With the NBA Trade Deadline rapidly approaching, the Boston Celtics are cornering the market for potential deals that could solidify the frontcourt for the stretch run and playoffs.
With the Eastern Conference being led by teams like Toronto, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, all with significantly more length and rebounding ability than Boston, the Celtics need to address this position in order to stand a chance at contending for banner 18.
However, making a deal will be tough as the Celtics don’t have much maneuverability when it comes to the salary cap. But options do exist for Boston to make a run at, including one local product who would be a perfect fit with his hometown team.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Nerlens Noel is among the candidates to be included in a trade this deadline season. Noel, a Massachusetts native, played at nearby Everett High School before transferring to the highly-regarded Tilton Prep in New Hampshire where he garnered national attention before committing to Kentucky.
The Celtics could make a deal for the former top-10 draft pick happen at a minimal risk for the impending free agent.
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What Would the Celtics Need to Give Up in a Trade?
Swinging a deal for Noel, who is set to earn just $2 million with the Thunder this year, could be a fairly simple process for Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.
Working in the NBA Trade Machine on ESPN, Boston could be able to bring in Noel for someone like Robert Williams III. The second-year center, who played sparingly if at all as a rookie, has seen his development stunted by injury this season.
Williams did get off to a rocky start with the Celtics but he seemed to pick things up on the court this year. However, dealing with a left hip edema has left the center sidelined indefinitely. Reports indicate he could come back right after the All-Star break, though he will be re-evaluated on February 4 — two days before the deadline.
What’s Making This Deal Complicated?
Although there wouldn’t be much the Celtics have to sacrifice, it’s still tough to justify giving up a young center under contract for two more years in exchange for a rental who may or may not pan out.
Noel has proven to be injury-prone throughout his career and has yet to put up numbers indicative of his status as a former sixth-overall selection.
One major obstacle is Noel’s current status as a Bird Free Agent. This essentially means he would have to consent to be traded to the Celtics and would lose his Bird rights with his impending free agency at the end of the year.
The exception, named after Celtics legend Larry Bird, basically allows any team the permission to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign their own free agents at an amount up to the maximum salary. Noel would sacrifice this privilege, though he could drive up his price for next year if he thrives in a system like Boston.