On Friday, the Boston Celtics engaged in a deal with the Phoenix Suns, sending reserve big man Brandan Wright to the squad for what could be a first-round pick. And though this deal has yet to be officially confirmed, all signs point to Celtic forward Jeff Green being sent to the Memphis Grizzlies for veteran Tayshaun Prince and a future first-round pick.
In all, a busy day – especially for one pitched a month and a half prior to the NBA’s trade deadline
Why Boston did what it did
I mean …
Boston has its own first-round lottery pick, in 2015.
Boston will get the Los Angeles Clippers’ first-round pick in 2015
Boston will likely get Dallas’ first-round pick in 2016.
Boston will have its own first-round pick in 2016.
Boston will get Brooklyn’s first-round pick in 2016.
Boston will get Cleveland’s first-round pick in 2016.
Boston will have the right to swipe first-round picks with the Nets in 2017.
Boston will have its own first-round pick in 2018.
Boston will have Brooklyn’s first-round pick in 2018.
Boston will have Memphis’ first-round pick, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, in 2018 or 2019.
The potential first-round selections the Celtics picked up in the deal that sent Brandan Wright to Phoenix on Friday night likely will not turn into first-round picks (as is the case with the first-rounder Philadelphia owes Boston next year). The pick originally came from Minnesota, sent to Phoenix so that the Suns would take on the failed lottery experiment that was Wesley Johnson, and they’re protected through the first 12 picks in the draft both this year and next. The Timberwolves certainly don’t figure to be anything but a lottery team next year, so the selections will then turn into second-round picks in 2016 and 2017.
I mean …
C's will likely have 20% of NBA's 2nd-round picks in 2016: their own, PhIlly, Minny, Cavs, Heat & more favorable of Mavs/Grizz.
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) January 10, 2015
The Celtics will also get the Cavs, Mavericks, Heat and possibly the Kings’ second-round picks in 2017, and the Wizards’ second-rounder in 2015. On top of all their own selections.
Whether or not Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge will build entirely through the draft is uncertain, mainly because Ainge himself doesn’t know just yet. He’s going to stay quick on his feet and asset-rich for years. Quibbling over the Rajon Rondo deal in a vacuum – currently the C’s took what could be a so-so 2016 first-rounder and two second-rounders for their former All-Star – hardly makes sense, because Ainge was able to make hay out of two would-be free agents that were playing well below their potential in Boston.
Some 22 months ago, Rajon Rondo tore his ACL. A month and a half later, the Celtics were downed in the first round of the playoffs with an aging, expensive team that probably wasn’t going to return their youngest star (in Rondo) at full strength the following year. They’ve now turned that squad, and the value of their former coach, into the most impressive array of draft selections we’ve seen since the Minnesota Vikings basically gifted the Dallas Cowboys a dynasty in exchange for Herschel Walker.
That’s football, though, where a third-round selection can be as valuable as the 15th overall pick in the NBA draft. Ainge drafts well, but there are no guarantees as these assets turn into actual human beings.
For now, though, even as the losses pile up? This is some interesting stuff.
Why Phoenix did what it did
With the Oklahoma City Thunder struggling even while healthy, with some even calling for the job of Thunder coach Scott Brooks, there is a very real chance that the Suns could hold onto a playoff berth. As a result, the team needed to strike.
Ranked eighth in the West’s postseason bracket, the Suns are on pace for 48 wins if they continue at their current rate of success. This would force the Thunder – even with two healthy MVP-types in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant – to finish the season on a 31-15 tear just to tie Phoenix. Oklahoma City is capable of that, but they’ll also have to (mostly) do it against a killer Western schedule.
The Suns play just about the same schedule, which is why they brought in Brandan Wright straight out of central casting to sop up minutes in the team’s ever-growing front court. Wright struggled in his short, eight-game stint in Boston, but this was only in relative terms in comparison to his brilliant run with Dallas earlier this year. On top of that, Wright was considered to be trade bait the minute he touched down in Boston after being part of the deal that sent Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks, so it’s only understandable that his mind was elsewhere.
With Dallas this season and last, Wright put up jaw-dropping per-minute numbers. He rarely turned the ball over, blocked heaps of shots, and remained a devastating finisher – Brandan missed one out of every four shots he took with the Mavs this season. Think about that.
As a pick and roll partner with the Suns’ guard triptych of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas or even with the soundly-passing Morris twins, Wright could continue this sort of play. The move gives Phoenix a killer ten-man rotation for coach Jeff Hornacek to work with, they’re only giving up what would likely have been a chance at two of Minnesota’s second-round draft picks, and they’re still under the salary cap while working with room to move for further potential trades.
Why Memphis did what it did
The issue here, as it has always been with Jeff Green wherever he heads, is whether or not Green is fit for the Memphis Grizzlies at this point in his career. He’s always looked like a great basketball player, even with the production doesn’t back that up, and over the last two seasons on two very poor Boston Celtics teams he’s produced scoring stats (16.9 and 17.6 points per game) that would seem to rank him as someone nearing a great basketball player.
The problem is that Green remains a terrible rebounder even for the small forward position, and the Grizzlies will end up playing him for some minutes as a stretch four power forward – big man Zach Randolph is set to return soon, but the Grizz will need his minutes down there. Nearly a third of Green’s shots this season have come from behind three-point range, and he yet he’s shot just 30 percent from behind the arc this season and far below average from long range in his career.
Memphis Grizzlies front office executive John Hollinger’s own (very useful) stat Player Efficiency Rating has even rated Green as a below-average player this year, the season prior, and throughout his career. Part of the inspiration for creating PER, in the books Hollinger wrote over a decade ago, was to try to dissuade teams from going after fantastic athletes that merely looked like great basketball players, when other more productive players were available to acquire.
The Celtics played considerably better with Green off the floor this season, on both ends of the ball, and Jeff might be squeezed out of his best scoring spots. The Celtics have been the second-fastest team in the NBA this season according to pace, and the Grizzlies (rightfully) remain the fourth-slowest. Green is going to have to pick his spots and try to fit in ways that might not suit his game. Some have already argued that Green will be better in Memphis because he won’t have the pressure of acting as a go-to guy, but they forget that he wasn’t even all that good while working as a role player with other outfits. He might just take up space and mop up minutes in ways that don’t really help.
That’s the worst of it, though. The best of it comes in the form of this deal. All the Grizzlies gave up was Tayshaun Prince, working on his last legs and rarely taking advantage of that 41 percent stroke from behind the arc. They’ll give up a first-round pick that Boston won’t take in until 2018 or 2019, and they’ll have to wonder whether or not Green will opt out of the $9.2 million he’s owed next season in order to become a free agent this summer.
If that happens, and if that pick turns into something special (with Zach Randolph possibly gone and Marc Gasol and Mike Conley having grown much older), so what? The point is to win right now, in a league that is just oozing with parity, and in what we can safely conclude is the Greatest Conference Ever.
Jeff Green is not the ideal player for what still ails the Grizzlies, but that ideal acquired player isn’t really available right now. Even if the Grizzlies were able to pry the brilliant Luol Deng from Miami for the same package, they would still be taking in a who is shooting below the league-average marks from long range this year, one with a career three-point percentage is actually worse than Green’s. This could click, anything would be better than Prince at this point, and the Grizzlies have to act now – especially for that current price.
Green might not work out. He could turn into one of those players you see as the cable TV cameras scan the sideline of the playoff losers’ bench at the end of a series-deciding game, a guy in warm-ups that forces you to flash back on why, exactly, we were making so much of a fuss on him back when so much snow was on the ground.
When you’re a championship contender, though, you take chances. Even when you know those chances could come back to bite a very different version of your franchise a few years from now.
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