Six big men the Celtics could target ahead of 2023 NBA trade deadline

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Forsberg: Six big men for Celtics to consider at trade deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

If the Boston Celtics make a move before the February NBA trade deadline, they have two rather obvious needs: size to help pace the starting frontcourt of Robert Williams III and Al Horford to the finish line of the regular season, or a big wing who might be able to take some stress off the All-Star tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Unlike past seasons, it doesn’t feel like the Celtics need to make a move. When healthy, Boston has a readymade eight-man playoff rotation. But injuries and depth were a major storyline during last year’s Finals run and that offers a harsh reminder that you don’t want to ever feel like you were one piece short.

Reports continue to suggest that the Celtics have made big-man depth their priority. The names of Western Conference big men Jakob Poeltl and Willy Hernangomez have already swirled. They won’t be the last big men linked to Boston interest.

Celtics Talk: Do the Celtics need to make a trade? Pondering Brad Stevens’ deadline conundrum | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

So who should Brad Stevens be making calls on? Among the names expected to be available, here’s our ranked wishlist of players that could fit the team’s, ahem, biggest need:

1. Naz Reid, Minnesota Timberwolves

The energetic Reid had an impressive December that made you wonder if Minnesota would even consider moving him, but the Timberwolves really ought to cash in while they can.

The Wolves are overstocked up front. The Celtics have a surplus of guards. There’s a trade built around a Payton Pritchard-for-Reid swap that balances rosters on both sides. Minnesota is on the hook for a staggering $77 million between Karl Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert next season. Kyle Anderson adds another $9.2 million in the frontcourt. There’s no way the Wolves are paying to keep Reid unless his market completely evaporates.

That’s why Stevens ought to inquire. Boston could add a two-way big man who still has never averaged more than 20 minutes per game in the NBA. Joe Mazzulla would have the luxury of leaning heavily on Reid whenever Williams III or Horford is unavailable. Reid would mostly play a robust bench role to pace those two to the finish line of the regular season.

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The Celtics could then splurge to retain Reid this summer, even if his price tag spiked above midlevel money, which feels unlikely. But let’s say he gets $10 million per season. The Celtics still would only be paying a trio of bigs a total of $30.5 million next year. That’s roughly 17 percent of the team’s total projected salary spend.

The Wolves will daydream of a bigger return than Pritchard but there’s a real chance he could help an inconsistent offense with a turnover problem. Pritchard could blossom in a heftier role than what Boston can consistently offer, and he’s on rookie money for another season after this.

2. Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs

The price tag -- both to acquire Poeltl, and then keep him in green -- adds some pain points to any potential deal. But the talent is undeniable.

The Spurs likely would be seeking multiple first-round picks, especially because the Celtics would need to send out Danilo Gallinari to make the money work. The Spurs can reacquire Gallinari despite waiving him earlier this year and the two teams would not necessarily need a third team’s involvement.

The Spurs would improve their odds of landing Victor Wembanyama and add draft assets. The Celtics splurge on premium big-man insurance with hopes that Poeltl's stay extends beyond this season. The only thing that complicates paying Poeltl hefty money is the fact that both Grant Williams and Brown could be in line for big-money extensions this summer.

3. Anyone on the Hornets over 6-foot-7

It feels like there’s a fire sale coming in Charlotte. Low prices. Everything must go.

Might that include P.J. Washington? The Celtics would probably prefer more pure size to beef up the 5 position but Washington could thrive here. Boston could just barely squeeze Washington into the Josh Richardson trade exception, which would trim Charlotte’s payroll and let them prioritize draft assets.

Prefer more size? How about 6-foot-9 Jalen McDaniels? He’s obviously more of a wing but adds size and defensive versatility. Even after he struggled to contain Tatum during that big night in Charlotte, you could see McDaniels' value.

If you’re holding us to a legitimate big, then you’re going to have to make a real solid pitch on Mason Plumlee. The Hornets would have to take back Gallinari, which might be a deal-breaker given his player option (though he might not activate it with the Hornets in rebuild mode). Does he move the needle enough for the salary you’d be taking on?

4. Willy Hernangomez, New Orleans Pelicans

It wouldn’t be the sexiest move, and we’re always skeptical of reports considering how Stevens typically prefers to operate in the shadows, but Hernangomez makes a fair amount of sense as a small-splash option.

Hernangomez rebounds, he moves the ball, and he gives you a more traditional big man with good size. Hernangomez plays with good energy and does a lot of the big-man dirty work.

Hernangomez is on low money for this season ($2.4 million) and next ($2.6 million). He’d come relatively cheap and would be a mild upgrade over Luke Kornet as the third center.

5. Daniel Theis, Indiana Pacers

Just kidding. But it simply won’t feel like the trade deadline without the Celtics making a move involving Theis.

6. Jarred Vanderbilt, Utah Jazz

This 6-foot-9 power forward rebounds well and and his assist percentage has skyrocketed this year. He’ll probably fetch more than Boston can offer. But maybe Stevens phones Danny Ainge just to see how he’d feel about a reunion with Pritchard.

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Ultimately, it feels like the Celtics will be challenged to upgrade their third big based on the assets available and the price tags that will likely exist. We’ll say it again, though: Stevens tends to work in the shadows and when he takes a swing, he swings for the fences.

We suspect that, if Stevens elects to make a move, it will be with the goal of finding a player who can impact not only the playoff run but be a rotational piece deeper into the future.