Two interesting trade scenarios for Danny Ainge

The Boston Celtics lost to the New York Knicks last night and if that isn’t embarrassing enough, the game wasn’t really that close and New York was playing without their starting center and power forward; Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis.

This team was riding hot streak into this one and it could easily pick right back up again tomorrow night against a struggling Portland Trail Blazers team, but last night is just more evidence that the Celtics aren’t among the top two teams in the Eastern Conference right now even though they came into the season hoping to be Cleveland’s biggest contender. Boston is 0-2 against both the Cavaliers and Raptors and each of those teams scores more and allows less per game compared to Boston, so they’re really facing an uphill battle and there’s nothing like a home loss to the Knicks to showcase that you might not be where you thought you were as a 13-3 stretch was unfolding.

Fans want to big trade to finally happen. Names like Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins will continue to flood the rumor mills probably until the day those guys retire, but that deal is often hard to come by. There are still some smaller deals out there that can still help the Celtics inch closer to a team like Toronto while still keeping their biggest trade assets in tact while we wait for Danny Ainge to finally complete a blockbuster deal.

Here’s two interesting possibilities.

Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, 2018 BOS 1st and 2019 MEM 1st for Brook Lopez
Trading Brook Lopez would be a smart move for the Brooklyn Nets. They need picks if they want to pipe some young talent into the roster and they’re not going anywhere with Lopez, who in under contract through next season and is destined to finally get out of Brooklyn after the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. While striking a deal with Danny Ainge might not be their definition of fun because of what’s happened in the past, they do have the most assets in the league and can get the best possible return by giving Lopez away to their division rival.

Two first round picks could be enough to get this deal done and while there’s no chance that the Celtics give back one of the Nets picks to Brooklyn, there are still a number of other options as Boston owns the Grizzlies and Clippers first round selections in 2019 on top of their own first rounders from 2018 on, although they’re both protected picks. It’s best to pencil in the Celtics 2018 first here because it gets a pick to Brooklyn the fastest and the Memphis one is probably the most attractive pick after that because it’s the least protected and most likely to be a good pick. If a third pick had to be included in this deal, the Celtics could part ways with this year’s Timberwolves second round pick as it appears it will fall somewhere between 31-35 on the draft board. The Nets don’t have their own second round pick this year – which will be a pretty good one – as it belongs to Atlanta, and getting a high second round pick could still help Brooklyn add a young player with upside to their lineup.

Giving away Johnson and Zeller makes the money work while it’s also money that the Nets don’t have to commit to after this year; Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent and free up $12 million while Zeller has an $8 million team option for next season. They’re also two players who would come in and play hard for you as they’d both be looking for new deals this summer. While neither of them are game breakers by any means, Johnson is still a starter on a team that’s won over 60% of his games and Zeller – despite a lack of playing time – is out scoring, rebounding and blocking Johnson per 100 possessions this year, so both players would be able to come in and make some sort of an impact for a team that honestly has no reason to tank.

As for the Celtics, Lopez would be a solid addition. He’s scoring 20.3 PPG this year and is evolving as an offensive weapon. Lopez had been a lane clogger for most of his career but he’s now added a little floor stretching ability to his game, which would leave driving lanes open for Isaiah Thomas. Lopez has attempted 191 this season and he’s made 34.6% of them after going a combined 3-for-31 (0.97%) from beyond the arc over the first eight years of his career. This actually makes him a bigger three point threat than Al Horford, who has attempted 148 three point attempts on the season and knocked down below 33% of them.

Lopez would be a huge upgrade over Johnson in the starting five and while he doesn’t add the mega punch that Ainge is still looking for, Boston does improve with this one while still holing onto their biggest two trade assets in the two remaining Nets picks. This trade would also keep their key bench players of Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Jaylen Brown all intact as well.

James Young, Jordan Mickey and 2016 MIN 2nd for Jahlil Oakfor
Why the hell not at this point? The Philadelphia 76ers finally have something going for them and Okafor has played essentially no part in it. They’ve won seven of their last nine games and he’s racked up a DNP – Coach’s Decision in six of those games. He actually got to start one of the three games he appeared in as rookie sensation Joel Embiid missed their game against the Washington Wizards on Saturday, and that wound up being one of the games Philadelphia lost.

The 76ers need to trade away a big man at some point and Okafor is probably the last guy out of their young frontcourt trio you’d want, but it’s totally worth the dice roll if you can wind up getting him this cheap; which the Celtics might not be able too but it would be worth the phone call to find out just how little Okafor would cost. He averaged 17.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 1.2 BPG as a rookie last year while playing over 30 minutes per game but a steep drop in playing time has him averaging just 11.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG as he’s playing just 22.8 minutes per game, although his blocks average has still found a way to hang at 1.2 per game so that’s actually really impressive.

Now it’s time to make the hard sell on this that could have Celtic fans badly wanting this to go down. Would this trade remind you of any that Danny Ainge has made in the past? Maybe one where he traded essentially nothing of value for a player who had his career get off to a promising start only to lose a bunch of minutes due to a log jam at his position only to have his career get back on track when the Celtics swooped in and traded for him at the deadline? Because Isaiah Thomas had averaged 20.3 PPG and what is still a career high of 6.3 APG during the 2013-14 season with the Sacramento Kings before signing with the Phoenix Suns that summer where he found himself underused a bit with fellow point guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic also on the roster. Thomas went from playing 34.7 minutes that last year with the Kings to under 25 with the Suns – which dragged all his averages down – and suddenly that all changed when Ainge traded Marcus Thornton and the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers first round pick to Phoenix, allowing Thomas to get his minutes and production back.

If Thomas never worked out in Boston, it still wouldn’t have been a bad trade. That first round pick – which will probably be 29th or 30th overall in the grand scheme of things – was well worth it to at least get a look at somebody who had recently had a 20 and six season, while Thornton was in a contract year and the Celtics weren’t going to bring him back anyway. You can’t lose when trading for Okafor if he comes this cheap while at the very best it could turn into an Isaiah Thomas situation where you wind up getting a cornerstone player for essentially nothing.

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