During a discussion the Celtics’ posture heading into the trade deadline with NBA insider Steve Bulpett, who reported this week that Boston has been “extremely active” in looking for ways to shed salary and open playing time for younger guys, one name popped up as a potential target: Indiana’s Caris LeVert.
It’s known that the Pacers are shopping just about everyone on their roster, and LeVert has been a prominent, and hot, name in discussions. LeVert has been linked to several teams, including Cleveland and the Knicks.
He is a scoring combo guard who, historically, has had trouble staying healthy. He’s averaging 18.2 points and 4.2 assists, but is not much of a 3-point shooter—he is making 32.7% on the season and only 33.4% on his career.
The Celtics could use his ability to break down a defense and penetrate. They’d be better off with a good playmaker, but those are a rare breed in today’s NBA. LeVert’s 3-point shooting would be a problem, too, as the Celtics need knock-down perimeter players to provide space for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
A pretty straightforward deal could work here.
Celtics receive: Caris LeVert
Pacers receive: Marcus Smart, Dennis Schroder
The Pacers have long coveted Smart for his defense and toughness, while the Celtics would add a backcourt complement to Brown and Tatum. To boot, the Celtics would save more than $2 million, almost enough to bring them under the league’s luxury-tax limit.
A 3-Team Deal Might Be Required
Now, the downside. The Pacers have indicated across the league that any trade for LeVert would require a first-round pick coming back. They might back off of that demand once the deadline gets closer, but it would be hard to imagine the Celtics including a pick in that trade, or any trade for that matter.
Remember, the team had to give up its first-rounder last year in the deal that sent out Kemba Walker for Al Horford. Perhaps if it were a heavily-protected pick that dissolved into two second-rounders down the line, there could be a chance the Celtics would include one. But not a straight first-rounder.
Another issue is that the Pacers, too, are dealing with luxury-tax issues—they’re a little more than $2 million under the tax threshold—and can’t take back too much salary in return. Indiana is likely to have other deals in the works, with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis also on the market, so the narrow sliver under the tax might turn out to be less of a concern for the Pacers at the deadline.
A solution would be a third team, one that could take Schroder (possibly into a trade exception … hello, Dallas Mavericks) and add some draft capital to sweeten the pot for the Pacers.
LeVert Might Not Fit Celtics’ Needs
Is that enough of a return, though, for Smart? LeVert is productive, but after two-plus seasons with the Kemba Walker experience—score-first, oft-injured guard—the Celtics might have learned that a playmaker who can shoot is the best way to complement Tatum and Brown at point guard.
That was Bulpett’s takeaway, in the end, on the subject, that LeVert is just not a good fit in Boston.
“These guys like Caris Levert and people who put up numbers elsewhere, cool,” Bulpett said. “But are they going to get the opportunity and the reps and the shots and the touches here? And that goes back to one of the big issues the team is trying to get away from is iso-ball. Keeping it so people do get touches.”