Trade guide: Aiming for the conference finals

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·The Vertical
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The Celtics have a deep team and plenty of assets and flexibility. (Getty Images)
The Celtics have a deep team and plenty of assets and flexibility. (Getty Images)

The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, a former 20-year executive with the Nets, looks at each team’s roster and trade assets, as well as examining the track record of each team’s general manager during previous trade deadlines.

Previous trade guides: The title contenders | West teams pushing for playoff spot | East teams eyeing home court | Teams that shouldn’t focus on playoffs | Rebuilding teams with limited assets | Teams built through the draft | Big-market teams dealing with adversity | Playoff teams that have dealt with key injuries | Teams fighting for the East’s last playoff spot | Teams trying to secure home court in the first round

A look at two teams that could contend for a spot in the conference finals as the Feb. 23 deadline approaches.

BOSTON
Roster
Player Value Insider info
1. Isaiah Thomas All-NBA
2. Al Horford All-Star
3. Avery Bradley Key starter
4. Jae Crowder Key starter
5. *Marcus Smart Starter
6. Kelly Olynyk Top reserve RFA expiring contract
7. Terry Rozier Rotation/development
8. **Jaylen Brown Rotation/development
9. **Amir Johnson Rotation Expiring contract
10. Jonas Jerebko Rotation Expiring contract
11. Tyler Zeller Rotation 2017-18 no protection
12. James Young Roster Expiring contract
13. Gerald Green Roster Expiring contract
14. Jordan Mickey Development 2017-18 no protection
15. Demetrius Jackson Development 2017-18 $650,000 protection
*Has come off the bench but roster value is that of a starter.
**Has started but best roster value is coming off the bench.

Trade assets

Boston has the best combination of draft assets and young players in the league.

The Celtics have everything: desirable current and future first-round picks, players on rookie contracts (Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier and James Young) and expiring contracts (Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko).

Boston also has two players that many teams desire other than Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley, standout defenders with below-average contracts, are valuable commodities.

Despite having the second-best record in the East, Boston will have a top-three pick (from Brooklyn) heading into the May lottery. Boston should not entertain offers for the pick unless an All-Star-caliber player with length on his contract is discussed.

Besides the Nets pick (in which the Celtics will swap first-round selections), Boston also has Brooklyn’s 2018 first (unprotected) and 2019 firsts from Memphis (protected Nos. 1-8) and the Clippers (protected Nos. 1-14).

Boston also has three second-round picks this year from Cleveland, the Clippers and Minnesota.

The Celtics also have the rights to 2016 first-round selections Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele.

While the goal is to overtake the defending champion Cavaliers, general manager Danny Ainge has built this roster with patience.

The June draft, along with the potential of cap space, could see the Celtics potentially add two impact players in the summer without risking any of their core pieces.

Danny Ainge acquired Isaiah Thomas at the 2015 trade deadline. (AP)
Danny Ainge acquired Isaiah Thomas at the 2015 trade deadline. (AP)

GM history at the deadline

Hired in 2003, Ainge has made a dozen trade-deadline deals, his last in 2015, when he acquired Thomas from Phoenix in exchange for the expiring contract of Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick from Cleveland.

While the Celtics’ 2013 trade of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets garnered headlines, the Thomas deal proved to be one of Ainge’s greatest moves.

Coincidentally, the first-round pick sent to Phoenix as part of the Thomas trade was obtained when Cleveland cleared cap space to sign LeBron James in the summer of 2014.

Post-trade deadline roster movement

The Celtics have 15 guaranteed contracts.

Boston, under the salary cap by $1.1 million, also has the prorated $2.8 million room exception.

HOUSTON
Roster
Player Value Insider info
1. James Harden Franchise
2. Ryan Anderson Key starter
3. *Eric Gordon Key starter
4. Clint Capela Key starter
5. Trevor Ariza Starter
6. Patrick Beverley Starter
7.Lou Williams Top reserve
8. Sam Dekker Rotation
9. Nene Rotation
10. Montrezl Harrell Rotation
11. K.J. McDaniels Roster 2017-18 team option
12. Bobby Brown Roster Expiring contract
13. Tyler Ennis Roster
14. Chinanu Onuaku Development
15. Kyle Wiltjer Development 2017-18 no protection
*Has come off the bench as one of the top sixth men in the league this season but roster value is that of a key starter.

Trade assets

How do the Rockets, with a 40-18 record and a firm grasp on the No. 3 seed, improve without touching their core pieces?

For starters, general manager Daryl Morey improved a deep Rockets team with Tuesday’s acquisition of Lou Williams from the Lakers for a first-round pick and Corey Brewer.

While the cost of a 2017 first-round pick seems high because of the strong draft class, the risk is manageable because the Rockets could contend for a spot in the conference finals.

Houston also has the contract of K.J. McDaniels (team option in 2017-18) and 2017 second-round picks from the Nuggets and Trail Blazers as the deadline approaches.

The Rockets have their future first-round picks and the draft rights of former second-round picks Zhou Qi, Alessandro Gentile and Marko Todorovic.

The Rockets acquired guard Lou Williams on Tuesday. (AP)
The Rockets acquired guard Lou Williams on Tuesday. (AP)

GM history at the deadline

Morey’s approach at the deadline can best be described as “hitting singles.”

The focus in the past has been on improving the bench and adding future draft assets, and Morey did boost depth with the Williams acquisition.

Since taking over in 2007, Morey has made 14 deadline deals (including the Williams trade), acquiring role players McDaniels, Pablo Prigioni, Francisco Garcia, Marcus Camby and Derek Fisher.

While Houston often has taken a conservative approach, Morey has not been afraid to risk future first-round picks, such as in his 2011 trade with Phoenix to acquire Goran Dragic and the Williams deal.

Deadline deals have also allowed Houston to use those draft assets in future trades.

As part of the James Harden trade in October 2012, Houston sent Oklahoma City a future first from Dallas.

Eight months before, the Rockets obtained that pick when Jordan Hill was traded to the Lakers.

Post-trade deadline roster movement

The Rockets have 15 guaranteed contracts.

Expect Houston to be active as the March 1 waiver buyout approaches.

With only the minimum exception available, the Rockets would need to waive a player to create a roster spot.

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