NBA Notebook: How the Celtics can better position themselves for Anthony Davis pursuit ahead of trade deadline

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The Celtics will be sitting this trade deadline out when it comes to the Anthony Davis derby, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help themselves on that front now when the opportunity arises to make a deal in the summer. How exactly could Danny Ainge and cap guru Mike Zarren do some maneuvering now that helps them land the prized All-Star? Let’s examine one possible tweak that opens the door for the Celtics to have a few more options in a potential swap.

Let’s begin with the general guidelines: The need to send out $21.6 million in order to land Davis per CBA trade rules for tax teams. Davis makes $27.1 million in 2019-20 so that’s the threshold that is needed in order to make the money work. That’s also assuming Davis would waive his 15 percent trade kicker, which is no guarantee. If he doesn’t, that $21.6 million goes up.

The Celtics have a number of ways to get to that threshold with their own players, but a lot of them include adding assets that they may not want to include in the deal.

There are some easy ways the Celtics can reach that threshold. Including Gordon Hayward’s contract ($32 million per year) is an easy path but it’s unclear whether the Pelicans would want to take on that kind of dough without getting additional compensation given how the former All-Star looks this year. I would imagine Brad Stevens would not be in favor of such a maneuver after luring his college star to Boston as a free agent two years ago.

Al Horford is another possibility to fill that gap ($30.1 million) but he has a player option for 2019-20 and there is no way he would want to go to a rebuilding situation at age 32. The Celtics could obviously use another elite big man to pair with Davis as well, so the internal preference from my understanding is that Horford remains on the roster. His use to New Orleans would be limited anyway, making a third team necessary in any hypothetical offer, which further complicates things.

If Horford and Hayward aren’t in the mix, the Celtics have very few options to get up to the $21.6 million salary threshold remaining to match the Davis salary. Marcus Smart ($12.7 million) would have to be included in almost any package to make it work and that’s not a good thing for a team that wants to contend now. Smart is a crucial cog to this roster now on both ends and his versatility will be almost impossible to replace on the free agent market.

Want to keep Smart? You’ll have to deal Brown, Tatum, Williams, Yabusele, Ojeleye, the draft picks and convince Aron Baynes to opt into to his player option and play in New Orleans (highly unlikely). It’s doubtful Ainge wants to empty the cupboard by that much since he will have very little to rebuild the rest of the roster with.

The bottom line here? The Celtics could certainly use more 2019-20 salary on the books to help them make a trade without needing to include so many key assets. How exactly can they address this issue in the next week while they are forced to sit on the sidelines for Davis? Here’s a look at an option the front office could consider: