stevens is among the best in the league, but he can only do so much with certain players. The Celtics have a very unique group of players on their team, players who may not fit together at all times. For that reason, it may benefit them to search for different players with different skill sets.
Here are three players the Celtics could potentially target at or before the trade deadline.
The backup point guard position was once an area of strength for the Celtics, but recently it’s become one of their most glaring flaws. After having a breakout season that saw an increase in minutes, Terry Rozier has underperformed in the role this season. Rozier’s efficiency and output have both decreased from last season, and in a contract year, the Celtics may be starting to see the writing on the wall. Rozier can potentially reverse his fortune and return to form, but the cost of keeping him on the team may outweigh the benefits if that is indeed the case.
The Celtics can trade Rozier for another point guard in a mutually beneficial move. Sending Rozier to the Knicks would take him out of Kyrie Irving’s shadow, giving him the chance to sink or swim as a team’s main guard. The Knicks would be able to move Frank Ntilikina to shooting guard, a position he seems to be more naturally suited to. As for Boston, they would be adding Trey Burke to their roster. Burke has played similar minutes to Rozier over the last two seasons, and has been more efficient in that role. Burke is shooting around 45% per game compared to Rozier’s 38.5%. At around the same size as Rozier, Burke could ideally plug into the lineup seamlessly.
The Wizards are a team in freefall, and they could be looking to move assets as the trade deadline draws closer. For a team that desperately needs to rebuild, draft picks are a motivator in their decisions to trade certain players. The Celtics have four first round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, and the Wizards have one. The 2019 draft is loaded with talent and considered to be one of the best in recent years. Getting a player near the top of this class could be the difference between failure and a strong core for the next decade. Teams like the Wizards will need to take risks, and one of those risks could be sending Otto Porter to Boston.
Porter could flourish under Brad Stevens’ offense, a system that champions ball movement and finding the open man. John Wall is one of the best passers in basketball, but within Scott Brooks’ system he has become more of an isolation player, leading to less opportunities for his teammates. On a team with Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and other capable scorers, Porter could have more opportunities to get open.
Since the Celtics play an unselfish brand of basketball, his teammates would find him more often, not only giving him more shots, but more high percentage shots. Given the right system, Porter has the potential to be one of the best shooters in basketball. He’s been among the league leaders in three point percentage over the last two seasons, and he would get more shots as a member of the Celtics.
Vucevic is in the middle of a great season with the Magic, making him an option for contending teams. He’s averaging a double-double, with 27 points and 11 rebounds per game at this point in the season. The Celtics seem to be one player away from realizing their full potential, and Vucevic may be that player.
He is a versatile big with a skill set that complements the other members of the team. Al Horford isn’t the strongest of rebounders at the center position, and Vucevic is an immediate fix for that issue. The two big men would be able to play off one another, giving the Celtics two viable options at the center position whenever the situation calls for it.
The only drawback to making this deal for Boston would be that they may need to pay Vucevic handsomely at the end of the season, if they want to keep him. This is the final year of his contract, and if he keeps up his form to this point in the season, he is due for a big pay day.
The Celtics reportedly have aspirations to acquire Anthony Davis after this season, and they’ll need both cap space and spots on the roster to do so. If that’s the case, Vucevic could very well be a rental. Despite this, if they add him, the Celtics could become the team many thought they would be before the start of this season. That may be worth the price, even if you risk losing a player of his caliber at the end of the year.