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Is there a Celtics-Sixers trade that makes them both better now?


Last summer, Danny Ainge was more robber baron than NBA GM. After fleecing Philly for what would end up being a Markelle Futz-Jayson Tatum swap (plus what looks like a promising first round pick from the Kings), he cashed in some chips and dealt for Kyrie Irving. They weren’t just savvy moves by arguably the best front office in the last five years, but they were transactions that simultaneously crippled two intra-conference rivals.

Could a trade between Boston, Philadelphia, and Cleveland happen again? You never know with Ainge, but it seems unlikely given the landscape of the East. The Celtics are on the precipice of an extended run of contention with their trio of established All Stars, a stable of young, up-and-coming players, and a pipeline of picks. The 76ers are in a similar position that the Celtics were in last summer with promising youth and cap space to attract max contract veterans. Despite extending Kevin Love, the Cavaliers are in a rebuild mode and looking to trade bloated contracts to aging role players.



Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

So, let’s thread the needle. Three team trades are almost impossible to put together, particularly with the history (and future) between these three cities, but with a gun to their head and not at each other in a Mexican stand off, something could happen. For what it’s worth, we’re a go on RealGM’s Trade Checker and ESPN’s Trade Machine. Here’s the bones of the deal:

Celtics get Kyle Korver

76ers get Marcus Morris, Guerschon Yabusele

Cavaliers get Robert Covington

My guess is Sixers fan would rebuff this trade quicker than they can throw a snowball at Santa Claus. RoCo has earned Marcus Smart-level respect in the City of Brotherly Love, but his disappearing act against the Celtics in last year’s second round series coupled with the $46M left on his four-year deal could have management thinking twice as the team heads into another summer of courting marquee names. Getting hometown kid and Patriots hater Marcus Morris would alleviate any hard feelings. For Cleveland, they’d be getting a good 3&D 27-year-old amalgam of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to pair with Colin Sexton.

Initially, it might seem like a head scratcher for the Celtics. Morris played an integral part in last season’s success and even with the return of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston will need scoring off the bench. Yabusele showed flashes as French Draymond in Summer League and the uncertainty of Al Horford, Daniel Theis, and Aron Baynes next season could thrust the big man into an immediate role in 2019-2020.

However, there’s some logic to the trade. Morris is in a contract year. Unless he’s taking another discount in what could be his final payday, he’s probably not in green again. Korver, on the other hand, has a non-guaranteed $7.5M year left on his deal and could be a nice middle class contract to have on the books heading into next off-season. The trade would also ever-so-slightly get the Celtics closer to the luxury tax line and open up another roster spot. If Boston saw this season as a real chance to raise Banner 18, they could forgo trying to avoid starting the repeater tax clock and use the MLE on a buyout candidate in February.

The framework of the deal could even grow in December when newly signed players can be dealt. Jabari Bird, Brad Wanamaker, Amir Johnson, and Channing Frye could all fill their roles for other teams. Robert Williams could show enough promise by the February deadline to restore his lottery-level value. Ainge loved Larry Nance Jr. coming out of the draft and could be another short term target.

The only question is: what does Barbara Bottini think?

Too soon?

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