The Celtics own the best record in the NBA in early December, but if they are to truly have thoughts about not only getting to the NBA Finals but also beating the Golden State Warriors in a seven-game series, then they will have to make a significant trade.
Last week, there was a little buzz that the Celtics would target Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol. That does not look like it will come to fruition but in a Forbes piece highlighting potential destinations for Gasol if he were to be traded, writer Mitch Lawrence again addressed the uni-browed elephant in the room for the Celtics.
“The Celtics, off to a league-best 18-3 start, have been linked to Gasol in the past,” Lawrence wrote. “He’d be what they need on the back line for rim protection and would fit in perfectly with Brad Stevens’ offense. But they might not want to mess with a good thing and are said to still have their eyes primarily focused on Anthony Davis, of the New Orleans Pelicans, if he ever becomes available.”
That, of course, leads to the question for the Celtics and Danny Ainge: Will Davis ever become available?
Right now, it doesn’t look great for the C’s. The Pelicans have zero incentive to trade Davis, who is under contract through the 2020-21 season.
The Pelicans looked like a team that could change locations in recent months (Seattle?) as owner Tom Benson was involved in a family feud that spilled into court. The 90-year-old also recently had health issues.
But it’s more than likely that Benson sets up some sort of trust that prevents the team from leaving his beloved New Orleans. In other words, expect the Pelicans to stay put in the Big Easy through at least this decade, and the remainder of Davis’ contract.
Ainge has long targeted franchises in turmoil and headed in the wrong direction in the standings as trade partners, but the Pelicans’ aren’t obliging in that area either. New Orleans is 12-11 so far this season (currently eighth in the Western Conference playoff picture) and Davis and DeMarcus Cousins have been getting along swimmingly. Obviously the Pelicans are not going to challenge the Warriors or Rockets or any of the other teams in the West for supremacy this season. But the Pelicans are one of those NBA franchises in the mold of a Utah or Portland or Indiana in which simply making the playoffs is “good enough.” The Pelicans have only made it to postseason once since 2011 and the New Orleans fan-base would simply be satisfied with steady improvement year-to-year (i.e. they would most definitely hang a Southwest Division banner in the Smoothie King Center).
Meanwhile the waiting game is going to be a hard one to play for Ainge and the Celtics when it comes to Davis. The Celtics realistically have to “go for it” next year and the year following in order to maximize the contracts of their most important players. Kyrie Irving will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020, as will Al Horford (who will be 34 by then), and Jaylen Brown.
Right now, the Celtics’ most valuable non-player trade chip is the Lakers or Kings pick they obtained in the Markelle Fultz – Jayson Tatum trade. With the Lakers currently sliding, it looks like the Celtics will have another lottery pick coming to them this summer.
It’s highly unlikely that they would actually draft another 19-year-old when they’re absolutely in win-now mode. They will surely look to trade the pick for a player that would elevate them into Warriors-territory. Unless something drastic changes in the next six months, it doesn’t look like that player will be Davis for the Celtics.