The Boston Celtics are 14-6 since Dec. 31, surging into a virtual tie with the sixth-seeded Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets, who are seventh in the East. Since New Year’s Eve, the highest plus-minus rating (+10.2) and net rating in the NBA (10.8) belong to Boston.
Through 55 games, the Celtics have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. They’ve taken their play on that end to an even higher level since Ime Udoka decided to have Al Horford defend opposing centers so Robert Williams could play off the ball, making it easier for him to protect the rim.
However, when it comes to their offensive output, even if you start from New Year’s Eve rather than the duration of the season, Boston ranks 19th in points per game, producing 109 per contest. It drives home the Celtics’ defense is championship caliber, but their offense is not.
Brad Stevens acknowledged the reality of the situation in his most recent appearance on Toucher & Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
“We’ve got to improve offensively to get to the level where you’re in the mix. I think that’s real. I think that some of that can be done internally…generally, in the big picture, it’s pretty rare that you don’t have a top-five offense and defense and have a chance Right now, our defense is at that level, and our offense is not.”
One way for Boston to improve offensively is making a deal for Jerami Grant, whose name has come up in numerous trade rumors leading up to Thursday’s deadline, including one that links him to the Celtics.
Grant is averaging 19.3 points per game this season. He’s not an efficient scorer or much of a threat from beyond the arc, shooting 40.8 percent from the field and converting 33.8 percent of his 5.3 three-point attempts, but that production’s coming on 15.5 shots per contest, and he could continue to get or at least come close to that figure in Boston.
He also averages 5.7 free throws per game and makes them at an 84.4 percent clip, generating 4.8 points from there. Along with Jayson Tatum (5.9), that would give the Celtics two players in the top 20 in that category. With Jaylen Brown attempting 4.9, they’d have three members of the top 30, which would help overcome being below average from beyond the arc.
Even if playing alongside Tatum and Brown meant Grant’s free-throw attempts dip a bit, they probably wouldn’t plummet. Another figure that would likely come down is the number of threes he takes.
However, that projects to be beneficial for him and whatever team he finds himself on after the deadline. The Syracuse alum converted 39.2 percent of his 3.7 shots from beyond the arc while with the Thunder in 2018-19. He then knocked down 38.9 percent of the 3.5 threes he hoisted while with the Nuggets in 2019-20.
The primary benefit to trading for Grant is the impact a scorer of his caliber could have on their offense in the playoffs. It’s not as if he’s a liability on defense, though. He’s a six-foot-eight, athletic, and versatile wing defender. The Nuggets trusted Grant as their go-to defend against the likes of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George during their playoff run to the Western Conference Finals two years ago.
The Celtics’ trade package would aim to provide enough draft pick compensation and financial relief to best the other offers the Pistons receive for Grant. It would also include at least one of Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford.
As part of the deal, Boston could bring back Kelly Olynyk. Doing so would help the Celtics shooting-wise and upgrade their top option when looking to bring in a center off the bench, which is currently Enes Freedom. Olynyk’s effectiveness from beyond the arc has fluctuated throughout his eight years in the NBA, but he’s a career 36.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc. He’s taking 3.8 threes this season and converting them at a 30-percent clip, but a return to Boston, playing alongside better talent, could increase his current long-range production from him.
Olynyk’s making $12.2 million this season. It’s the first year of a three-year deal he signed with Detroit over the summer, which comes with $28 million guaranteed. In 2023-24, the last year of the contract, “only” $3 million of the $12.2 million on his deal is guaranteed.
Acquiring Olynyk’s multi-year deal and taking Grant’s $20.9 million off the Pistons’ books in 2022-23 is assuredly something that will appeal to their owner, Tom Gores, as the franchise works to rebuild around Cade Cunningham. In return, they’d have to take on Al Horford’s contract, but “only” $14.5 million of that is guaranteed for next season. Absorbing that money in exchange for getting off Olynyk’s deal is a net positive for Detroit.
As for the Celtics, by including Horford in a trade for Grant and Olynyk, they can construct a deal that allows them to get under the tax, even if Jaylen Brown becomes an All-Star as an injury replacement this season. If that happens, they’d be about $2.8 million over the tax, per Spotrac.
For instance, by trading Horford, Nesmith, Freedom, and Bruno Fernando, along with the necessary draft capital to acquire Grant and Olynyk, Boston would squeak under the tax, sending out $35 million in exchange for $32.1 million in salary.
In that scenario, the Celtics would likely trade PJ Dozier and his $1.9 million contract to give them more breathing room. The safest bet would be he goes to Oklahoma City since the Thunder are about $20 million under the cap floor. Boston would also send cash to cover his salary from him.
That’s just one example, and there are ways to construct a trade with the Pistons that get the Celtics more comfortably under the tax without pressing them to make another move.
Will adding Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk result in the Celtics raising banner 18 to the rafters this year? Probably not. But that might be the best return they can get for Horford. Viewing deals through the prism of whether they make you a top-tier title contender can be paralyzing. It can lead to maintaining the status quo in years that need to convince Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown Boston is the best place for them beyond their current contracts.
Grant’s next contract shouldn’t be the reason the Celtics don’t make an aggressive push for him, either. And as stated earlier, he’s got another year left on his deal after this one, so at a minimum, Boston would get to see the impact of adding nearly a 20 point per game scorer, who’s also a two-way player, plus improve its rotation with the acquisition of Olynyk.
If the Celtics don’t like how it goes with Grant, even with him on an expiring contract, they’d have a player with appreciable trade value. There’s more upside to this path than setting for moves on the margins.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism