On Wednesday, I traveled to Boston to enjoy a full tilt between my beloved Celtics and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Typical of their play all year long, the Celtics jumped ahead at the start before slowly bleeding out until the Minnesota offense dried up late in the third quarter. The win became a blowout partially because Brandon Bass and Jason Terry caught on fire (like my wife’s top drawer, nothing but lace!) and Jared Sullinger played through the flu to contribute seven boards and two blocks. (Remember to get your shots and vitamins, kids.)
It was a satisfying win, but the Celtics are seriously underperforming their preseason expectations, even factoring in the expected absence of defensive wunderkind Avery “Hubert” Bradley (Watch “Best in Show.” Do it.) whose shoulders fell off at the end of last season. Kevin Love had a terrible shooting night and still managed to put up 19 and 9. (Imagine what he could do if he played with Uncle Drew.) I’m hoping that the team will follow last year’s pattern of emerging from hibernation by the All-Star break and then tearing through the regular season, but it’s never too early to toy with the trade machine.
If you’re a Celtics fan, you’ve heard this before: we need a center. The list of realistic trade targets at this point is not going to wow anyone, but there are some good big men that could be had for the right price. Phoenix’s Marcin Gortat has been talked about rabidly. He’s only 28, is a borderline star and he knows how to rebound the ball, which coincidentally, is the Celtic’s biggest weakness. (I mean, rebounding is the first thing they teach to 5-year-olds. Box out!) Adding Gortat would immediately bolster Boston’s frontcourt with a center that can protect the rim and fill up the paint on both sides of the ball, while also pushing Kevin Garnett back to his preferred power forward position.
But I’m going to disagree with the package most people would offer Phoenix. Most armchair GMs are looking to deal away newly-acquired Courtney Lee, due to a large drop-off in his offensive efficiency, as well as the much-maligned Jeff Green. But I think that Lee’s shooting percentage will pick up again, and his defense will keep him in green. Jeff Green, on the other hand, is the Truth’s only backup and, despite his bloated contract, he has quietly been putting up a lot of points for this team.
I’d rather offer up this past Wednesday’s heroes Jason Terry and Brandon Bass. (I’ll wait for everyone to pick their jaws up off the floor.) The Jet was brought in partially to assume Ray “Judas” Allen’s role of three-point specialist as well as the offensive creator to come off the bench. (Seriously, screw you Ray.) While he is clearly still adept at doing all of those things, I think that third-stringer and resident international Leandro “Not a Pirate” Barbosa can easily replace him. In Barbosa’s limited minutes, he’s been capable of carrying the offense and finding the rim at ease, and while he’s not known for his defense, Terry is not significantly better. Assuming the full recovery of Bradley and Lee’s return to above-average play, Boston would have a dynamic starting backcourt of Rondo and Bradley with Barbosa and Lee coming off the bench.
The case for bye-bye Bass is even more straightforward. With KG moving to the four, Bass is immediately pushed out of the starting lineup. Sullinger has proven he is the paint presence off the bench and, as a rookie, has an incredibly high ceiling for further development. (We don’t haze, we only “educate.”) This leaves Bass with nowhere really to go, other than Phoenix or to go smoke herbs with Ricky Williams. At the very least, Boston can get Channing Frye, so he and KG can play rochambeau together after practice. Or Jermaine O’Neal. (Just kidding! Wanted to make sure everyone’s still paying attention.)
Across the country, there’s a similar situation brewing. Without Phoenix’s talented Dr. Frankenstein in the training room, Steve Nash has already lost a leg in Los Angeles, and you’ll never win a championship with Chris Duhon as your starting point guard. Pau Gasol, once one of the most gifted offensive forwards in the NBA, has also been playing abysmally. He also just went down with tendinitis in both knees. Still, Pau is the Lakers’ strongest trade chip since Kobe and Dwight are untouchable, and no one is going to take the craziest player in the NBA since Dennis Rodman (RIP Ron Artest). But what front office is dumb enough to take a big man clearly past his prime with bad knees?
Enter Cleveland. (Boston would also be in this conversation, but in my world, the Boston and Los Angeles front offices don’t even have each other’s phone numbers.) Cleveland just drafted Dion Waiters, a severely underachieving bench player at Syracuse, fourth overall, leaving great talent and positional needs on the table. (It may be possible that the Cleveland management is still living in 2009 with Lebron sitting in their locker room.)
Using that logic, the Lakers fill their most glaring needs by tricking the Cavaliers into unloading guards Jeremy Pargo and Daniel Gibson, two players that have been stellar so far in their limited roles. To make the numbers work, they take back Luke Walton and his ridiculous contract so that he can be pathetic in his native California again.
I actually think this trade could happen, but for competitive balance, I really hope it doesn’t. So if Cleveland GM Chris Grant is reading, Lebron left you two years ago for a prettier, more tax-free city! (His talents were also on that train carrying jobs out of Cleveland.) Grow up, go buy an iPad, make sure Kyrie Irving gets lots of money. And if you can’t do that, do what everyone else does and get the hell out of Cleveland. (At least you’re not Detroit.)