• Matt Chin

OTG's NBA Trade Deadline Marathon: Day 3.5

Boston’s top priority is to use the $8.4 million designated player exception (DPE) stemming from Gordon Hayward’s early season injury. The DPE is a significant weapon. Utilizing it won’t affect the Celtics’ luxury tax threshold, and it positions them to enter buyout season with the deepest pockets of any contender. In their ideal world, players like Greg Monroe, Marco Belinelli, and Ersan Ilyasova will be released, and then Boston wouldn’t have to forfeit assets at the trade deadline.

There is, however, a certain 23-year-old Massachusetts native who has been forgotten around the league.

The relationship between Nerlens Noel and the Dallas Mavericks has probably soured to a point where burned bridges aren’t resolvable. The likelihood of Noel re-upping this summer feels bleak, so Donnie Nelson would be prudent to send quiet feelers to the market. Noel is set to return to action in early February, which would afford Rick Carlisle about a week to showcase his enigmatic big man before the trade deadline.

Danny Ainge has an unabashed history regarding his interest in Noel, so it’s plausible that Boston could jump at him while his value is in the basement.

According to tracking stats from Cleaning The Glass, Boston is the third most efficient team at defending the rim. However, they rank in the middle of the pack in block percentage (15th) and don’t roster anyone over 6’10”. The combination of Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis has defended admirably, but adding Noel’s shot erasing capabilities would solidify the backline defense. Boston has a need for an influx of athleticism in the frontcourt, and he certainly fits the bill.

The Celtics aren’t a heavy pick-and-roll team, so Noel’s offensive fit isn’t perfect. However, his rim running could help to collapse opposing defenses and create perimeter space for shooters, similarly to Clint Capela’s role in Houston. Noel plays above the rim and can clean up most garbage around the basket.

Currently, Boston has too many developmental players and not enough minutes to distribute. Dallas could take fliers on Yabusele and Nader, both of whom remain unfinished projects. That’s a palatable return given how poor Noel’s Dallas tenure has been. The two-for-one scenario would open up a roster spot for Danny Ainge to plug in a veteran free agent before the playoff push.

Trader Danny is still loaded with attractive future assets (pause for collective head shaking). He has all of Boston’s draft capital in hand, and possesses future picks from the Lakers/Kings, Grizzlies, and Clippers. But the flattened salary cap and new super-max provisions have turned draft picks into hot commodities, so this should be a buyer’s market. Ainge’s vision has always been to be the top contender after LeBron ages and Klay Thompson’s contract expires. He won’t jeopardize that.

Unlike in past trade deadlines, a splashy trade at the expense of breaking up the current Boston core seems untenable. Ainge will immediately hang up on anyone inquiring about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Anthony Davis is not happening, so the remaining optimists can put that idea on the back burner…for now.


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