Robb: Why the odds of a Celtics trade deadline deal are higher than usual this year

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(Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Over the past four NBA regular seasons, there may not be a team across the league that has been less active than the Boston Celtics when it comes to in-season transactions. Danny Ainge earned the nickname of "Trader Danny" at some point early in his tenure in Boston but he’s worked hard to shed that label since 2015. Over that timespan, the Celtics have made just one in-season trade (a salary dump of Jabari Bird to Atlanta at the trade deadline in February 2019). Other than the signing of Greg Monroe with the team’s disabled player exception in 2018, there have been no notable in-season additions over the past three seasons. In fact, you could barely fill a paragraph of a story with all of the team’s moves in that span:

Celtics in-season transactions


—Signed RJ Hunter to two-way contract
—Traded Jabari Bird for a protected second-round pick (salary dump)
—Signed Greg Monroe to 10-day contract
—Signed Jonathan Gibson at end of regular season


—Signed Jarrell Eddie, Xavier Silas to a 10-day contract
—Signed Greg Monroe to 1 year, $5-million contract with disabled player exception
—Signed Jonathan Gibson at end of regular season


No in-season moves


—David Lee waived
—Coty Clarke signed to two 10-day deals
—John Holland signed at end of regular season

That type of track record should temper expectations leading into the trade deadline for the Celtics since recent history clearly shows the odds are against the Celtics making a deal.

However, there is a different element at play in February 2020 now that should shift the front office mindset to a degree and push the Celtics towards making their first notable in-season trade since February 2015 (Isaiah Thomas). Beyond a glaring need for depth on the bench, what could compel the Celtics to make a move now?

Roster management and diminishing returns

Heading into next season, the Celtics roster is already very crowded. Currently, 10 players on the roster are under guaranteed contracts for next season and four others have player option or non-guaranteed deals

Gordon Hayward: $34.1 million (player)
Enes Kanter: $5.0 million (player)
Semi Ojeleye: $1.75 million (non-guaranteed)
Javonte Green: $1.5 million (non-guaranteed)
Brad Wanamaker: Unrestricted free agent

Daniel Theis has a team option for $5 million that is a lock to be picked up as well due to his strong play this season.

Kanter seems the most likely piece to be out the door since he has posted strong enough numbers to try to get a long-term deal on the open market. The Celtics could still elect to bring him back with the mid-level exception but may just opt to hand the center position to Theis and Robert Williams (if he can stay healthy) and use that money elsewhere. Ojeleye and Green are both cheap useful players who know the C's system so there could be a spot on the roster for both since they each provide unique skillsets for their salaries.

Hayward’s future is the obvious wildcard here (we will have more on that at BSJ later this week) but the odds point towards a reunion in some form after the season, whether it’s Hayward just picking up the player option or signing a long-term deal at a reduced price with Boston. There will be limited suitors on the open market that can win and pay top dollar for him.

The bottom line here is the odds right now favor 12-13 players being under contract heading into free agency for Boston and that’s a very crowded roster before you even consider the C’s other assets.

Tremont Waters will be gunning for a roster spot along with Tacko Fall. Waters will have a legitimate case to make the team after a strong campaign in Maine this year.
—The Celtics will likely have three first-round picks in 2020 and one second-round pick in the 40s.

The math here is pretty simple. Let’s be conservative and say the Celtics enter the offseason with 12 under contract (Kanter opts out, Green cut). Here’s a look at the C’s roster in that scenario when you factor in draft picks.