Why a Clint Capela trade is not realistic for the Celtics (for now)

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The NBA world is hungry for new rumors at this time of year and the latest buzz in Celtics land during the past 24 hours surrounds Rockets center Clint Capela. Steve Kyler tweeted over the weekend that the Celtics are ‘seriously engaged’ in trade talks with the Rockets about the big man and have also had talks with Terry Rozier about a potential return.

It’s no surprise to see Capela’s name floated on the market after multiple reports last month indicated that everyone on the Rockets short of James Harden was available for the right price. However, a look at the situation from the Celtics’ perspective makes it close to impossible that any serious trade talks are going on right now involving Capela. Let’s take a closer look at why.

NBA Trade Rules

It’s easy to throw out names and connect them to teams, but it’s far harder to find a trade that actually makes sense for both sides. While there’s little doubt that the Celtics should have an interest in a player like Capela (strong rebounder and rim protector), his salary ($15.2 million for 2018-19) creates an issue. Salary matching is a requirement for any trade with two teams over the cap and it’s even stricter for when one team (the Celtics) are in the luxury tax, which is the case until July 1st.

Essentially, the Celtics have to send out over $12 million to make the deal work under CBA rules before July 1 or slightly less ($11.5 million) after July 1st. Given those restrictions, here’s what the Celtics have to work with at the moment from a salary matching standpoint:

Gordon Hayward: $32.7 million
Marcus Smart: $12.6 million
Jayson Tatum: $7.8 million
Jaylen Brown: $6.5 million
Guerschon Yabusele: $3.1 million
Robert Williams: $1.9 million
Semi Ojeleye: $1.3 million

Making any type of trade for Capela would involve moving Hayward (Rockets say no), Tatum (C’s say no), Brown (C’s say no) or Smart. While both Smart and Capela are valuable pieces, I’d argue that Smart is the more valuable all-around piece given his versatility on defense and his 3-point shooting gains over the past year. Some teams may prefer to have Capela over Smart but the Celtics are not one of them.

There are other hypothetical scenarios for a Capela deal, but all of them lots of uncertainty at this point of the offseason calendar. Al Horford is probably the most realistic choice among them. He’s got until June 30 to make a decision on his $30.1 million option. Danny Ainge already announced last week that the Celtics are prioritizing a long-term extension with the former All-Star. Even at age 33, retaining him is a priority for Boston no matter what happens with Kyrie Irving.

However, there is a possibility that Horford declares he wants out of Boston to go play with a team with a better chance of contending (if Irving walks). The Rockets may be one of those squads. In that scenario, Horford could be traded to Houston for Capela and another piece (Eric Gordon?) to make the money work but I’m not sure that deal