Celtics’ Key Players: Keep Them Or Trade Them?

One thing has become clear about the 2014-15 Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens probably isn’t the right guy to be on the sideline. That’s not to say he isn’t a good coach; it’s to say he’s probably too good of a coach for a rebuilding effort.

For the most part, Danny Ainge has yet to pull the trigger on a full rebuild of the Celtics roster. While he never intended to tank to the extent of Philadelphia or New York, one has to imagine he had his eyes on a high lottery pick this year. Once in the sweepstakes for a shot at Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns this June, the Celtics are now competing for the Eastern Conference’s 8-seed, with Bleacher Report’s latest playoff projections showing them just half a game behind Brooklyn. It appears that Brad Stevens is just a little too good to lose very often, even with an excruciatingly average roster on his hands.

But regarding that roster, it’s not as if the rebuild is necessarily stalled. Ainge has proven before that he knows what he’s doing even when no one else can see the big picture. Also, he still has a significant stockpile of trade assets at his disposal, in the form of future draft picks and young talent. Frankly, there’s no telling what he’ll get up to in the coming offseason. But to get a jump on the speculation—and just for fun—here’s our own look at whether key players should be kept for rebuild or deemed expendable.

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics’ midseason acquisition is an extremely valuable player, even if he’s a hothead at times. Hoopshype shows that he’s owed only about $6.5 million next season, and a little over $6.2 for 2016-17 (and you can view their full range of Celtics salaries at this page). That’s pretty good for a player who can easily score 20 points off the bench in a sixth man role, particularly when you consider the significant salary cap increase on the horizon.
Verdict: Keep him.

Evan Turner

Turner’s actually regained some value contributing on a relatively poor scoring roster. He’s got great size for a shooting guard and he’s cheap enough to simply keep around until his contract expires. That said, his is the type of contract that sometimes gets tossed into a deal to make the finances work, and he’s not so valuable that that can’t be considered. James Young is breathing down his neck.
Verdict: Trade if it helps.

Marcus Smart

It’s been an up-and-down rookie season for Smart, though some betting projections actually have him in respectable position for the Rookie Of The Year race. Additional analysis and NBA odds listings can be viewed here, but Betfair’s page on Rookie Of The Year odds shows Smart trailing only five other players. He’s not going to win the award, but he’s turned into a promising young guard who can contribute in all aspects of the game. Particularly with Thomas’s scoring punch off the bench, Smart is a very valuable player.
Verdict: Keep him.

Avery Bradley

Bradley signed a deal only slightly richer than that of Isaiah Thomas, and looks to be part of the plan for the future. He and Smart still have potential as a lockdown (albeit undersized) defensive backcourt. Verdict: Keep him.

Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger has become a rock-solid NBA player after a somewhat-slow start in the league. He’s owed just over $2 million next year, and just over $3 million for 2016-17. But it’s important to consider the draft, and this one is full of potential starting power forwards. NBADraft.net shows the Celtics picking 11th—that’s too high if the Celtics make the playoffs, but otherwise not a bad projection—and projects UCLA’s Kevon Looney, Texas’ Myles Turner, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, and Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell all being picked in the 14-18 range. Similarly, if the Celtics luck out with a slightly higher pick, options like Kentucky’s Trey Lyles or Willie Cauley-Stein could be available. Sullinger is valuable, but he’s also a strong trade asset, and he can be replaced in this draft.
Verdict: Look to trade him.

Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk is easy to like, and he’s a versatile scorer. However, he’s not the starting center you want on a playoff team. As a backup center, he doesn’t provide the sort of rebounding and defense that you want as a stopgap while the starter gets a breather. He’s also more expensive than Tyler Zeller, who may be a more useful backup. Olynyk is a good but very expendable player.
Verdict: Trade him.

Gerald Wallace

Finally, there’s the contract no one can move. Gerald Wallace is no longer a useful player, and to this point his contract has been impossible to move; but with only one year and just over $10 million left, he may now be in the range of a tradable commodity to a team just looking for an expiring deal.
Verdict: If the Celtics want to chase free agents this summer, he must be traded; if they’d prefer to wait one more year, they should just hang on and take the $10 million relief for themselves in another year.

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