The NBA Trade Deadline arrives at 3 p.m. on Thursday and projects to become a quiet one across the league and for the Boston Celtics in particular. After massive, franchise-altering trades over the summer and an NBA-best first half marked by good health, Brad Stevens’ expectation of a limited scope of players being available or coveted by Boston appears only further cemented. The Celtics have been connected to few players in reporting, with interest in several of them seemingly long-running rumblings that might’ve expired.
Boston enters this week with interest in adding to the team, according to various reports, but doesn’t carry enormous amounts of assets or matching salaries to fill minor holes. Stevens called a big wing the team’s central interest while acknowledging that someone could fill that role internally. Oshae Brissett began playing more often in the aftermath of those comments, appearing in 15 of the last 17 games, averaging 11.4 minutes, 4.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, but has only converted 23.8% of his 21 three-point attempts.
“He’s continuing to earn trust. He’s played really well in moments,” Joe Mazzulla said last week. “It started in the Miami game, (second) game of the year, he came in and changed the energy of the game. He’s been doing that, he’s picking up our defensive system much better and I trust him completely. Every guy we put in the game we have a level of trust in. Neemias (Queta) is in that boat too. We went to him … with two bigs being out.”
When fully healthy in the playoffs, the Celtics will lean on their starters, Al Horford and perhaps one or two more players in a tightened rotation. Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard have stood out in their nightly roles this season. Hauser largely didn’t take part in last postseason while Pritchard played a limited role in 2022. More granular than Stevens’ broad description of needed front court help, the Celtics could explore depth big options in case of injuries and versatile forwards who can shoot and defend centers. Currently, Jrue Holiday fills that role with the starters, fronting bigs before Horford slides into double-big alignments to fit the role Grant Williams once did. Injury insurance always helps. It’d also be next to impossible to replace any long-term ailments to the team’s top six.
With Derrick White and Isaiah Thomas-sized splashes almost certainly out of the question, it’s worth wondering if even a deal similar to the Mike Muscala addition last year is in the cards. Boston dealt a pair of second-rounders for a player who mostly didn’t play. He then became a $3-million matching salary in the Kristaps Porziņģis trade, some solace, though that trade led in part to the team’s series of trades back in the 2023 draft to recoup seconds that proved increasingly valuable capital last deadline.
Before getting into names that could supplement that group and the merits, here are some things to consider for Boston:
- The Celtics enter the deadline with 14 active roster spots, leaving one available in the case of a two-for-one trade or an outright addition into the Grant Williams trade exception.
- The Williams TPE is worth $6.2 million, and can absorb a player making that amount or any lesser amount. The exception effectively expires after Thursday, since trade exceptions no longer last one calendar year and expire at the end of that regular season. It’s arguably the last major exception the Celtics will have access to in this era due to second apron restrictions limiting their ability to add players beginning in July. Boston can still trade players to
- If Boston targets a player worth more than $6.2M, they need to match within 10% of that player’s salary. Starting next year, that will move to dollar-for-dollar trade matching with no aggregations of multiple player salaries. This is effectively the final chance for the Celtics to stack multiple minimum salaries into one larger player.
- The team that receives multiple players from Boston needs enough roster space to absorb them even if they plan to move on. Most teams have at least 14 out of the 15 filled, the minimum. The NBA banned stacking minimum salaries over the summer like how the Celtics acquired Malcolm Brogdon from Indiana. That’s now only allowed between Dec. 15 and the deadline.
- Neemias Queta remains on a two-year contract which limits him to 50 days with the NBA team. He reached 37 with his strong performance against the Grizzlies on Thursday. Queta averaged 4.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game on 60.8% shooting in 22 games, 13.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. The team has remained patient with assessing his long-term future with the team ahead of the deadline. He needs to be converted to a standard contract by the end of the regular season to become playoff-eligible.
- Pritchard extended his contract, so he carries the poison pill provision in any trade he’s involved in. That means his outgoing salary becomes his current one ($4.0M) while the incoming salary for the team he would land on is the average of the remaining years on his contract (~$6.8M). That’s not a huge difference in this case, but with narrower trade matching rules for many teams it could become prohibitive.
- Jrue Holiday becomes extension-eligible in April and likely needs a new long-term deal ahead of his player option decision this summer. That could either increase or decrease Boston’s luxury tax bill for next season, currently projected at $68 million between 11 players for 2024-25 if Holiday opts in for $39.4 million. Derrick White could sign an extension over the summer, but is locked in at $19.6 million next year for now.
- Jaylen Brown cannot be traded until July 26.
- The Celtics cannot return an outgoing player in a sign-and-trade next summer, due to second apron restrictions, and thus can’t recover assets for a potential rental player on an expiring contract.
- Boston can trade its 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027, 2029 and 2030 first-round picks, while considering it owes San Antonio a pick swap in 2028. The team will see its 2031 first-rounder frozen from trades next year due to second apron restrictions. It also owns Chicago and Dallas second-rounders this year, a potential 2025 second-rounder from Detroit, two 2026 seconds from other teams, an Atlanta second in 2027 and a pair of 2030 seconds, including one from Dallas. That’s seven seconds in total.
Stay tuned to CLNS Media throughout the week for more trade ideas, reaction to any moves that happen and reporting on Boston’s deadline activity and rumors.