Celtics' Gamble Not Worth Taking

The transformation of Jordan Crawford from a guy you might cut in October (and just eat his salary) to a guy fans can complain they got little in return for in January is a credit to the guard as well as coach Brad Stevens. But it’s clear that Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge couldn’t find much in value in Crawford himself, instead taking back a player and picks that are a huge gamble. Part of the reason for such low return is that a lot of teams or unable to trade their picks this year (they carry contingencies based on prior trades) or unwilling (this year’s draft is loaded). And so in return for Crawford, who was sure to be pushed out of the lineup with his production dipping in conjunction with Rajon Rondo’s return, Ainge took a risk. From the outside, it looks like it might not pay off.

In return for two expiring contracts (Crawford and MarShon Brooks), the Celtics received Joel Anthony from Miami as well as 2016 second-round pick and a first-round pick from Philadelphia that turns into two second-round picks if the downtrodden 76ers fail to make the playoffs this season and next.

Anthony has a $3.8 million player option for next year that he’s likely to exercise. If Keith Bogans took $5 million to sit on the bench this year, I don’t see why Anthony would pass up a similar payday since he’s likely to earn just the veteran’s minimum on the open market. There’s a chance that Anthony opts out, but let’s peg it at about 10 to 20 percent. In most recent years for the Celtics that wouldn’t matter, but they were in line to have about $10 million in cap space next year (accounting for cap holds) and could have had even more if they traded Brandon Bass. So the $3.8 million is a gamble, but is the chance at a first-round pick (guaranteed to be in the 15-30 range) worth that risk. And are three second-round picks a good enough consolation prize?

Let’s start by answering the last question first: No. You can buy second-round picks every year. The Celtics did it last year when they took Colton Iverson late in the second-round with a pick they bought. (For that matter, you used to be able to buy first-round picks. Remember when the Celtics bought the 21st pick in the 2006 draft from Phoenix in order to select Rajon Rondo? Of course you do.) The ultimate question becomes whether Philadelphia will make the playoffs this year or next. Again, those odds are quite long. Let’s say 40 percent. Assuming that Crawford was neither seen as a salary dump nor as an asset with any value, that means the Celtics are likely assuming $3.8 million in salary for next season with the most likely outcome being three second-round picks. Sure, salary cap space is often overvalued, but despite that, the risk is not worth taking. If you somehow had the upside of the 10th pick in the draft, that’d be one thing, but taking this chance for a late first-rounder seems unnecessary. Ainge rolled the dice—not by trading Crawford, but by assuming Anthony’s salary for next season—and the payday just isn’t worth it.

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