On Wednesday, the Celtics took their next step in what appears to be a never-ending fleecing of the Brooklyn Nets, when they turned an expiring trade exception and a conditional second-round draft choice into a former first-round center Tyler Zeller, a scoring guard with one year left on his deal in Marcus Thornton, and a future first-round pick.
The three-team trade that also involved the Cleveland Cavaliers became official on Thursday.
So, what’s next for Danny Ainge and the C’s? Our Boston.com panel of Celtics insiders offered their thoughts.
Jeremy Gottlieb: The Celtics should keep on rolling. Danny Ainge and company have to be majorly emboldened by the haul they came away with in their three-team trade while giving up virtually nothing, which set them up even better for the future while still allowing them to not only stay in on, but possibly get a little closer to this summer's biggest non-free agent prize, Kevin Love.
With potentially as many as 10 first-round picks between next year's draft and 2019, another expiring deal in newly acquired Marcus Thornton (Side note: Regardless of what happens next, Thornton will never see any actual game action as a member of the Celtics. Book it.) and more cheap, young talent in Tyler Zeller, the Celts can now try to spin some of those extra assets in with the ones they already have in an attempt to get another player or two who might entice the Timberwolves to send Love to Boston. Continuing to push toward that outcome has to be the team's next move and the move after that and the move after that until it finally comes to fruition.
If the Celts can't make the deal happen, they're certainly in a better position to make an alternative move this summer or simply wait it out for another year (although that option should still be the absolute last possible resort) than they were at this time Wednesday. But their ultimate goal must be the same as it's always been and that's to keep on doing whatever it takes to get themselves some Love.
Adam Kaufman: In short, who knows? Until the LeBron James domino finally falls, the rest of the NBA is in limbo. Like James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and other prominent free agents have yet to officially choose a home and that’s contributed to a holding pattern for trickle-down trades, like ones that may involve Kevin Love or Boston’s Rajon Rondo. Some have even wondered if Danny Ainge’s move to acquire additional assets and in turn help the Cavs unload salary in an effort to land James could come back to bite the Celts in their pursuit of Love.
Ainge, however, can’t worry about what-ifs; all he can do is take every step possible toward building a team that can realistically contend for Banner 18 in the near future. Presently, that work is very much in progress. Until Love lands elsewhere, Rondo will be a Celtic and Ainge will do everything he can to pair the two. That’s the right move.
Thanks to Wednesday’s trade, Ainge has another expiring contract in Thornton to go along with Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony, and the various non-guaranteed deals currently on the books, plus one more future first-round selection. It doesn’t matter if Boston does not have enough of what Minnesota wants for Love so long as Ainge can package what he does have to fill the gaps from elsewhere. Pleasing Flip Saunders should be the top priority and it no doubt is. If Saunders flips Love to a different partner, Ainge can turn his attention to alternatives.
Brian Robb: The Celtics need to see where the chips fall in free agency first. From there, they can use their flexibility to take advantage and continue to build trade assets. It's unlikely a Kevin Love trade is coming in the near term, not until the big fish like Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony choose their destinations. Once things are settled on that front, Danny Ainge can use his non-guaranteed contracts (Keith Bogans, Chris Johnson, Phil Pressey, Chris Babb) in a deal with a team that needs more cap space for a hefty return like they got this week from Cleveland.
If Boston can keep replenishing their war chest with draft picks and expiring contracts, it gives them more flexibility to put together a monster deal for a player like Love or another target around the league via creative methods. If Ainge falls short on a major acquisition, he can punt on making a major move this offseason and focus on positioning this team to make a major impact during free agency next summer. Then, there's also the possibility of dealing Rajon Rondo now, and that's a path the team should continue to explore as well, if the team sticks with the rebuild route for next season.
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