The Celtics are seeking hard to protect and support their opportunity for the 2023 NBA championship. Their actions around the trade deadline indicate a concern for center Robert Williams’ health and a willingness to perhaps overspend for a better backup plan.
According to Heavy Sports‘ sources, the club focused its trade efforts on then-San Antonio big man Jakob Poeltl, who eventually was dealt to the Raptors. There were others Boston looked into, such as Utah’s Kelly Olynyk, a former Celtic, but with Poeltl off the table, it chose a less expensive stretch-4 option in Mike Muscala.
“Poeltl was their top choice,” said one team official whose club was also involved in the process. “They were in the ballpark, but Boston’s first (round pick) is nowhere near as valuable as Toronto’s first, so you can understand why the Spurs went in that direction. But it shows how far Boston was willing to go, because he’d probably be a rental for them, being he’s a free agent (unrestricted) this summer.”
Muscala Was Boston’s Fallback
As for Olynyk, Utah’s price could not be met.
“I’m not sure Boston had what Utah wanted for Olynyk, so they turned to Muscala,” the official said. “The Poeltl thing was a bit curious to a lot of us until you look into it deeper. It seems like they need a shooter more, but they were just thinking about being all-in for this year. They were willing to give up assets for insurance. And that’s what Poeltl would have been there, insurance. There’s games he might not have even played if (Al) Horford and (Rob) Williams are healthy.
“But they had to be wondering what they’re going to do if Williams is dealing with injuries again. Poeltl’s a non-shooter, so he can play next to Horford, but he’s not a good fit with Williams.”
Celtics Wanted to Protect Roster
The Celtics will no doubt be looking to see what becomes available in the buyout market, but head of basketball operations Brad Stevens was clearly wary before the deadline of doing anything that might subtract from what the club already has.
“Teams like that can justify not really doing anything, because they have the best record coming into the trade deadline,” said one rival GM. “But I think everybody knows that after their (21-5) start, they haven’t played very good basketball. They haven’t looked like a championship team at all in the last 30 games. To be fair, they also haven’t had their team together. There’s been someone out at all times.
“But at the same time you’ve got to anticipate that Rob Williams is not going to be healthy at some point in the playoffs, and that’s what was in their head when they were going after Poeltl. And I think he would have filled that gap for that particular reason. He could have substituted for an injured Robert Williams way better than Muscala, but Muscala might be a guy who’s better to go out and play for 10 minutes a night. Then again, you’re not going to make shots by playing very little minutes. Shooters need rhythm.
“They gave OKC a second (round pick) to get off (Justin) Jackson and a second to get Muscala. He’s an inexpensive good fit on paper. But I’m not sure how much better he is than (Luke) Kornet and Blake Griffin. They might end up going with those guys over him in emergency settings if it doesn’t work out with him.”
But now they have the option.