Were the Boston Celtics to stay put at the March 25 trade deadline, they’d still be widely considered a favorite to come out of the East. Currently owners of the second-best record in the conference (10-6) and a budding lineup with the returns of all-star duo Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, the team is more than equipped to compete for an NBA title.
Yet, what if Boston was to take a page out of Brooklyn’s win-now-at-all-costs book, and potentially jeopardize their long-term future to further their chances of securing title No. 18 this season?
Bleacher Report recently floated this exact idea, assembling a list of Desperation Trade Targets to Create New NBA Contenders. In the piece, columnist Grant Hughes zeroed in on a readily linked to big-man, Nikola Vucevic, to come Boston’s way. Albeit, at a near roster-gutting price.
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Does Nikola Vucevic Make Boston the Favorite in the East?
“Nikola Vucevic is one of the best offensive centers in the game, and he’s been part of quality Magic defenses for several years now,” Hughes writes. “Boston head coach Brad Stevens has a track record of conjuring schematic magic to produce strong defenses with less-than-ideal personnel up front, so we should trust him to make it work with Vooch.”
Vucevic, a 2019 All-Star selection would undoubtedly solidify the Celtics’ somewhat murky frontcourt situation. While the combination of Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis can be serviceable at times, their lapses on the defensive end mixed with their limitations offensively leave much to be desired. The Orlando Magic’s big man would quickly elevate Boston’s starting five to new heights, as Vucevic is enjoying arguably the most dominant campaign of his 10-year career.
While the 2020-21 season may be just 18 games deep for Vooch, the 7-foot center is posting per-game career-highs in points (23.5), three-point percentage (43.1), assists (3.7) and steals (1.2). Furthermore, he currently leads the NBA with 171 made field goals. Fittingly enough, the player who checks in at No. 2 in the category is Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, with 167.
Vucevic would be able to serve as a souped-up version of the bygone Al Horford, as Hughes notes. Teaming him up with the likes of an MVP candidate in Jaylen Brown and the aforementioned all-star duo of Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker could give Boston arguably the best, most well-rounded starting five in basketball, regardless of who mans the fifth spot.
With that said, acquiring Vucevic would mean cutting bait with a plethora of key pieces.
Is Nikola Vucevic Worth the Trade Capital?
“To get him [Vucevic], the Celtics would need to surrender Marcus Smart, Payton Pritchard, Tristan Thompson (can’t move until Feb. 28) and Robert Williams III, plus at least one unprotected first-rounder,” says Hughes.
While Williams has developed as a viable rotational piece and Thompson remains a key veteran presence, the most glaring names in this hypothetical trade package have to be guards Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard. The latter has been a revelation as a rookie. Prior to his injury, the 22-year-old demonstrated the floor presence of a wily veteran, even usurping Jeff Teague as the team’s first guard off the bench.
As for Smart, the defensive stalwart has taken leaps and bounds on the offensive end this season. Asked to man a larger role as a distributor this year, Smart has responded by averaging more than 2.0 assists better per game in 2020-21 than he had averaged over his first six seasons in the league.
If his showing on Monday night against Chicago is any indication, it doesn’t look as if the former No. 6 overall pick has any plans of slowing down, as our very own Josue Pavón pointed out.
Marcus Smart now has 11 assists; that ties his career-high
— Josue Pavón (@Joe_Sway) January 26, 2021
If Vucevic’s price proves too rich, Boston could always entertain the idea of pursuing his teammate, Aaron Gordon, likely at a moderately cheaper compensation.
However, if the Celtics are looking to solidify themselves as Eastern Conference juggernauts, Hughes believes acquiring Vucevic is the way to go.
“That sounds like a lot, especially with Pritchard and Smart involved. But this raises the Celtics’ offensive ceiling with a spacer and scorer at the 5 like they’ve never had before,” he said. “Daniel Theis could slip into the reserve role for which he’s better suited, still providing defensive optionality against the right matchups.”
“It’s risky, but that’s kind of the point here.”
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