The Boston Celtics have done a lot to improve their roster and inch a few steps closer to that next NBA Championship.
This includes signing Gordon Hayward, drafting Jayson Tatum while still picking up an extra lottery pick from the 76ers and reinforcing the bench with a veteran like Aron Baynes and stashed 2016 first round picks Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusale.
But there’s always a crowd that wants Danny Ainge to do more and those people have recently been fixated on New Orleans Pelicans star center Anthony Davis.
You can’t question how good Davis is. At the age of 24, he’s been named All-NBA First Team twice and that should tell you enough about how good he is. Kevin Garnett was named First Team All-NBA in 2008 and to this day he’s still the only Boston player to receive that honor since Larry Bird in 1988. Davis would come in an instantly be the best player on the team without question, but there are still a few reasons why trading for him right now would be a bad idea.
He won’t make you a better rebounding team
First things first, Anthony Davis is a great rebounder. But that still doesn’t mean adding him will turn the Celtics into a strong rebounding team.
It’s no secret that rebounding is one area where Boston has struggled in recent seasons and fans have been begging for Danny Ainge to fix that problem for some time now. The Celtics did post the fourth worst rebounding differential in the NBA last season, but one of the three teams that finished behind them was the Pelicans.
This is because rebounding is a team skill and having one player who is great at it won’t make much of a difference. Kevin Love, Tristian Thompson and LeBron James were all among the league’s top 20 individual rebounders last season and even with that the Cleveland Cavaliers 19th in the league with a -0.4 rebounding differential per game. Anthony Davis wasn’t good enough to flip the Pelicans into a good rebounding team and he wouldn’t be able to do that in Boston either.
Brad Stevens just doesn’t play a rebound friendly system. They did finish with a positive rebounding differential during his first season as head coach, but that team also finished with a miserable record of 25-57. They’ve become a worse rebounding team each year under Stevens but the record keeps getting better. That first season featured a trio of strong rebounders in Kris Humphries, Jared Sullinger and Vitor Faverani to help reel in the boards, but it’s no secret that you’re a superior team when exchanging those guys for a sub-par rebounder in Al Horford who can do everything else better than anyone in the group and versatile lineups that feature Gordon Hayward and Jae Crowder taking reps at power forward.
This clearly isn’t the biggest reason why the team shouldn’t make a move for Davis, but it’s just to quiet those who want him to help the Celtics become a stronger force on the boards. It’s just not going to work like that. Boston doesn’t have enough good rebounders around him to help – which is why the Pelicans were still a crappy rebounding team – and the system that Stevens has in place isn’t drawn up to dominate the boards.
His contract makes asking price too high
Boston just signed Gordon Hayward to a massive contract. Now let’s compare his deal to the one that Davis currently has in New Orleans.
Why would the Pelicans part ways with that? Seriously, both of these contracts are on an incline and the final year of Davis’ deal is still cheaper than the first year that Hayward has. The asking price is going to be almost impossible for a team to actually pull the trigger on, even for an asset loaded team like the Celtics.
That was a fair contract that Hayward got in free agency and Davis is locked up for the same amount of time at a cheaper price. This is made even better by the fact that the former Kentucky star is simply a better player. He’s averaged at-least 20 points, ten rebounds and two blocks in each of the past four seasons and Davis is also three years younger than Hayward.
This isn’t trading for a one-year rental in Paul George or two seasons with Jimmy Butler. A team that trades for Davis between now and the deadline would get four playoff runs with him. What do you think that asking price would wind up being? The Celtics would have to lose next year’s Nets pick and probably the bonus first round pick they got from Philadelphia this summer, while also trying to cap match $23 million with a roster full of valuable players who are underpaid.
Chicago and Indiana knew that their windows were closing fast with the All-Star players they just traded. They had a year or two of picking from the middle of the draft to get reinforcements for their rosters. The Pelicans still have plenty of time to try and build around their franchise player, who probably wouldn’t even be interested in getting traded so he can receive the “super max” down the road. Any deal for Davis would probably need to be ridiculously in New Orleans’ favor in order for it to actually go down.
Building a window right up against the Warriors
As previously mentioned, getting Davis would mean the Celtics are likely parting ways with an absurd package of young talent and draft picks. Davis makes you better, but you’d also have a bit of a window.
It’s pretty safe to assume that New Orleans wouldn’t give up four years worth of Davis for anything less than the Nets pick and the extra pick from the 76ers, and at least one of Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum will wind up getting placed in this deal to help this deal go down as well. Isaiah Thomas will command a massive pay bump from his $6.3 million next summer and they’ll likely need to renounce the rights to Marcus Smart in order to fit him in.
This sets Boston up to attack the league with a 24-year old Davis, 27-year old Hayward, 28-year old Thomas and a 31-year old Al Horford with almost all of your young depth gone at that point. That “big four” makes you a better team in the moment, but do you really want to take your swings against a proven Golden State Warriors team that features a 27-year old Klay Thompson, 27-year old Draymond Green, 29-year old Steph Curry and a 29-year old Kevin Durant?
Without making any more major moves, this current Celtics roster has a window that could last over a decade. Brown’s four-year rookie scale contract lines up with the four-year max deal that Horford signed in free agency last year; Tatum’s lines up next to the one Hayward just got. You can then line up the contract that Thomas signs next summer up with the next lottery pick that you bring in.
Boston was a 53-win team last year and they’ll probably be even better now that they’ve added another All-Star in Hayward. Assuming that Brown, Tatum and any future high draft picks can progress quicker then the high priced players at the top of the roster decline, it would be hard to see the Celtics ever getting worse over the next five years. And a five year window still dumps you off with a 25-year old Jaylen Brown and a 24-year old Jayson Tatum, two players who still wouldn’t have fully reached their primes yet.
Building a team that has the same window as the current Warriors probably shouldn’t be the goal here, and that’s basically what a Davis trade would do right now.
Ainge did create a window in the summer of 2007 when he traded for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but things were different. The Celtics roster at the time didn’t really seem to have a bright future ahead of them and they were coming off a terrible 24-win season, not a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 2007 NBA Finals was also won by 58-win San Antonio Spurs team over a 50-win Cleveland Cavaliers squad. No one team seemed to have a grip on the league and it had been four full seasons since any top seed went on to win their conference; you had three different champions in the last four seasons. That’s extremely far off from where the league is today as the same two teams have meet in the NBA Finals each of the past three seasons. At least one top seed has made the Finals in each of the past six years and often times you feel like a LeBron James-led team should have been the top seed but wasn’t because they’ve never cared about the regular season.
This isn’t saying you should never trade for Anthony Davis, it’s just saying don’t do it now.
The price on guys like Jimmy Butler and Paul George dropped significantly when their teams realized the window was just too small to build a contender around them and the same thing will happen to Davis later in his contract. New Orleans just has too big a window right now; all they really need to do is hit on one draft pick over the next two drafts and flip Boogie Cousins for more than they got him for, which honestly shouldn’t be too hard. They’re right there after that with a superstar and some young talent around him.
But the Celtics should hang tight until then and see where their current roster takes them. It didn’t take too much for anybody to get Butler or George so in two years it shouldn’t take that much to trade for Davis and by then you’ll have a better understanding of where your young guys will be able to take you.