The craziest NBA trade deadline in recent memory is scheduled to come to a merciful conclusion on Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. That's good news for the small handful of NBA players that haven't been relocated in recent days.
The Celtics, quiet amid the trade storm around them, appear likely to simply window shop with hopes of putting a certain unibrowed big man on layaway if he's still munching on beignets when the deadline passes.
So what should Celtics fans expect from deadline day? Here's an FAQ that hopefully won't be outdated by a major bombshell before you read it:
WILL THE CELTICS MAKE A BIG-SPLASH MOVE?
No. OK, we should probably leave the door slightly ajar on the off chance Danny Ainge gets antsy with everyone else wheeling and dealing - or if Anthony Davis actually gets dealt and sets off an even wilder set of dominoes across the league. But let's face it, the Celtics are not going to move any assets they might need in July as part of a Davis offer so all signs point to a quiet deadline. Boston is starting to play some of its best basketball of the season and, while there's still strides to be made from this group, it's hard to see ways this team could upgrade over the talent they have. The biggest post-deadline boost might simply come if the likes of Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier continue to embrace their roles and find a consistency that separates the Celtics from some of the teams thinner on depth. Put simpler: It's hard to come up with a deal that helps Boston both this season and doesn't hinder their asset supply for the summer.
OK, BUT WHAT ABOUT A SMALL-SPLASH MOVE?
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The Celtics have essentially navigated the entire season with a clogged roster spot with Jabari Bird still under contract despite being away from the team after being arrested on charges that include assault, strangling, and kidnapping. Boston has been unwilling to simply eat his $1.35 million salary and, with no resolution in sight for Bird's legal proceedings, the team will have high interest in moving him to any team that's willing to waive him and eat his deal. Teams can send out up to $4.8 million in cash in trades this season so Boston could entice a team under the tax to take Bird in exchange for cash (or maybe second-round draft picks if they need another form of sweetener). An opposing team would have to be OK with the optics of trading for a player awaiting trial on serious charges, which complicates the process a bit. But moving Bird would free a roster spot that might allow Boston to pursue veteran talent on the buyout scrapheap, particularly if a sudden need arose due to injury. The Celtics could also have some motivation in trying to get below the tax but it probably wouldn't be worth sacrificing rotation talent to get there if this team truly believes it can compete for a title.
SHOULD THE CELTICS BE WORRIED THAT OTHER EAST RIVALS ARE MAKING MOVES?
Worried probably isn't the right word but certainly the 76ers forced the rest of the East powers to take notice on Wednesday with their win-now move to acquire Tobias Harris. Philadelphia has a very intriguing starting 5 - one with as much firepower as any team in the East - though it remains to be seen if there are enough shots for everyone and defense remains a concern (who is guarding Irving?). Regardless, the 76ers have made things very interesting for the East's Big Four and the conference semifinals could be an absolute war. But if we needed any indication about whether the Celtics were concerned about the move, Marcus Morris answered that on Instagram when he commented on a post about his hometown team's trade by writing, "Great pick up, not enough though." Morris, who has been one of the Celtics to suggest the team should keep this group together given its potential, certainly believes this team is capable of title contention as currently constituted. If Philadelphia makes additional moves or raids the buyout scrapheap, it could make them even more intriguing.
ARE THE CELTICS A LEGITIMATE TITLE CONTENDER WITH THEIR CURRENT ROSTER?
For all the consternation about Boston's up-and-down play at the start of the season, the Celtics have been one of the best teams in the NBA since November 26 (a day that really needs a nickname to describe how Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris elevated to starting roles and steadied these Celtics. Boston is 25-9 since that date and own the league's best net rating in that span (plus-9.7). What's more, Boston ranks third in offensive rating (115.9) and fourth in defensive rating (106.2) in that span. It simply felt like the Celtics' tires were spinning as they were stuck in the fifth spot in the East for much of that span but they've recently surged to the third spot. There's a tiny chance Boston could make up the 3.5 games it currently trails the Raptors by with help from one remaining head-to-head battle, though the schedule heavily favors Toronto overall. Not having home court against both Milwaukee and Toronto is a daunting prospect but not one that will overly concern the Celtics should they simply be playing their best basketball in April.
IF THE CELTICS CLEAR A ROSTER SPOT, WHO WILL THEY TARGET ON THE BUYOUT MARKET?
The guess here is that many of the players that shake free after the deadline craziness will have their eyes on teams other than Boston. Philadelphia's depleted depth or Golden State's title chances might pull at the top names more than a Boston team that doesn't have an obvious path to consistent playing time. Injuries could change that and maybe that dictates the sort of player Boston might seek. Boston does still have the taxpayer midlevel exception ($5.3 million, minus proration) to potentially attract a player - even if it's just a player to use as a nonguaranteed trade chip this summer - though adding a player will only add to Boston's tax bill should the roster remain largely intact.
SHOULD THE CELTICS BE CONCERNED THAT THEIR DRAFT ASSETS ARE LOSING VALUE?
The trade deadline hasn't been kind to Boston's draft assets. The Clippers trading Harris almost certainly means that LA's lottery-protected pick won't convey to Boston this season. If the Clippers land a star or two this summer, that might mean a late first-rounder at best next season (otherwise, it becomes a second-round pick in 2022). The Kings pick, once seen as Boston's gem, had already been eroding in value with Sacramento's success this year and, not only did the Kings make a move for Harrison Barnes, but the Clippers' fade means Sacramento is even more likely to be playoff bound. That would mean KingsPick could land in the late teens. The only thing that would help Boston is if the Grizzlies follow through with a fire sale by moving Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, which would increase the value of the future Memphis pick as protections loosen.
SHOULD THE CELTICS PROMISE THE PELICANS THAT JAYSON TATUM WILL BE AVAILABLE IN JULY?
The Pelicans are not being unreasonable if they pressure the Celtics into declaring whether specific assets will be available as part of a package in July. But it's probably impossible for Ainge to flat out declare that Tatum would be on the table. Too much can happen between now and then. In the absence of a promise of Tatum's availability, however, it certainly opens the door for New Orleans to have to think harder about any offers that are on the table Thursday. Ultimately, Ainge has to stress that Boston plans to trump whatever the Pelicans can find now and hope the prospects of a deal are enough to keep New Orleans from making a rash decision.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE PELICANS PANIC AND MOVE DAVIS? WILL IRVING STILL RE-SIGN HERE IN JULY?
It's impossible to know exactly what Irving will do. The team has remained confident about his prospects of re-signing here despite all the noise. If the fallback plan for missing out on Davis is riding with the team's current young core and hoping Ainge can use some of the draft picks to secure additional impact talent, then it's probably not the worse path. In fact, it might be more attractive than most other situations, even with plenty of suitors lining up with cap space. Ultimately, missing out on Davis would add a layer of intrigue to the proceedings but Boston remains in a quality position regardless of what happens. There would be a lot of doom and gloom in the aftermath of a Davis deal if he's moved Thursday but the reality is Boston is still positioned to compete this season and deep into the future regardless of whether the Davis pursuit is ultimately successful.
Buckle up. It's going to be a slow crawl to 3 p.m.
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