Boston needs to choose a path at the trade deadline

Whenever the trade deadline rolls around, a tangible mist of hope descends on fanbases around the NBA. Notions of fix-all trades or superstar additions flood social media and debates surrounding a player’s value become our preferred pastime. Yet, despite our consistent postulation, the trades that we’ve convinced ourselves are certified guarantees rarely come to fruition.

If you’re a Boston Celtics fan, nobody can blame you for firing up the trade machine a couple of times per day. Or for clicking every link that takes you to the latest trade rumor round-up. It’s a tough time to bleed green, that’s for sure. After all, this is the same Celtics team that boasts two All-Star wings that have tasted multiple conference finals. And it’s the same team that made good on its promise to add new veteran blood in the offseason. It’s also the same team that keeps blowing leads and missing so many shots that we’re all left shaking our heads incredulously.

A roster shakeup is needed, nobody can deny that.

Does that shakeup include one of the team’s star wings? Well, that’s up for debate, as is the direction Boston should take over the coming months.

The issues facing this team are courtesy of the front office’s desire to be a contender now and in the future. The tightrope Danny Ainge chose to walk has finally snapped, and now Brad Stevens is left to decide which side of the rope to grab, either go all-in for a third star regardless of the cost or embrace the youth at your disposal. Personally, I’m inclined to begin developing the younger members of the roster. At this particular moment, just past the halfway mark of another middling season, it may be the most logical way to enrich this roster with talent.

Suddenly, the Celtics enviable trove of assets is nothing but a few grains of sand. And while Robert and Grant Williams have found minutes in coach Ime Udoka’s rotations, other recent draft picks Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, and Payton Pritchard have struggled to crack the rotation on a consistent basis. Of course, those young players sporadically make an appearance, and sometimes, an impact, but their inconsistent opportunities have left an enormous question mark over their potential trade value. How can they? No rhythm, no defined role, just spot minutes without forewarning — and we’re shocked things aren’t working out?

The notion of developing the younger contingent, if only to rebuild their trade value, is a common one. Celtics Stuff Live’s Duke recently took to Twitter to double down on this growing opinion

We have a similar story for the veteran additions to the roster. Dennis Schroder, despite being impactful off the bench, has little value due to his expiring contract, while Josh Richardson’s hot start to the year has begun to cool off in recent weeks. And does anybody know what happened to Al Horford’s offensive game?

So, where do the Celtics go from here?

Stevens has shown his hand multiple times since entering his front-office role — we all know he’s favoring cap flexibility, as he tries to position himself into a situation where he can build a roster that accentuates Tatum’s skills and is capable of making it to the NBA finals. But getting under the tax line and placating success-hungry fans isn’t an easy feat.

Furthermore, when scanning around the league, you will be hard-pressed to locate players who are available that can impact the remainder of the Celtics season, and have contracts small enough to keep Boston outside of the dreaded luxury tax. As Bobby Marks explained in a recent article for ESPN:

“Boston is now $850K above the threshold and are one minor move (perhaps sending out Dozier in a salary dump) away from getting under. If the Celtics do indeed duck below the luxury tax, they would be in line to receive a tax distribution of $12 million,”

Then you also have the worry of “what if the move doesn’t work?” because making a trade doesn’t guarantee your fortunes change; all it does is give fans and media a new target to focus on.

Perhaps Boston’s best chance at restructuring their roster isn’t midway through the season, but during the summer months, when teams are more likely to be receptive to trade discussions. Sure, a couple of fringe moves to gather assets before the February 10 trade deadline is fine, but actual trades to change the franchise’s direction? That may be asking too much.

It makes more sense to move on from some of the short-term talents such as Schroder and possibly Horford or Richardson, to provide increased opportunities for the Celtics’ second and third-year players. Doing so would allow the team to build the trade value of some of its youthful pieces before the front office goes shopping during the offseason with numerous TPE’s.

Alternatively, Boston could stumble into another key rotation player which would lessen the need for trade additions. For instance, if given ample time and opportunity, do we not think one of Payton Pritchard or Aaron Nesmith could develop into a reliable bench shooter for the forseeable future? Is it not possible that Romeo Langford’s slashing ability unlocks a new aspect of the team’s offense?

At worst, the Celtics realize some of their recent draft picks don’t fit into their long-term plans, and they can shop them around the league, but at least their value won’t be at rock bottom. The last thing the team should be doing is making sales calls and paying teams to take on a former lottery pick who hasn’t been provided with an environment conducive to development.

Still, I’m not making a case for the Celtics to continue plodding on through the remainder of the season — something has to change. I’m just pointing out that a franchise-altering deal isn’t likely to be on the cards. So, now it’s time for Stevens to pick a side: either play the young guys or flip them for veterans Ime Udoka will have an inclination to play.

Standing pat — making no moves — is an unsavory option. For many of us, half a season of playing the young guys is a strategy we could get behind, and who knows, maybe that’s what this team needs in order for the front office to finally hit the soft reset button.

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