The NBA is a shared ecosystem. It’s the old “a butterfly flaps its wings in China and it rains in Texas” theory. Every deal has a trickle-down effect on every team, not just the ones involved. Today’s monster trade between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers is no different. This is CelticsBlog, so we’re going to take a look at how this trade impacts the Boston Celtics, and boy did it ever.
Philadelphia goes all-in
Ever since they made the Jimmy Butler trade, the 76ers have been weak at power forward. They’ve been starting Wilson Chandler, who recently got injured and will miss some time, and will now fill that spot with Tobias Harris. That’s a huge upgrade for Philadelphia. Harris is a far better player and he’s healthy. He should have been an All-Star and likely would have been one if he was in the East two weeks ago.
In addition, the Sixers added two solid frontcourt backups in Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott. In the past, when Boston has played Joel Embiid off the floor due to foul trouble or when he’s resting, the Celtics have had great success going at his backups. Neither Marjanovic nor Scott is better than Boston’s bigs, but they did close the gap some.
The biggest question when the Celtics and 76ers meet is now: who does Kyrie Irving guard? In recent matchups, the Celtics have put Irving on Chandler. Philly tried to go at him on occasion, but largely it allowed Irving to hang out and help off Chandler, who just stood around the arc. In addition, it lets the Celtics keep Marcus Smart on J.J. Redick. That makes Boston’s switching defense more effective as they navigate the maze of screens the Sixers set for Redick.
Now? Brad Stevens either tasks Irving to chase Redick, which makes the Celtics less likely to switch, as Irving would be in a mismatch against any other Sixer. Or Stevens puts Irving on the non-shooting Ben Simmons. That’s not ideal, as Simmons will overpower Irving to get in the paint and can see over him with ease to find passing lanes.
The best bet for Boston? Stick with the strategy that works and put Irving on Harris. Harris is far more of a weapon than Chandler is, but if Philadelphia wants to take the ball out of Simmons, Embiid and Butler’s hands to play through a new addition in Harris, so be it. That’s a gamble worth taking for the Celtics, as it allows them to keep everything else the same as much as possible. And Boston will keep switching everything and then scrambling Irving out of mismatches whenever possible.
On the other end, Philadelphia has trouble guarding Irving already and this trade does nothing to quell those concerns. T.J. McConnell remains the best Irving defender on the roster, and he’s in a 10-15 minute per game backup. It’s easy to say “Jimmy Butler can defend Irving”, but Butler hasn’t defended point guards on a consistent basis for years. Planning on him going head-to-head on Irving for up to 35-40 minutes per game over a playoff series is a big ask.
Overall, this stresses the Boston defense a little more. Stevens will have to figure things out, but the Celtics have enough good-to-great defenders that they can make it work. It’s the offensive end where the Celtics have had a big advantage and they continue to have that. In addition, Boston’s bench is still far better than Philadelphia’s. The 76ers will make some upgrades, but they’re going to ask their starters to carry a heavy minute load the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
Los Angeles punting on this season impacts pick owed to Boston
The Clippers owe the Celtics a first round pick either this year or next, or that pick turns into a second round pick. The kicker is that pick is lottery protected for Los Angeles. As of today, the Clippers are sitting in the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers are right there competing with the Clippers for that last spot. Trading away Harris is a sign that the Clips are punting on this season (and being first round fodder for the Golden State Warriors) and re-prioritizing for the offseason.
What does this mean for Boston? You can probably say goodbye to getting a 2019 first rounder from Los Angeles. The hope now is that the Clippers big dreams for this summer pay off and they make the playoffs in 2020 and deliver a first to the Celtics at that point. Otherwise, that once promising extra first becomes a far less promising extra second rounder.
The Kings postseason chances just went up
If the Clippers fall out of the playoffs, the Kings are right there to challenge for the spot. As much as we all struggle to envision a LeBron James-led Lakers team missing the postseason, that team is a mess right now. They just got hammered by 42 points at the Indiana Pacers, which was the worst loss of LeBron James’ career in a game he actually played in.
So, it’s sitting right there for Sacramento to make their first postseason appearance since 2006. If that happens, it’s an unmitigated disaster for the Celtics.
Obviously, Jayson Tatum has become the jewel of the pre-draft trade Danny Ainge swung with the 76ers in 2017. Boston has won that trade almost no matter what happens from here. But the icing on that delicious cake was the Kings pick. Everyone expected that pick to be top-5 at worst. With Sacramento playing well, those hopes have become no more than a faint dream. Maybe the basketball gods will smile upon the Celtics with some lucky bounces in the lottery. But if the Kings make the playoffs, those faint dreams turn into nightmares. Well, maybe not nightmares. Restless sleep? Whatever. It’s not good.
That Kings pick, if it lands somewhere in the top-10, is pretty high on the asset list for Ainge to send to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Anthony Davis. If that pick falls to the mid to late-teens, its value goes way down. It won’t take Boston out of the race for Davis, but they’ll have to add something else to what will be an already considerable trade package.
What else are we missing?
For the rest of this season, probably not much. If you haven’t been living off the grid, you’ve probably heard the Celtics can’t trade for Davis right now anyway. So, it’s all a waiting game anyway. Boston and Philadelphia could be competing for similar talent on the buyout market, but the Celtics don’t even have an open roster spot right now.
Down the line, the Sixers roster construction could have an impact. Let’s be positive and say Boston brings back Irving in the summer. The overall cost of the roster could be too high to retain a player like Marcus Morris. He’s a Philadelphia native and would be an ideal fit for the 76ers as a bench player. And they’re going to have a bit more money to offer, as the Sixers are likely to have the full Non-Taxpayer Mid-level Exception available.
But it doesn’t matter if it is Morris or not. The point is that Boston and Philly will be competing for similar talent to fill out their benches, and the 76ers might have more money to offer. That’s always a difference maker.
As for Davis, this doesn’t change much for Boston, except that the Clippers could now be involved. They’ve added a whole bunch of draft capital that they could trade for Davis, along with some young talent. And the Clippers, like the Knicks, are poised to have two max salary slots this summer. And Steve Ballmer and crew aren’t afraid to swing for the fences. And of course, the Celtics picks may have been lessened some.
But it could mean good news for Boston! The Clippers will make a play for Davis, but the Celtics can still outbid them. That just means LA will turn their eyes towards free agents like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, or even Jimmy Butler in a delightful twist of irony. Any of those players leaving their current teams for the Clippers would weaken direct competitors for the Celtics.
This season is going to play out however it plays out. This trade deadline is going to usher in a summer of change around the entire NBA. It’s likely to be chaos. Almost no matter what, the Celtics will be sitting pretty atop their treasure chest of assets. But it’s time to start cashing them in. And we all know who Ainge wants to redeem his chips for, before they just become tokens of broken dreams.