At the start of the season, the Celtics’ rotation of greats consisted of a 36-year-old Al Horford, an undersized Grant Williams and a revolving door of minimum-wage journeymen. But Robert Williams is back, potentially better than ever, and suddenly the central position doesn’t seem like much of a concern anymore.
But Athleticism Shams Charania reported Tuesday that the Celtics and Raptors have expressed “significant” interest in the trade for San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl, who is hitting unrestricted free agency this summer.
Poeltl has been the starting center for Spurs since arriving from Toronto in the Kawhi Leonard trade and has gradually become one of the best rim protectors in the league. He doesn’t have the shooting range or the foot speed to get past guards like the big guys in the Celtics’ system often do, but he’s a force at both ends of the paint.
He’s 27 and earns $9.4 million, though Charania reports he’ll command nearly $20 million in free agency after turning down a four-year, $58 million extension offer. That’s slightly above the deal Grant Williams turned down before the season.
Boston has been interested in Poeltl for several seasons and continues to monitor its market, according to team sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The sticking point was, as always, the price. San Antonio let interested parties across the league know that Spurs wanted two first-round picks for Poeltl, according to team and league sources, which was the same position they took against Derrick White. last season.
The Celtics were able to acquire White for what ended up being the 25th pick last draft and a first protected pick trade in 2028. Although Boston only lost one pick overall, that trade is so far in the future the two franchises could conceivably be in polar opposite positions as of today.
Getting two firsts for a center on an expiring contract and expecting a big raise seems unlikely, but it at least sets the bar high enough for San Antonio to walk away with a first round and some changes for Poeltl. There is no impetus for the franchise to deal with Poeltl, as Spurs have the financial flexibility to give him a four-year contract and still have buying power.
Spurs would love to pair Poeltl with vaunted prospect Victor Wembanyama if they won the lottery, and would only move Poetl if they received an offer too good to pass up, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last weekend. . But they’re currently sitting at a 12.5% chance of winning the lottery and know they can’t make decisions by that deadline, assuming they’ll even land in the top three.
Making a deal with Poeltl is tricky from Boston’s perspective because, well, this team doesn’t really need him. The backup center is the ninth or even the 10th man in the rotation most nights. He’s a rookie-caliber center who should earn more than Rob Williams next season, who has established himself as one of the team’s main players. Boston already has to deal with Grant Williams seeking a similar deal as he hits restricted free agency after this season, so how can that justify giving this to Poeltl when he doesn’t have the ability to start or even close matches?
Poeltl is overqualified to be a backup, but his San Antonio resume is already over. He can benefit from a demotion in the right situation. There is nothing he can do at this point to increase his free agency value from Spurs, and a more limited role on a major market contender is his ideal audition stage. He should be willing to accept such a role if it means playing in May and June and showing his ability to impact title contention.
Given Rob Williams’ health history and Horford’s load management program, there are plenty of opportunities for Poeltl during the regular season. Horford would likely welcome Poeltl, given his predilection for playing four and limiting his wear and tear with the tread of his career all but gone. Horford is playing 30.5 minutes per game while Luke Kornet has clocked 11.8. There is room to bring Horford back to the mid-20s and Poeltl closer to his 26.5, even as Williams’ minutes finally approached the 30 mark on the latest road trip.
But Kornet has played above his pay grade so far and fulfilled what the team asks of him. Once they get to the playoffs, the backup center will only see the ground if someone ahead of them on the depth chart is out.
According to team sources, Celtics management recognizes the possibility that Rob Williams could miss playoff games, and replicating Horford’s minute load from last postseason will be difficult as he doesn’t come out of the game. massive offseason he enjoyed at Oklahoma City in 2021.
There’s always a chance Poeltl could be brought in if Boston were to make a bigger move and have an opening in the starting lineup, but Poeltl and Rob Williams can’t play side by side, and trade Williams. has no sense. unless a star returns the other way.
This team comfortably sits in the top spot right now. There’s no need to overthink this, and nothing in Brad Stevens’ tenure indicates that he and the front office will. Team personnel could view a potential deal with Poeltl as an insurance policy for Williams, rather than part of any kind of overhaul of that clearly established eight-man rotation.
Danilo Gallinari would likely be the basis of Boston’s offer, but he cannot be traded to Spurs as they waived him in the summer after he arrived from Atlanta as part of the Dejounte Murray deal. So, Boston would have to buy Gallinari from a third team, who would also need at least a second-round pick for his issues, with Gallinari potentially going for his player option next season at age 35 and coming out of a torn ACL. .
While the vault location could use an upgrade, it doesn’t fix a problem beyond a possible injury. There are other areas where Boston could use some help. Sam Hauser’s cold streak made acquiring a veteran sniper plausible. Payton Pritchard has been effective on his occasional chances, but Boston could use an explosive point scorer as an option. Boston doesn’t have longer, more athletic wings than its two stars.
These are all luxuries in the rotation, and Boston could use a second-round pick to acquire someone who fits those descriptors for a few minutes a night, but this team is about as complete as teams get at this point. . The ninth or 10th man in the rotation rarely makes or breaks a title run. They’ll be called in moments over the two months it takes to be the last team to qualify for the playoffs, but the difference in margins is exactly that: marginal.
Pritchard is playoff tested and at least passed the mentality test. We’ll see with Hauser, but this is his first season of real league minutes, and he’s far from a finished product. If the Celtics were to pick one of those athletic bench wings like Charlotte’s Jalen McDaniels, an impending free agent who Charania thinks could be one of the many Hornets available, could they believe he’ll be more ready for playoff basketball than Hauser?
Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford are clear reminders of how productive young bench players can be when given the freedom to enjoy plenty of minutes in a team that isn’t competing for a title.
The Celtics can afford to forfeit deals when they are outbid by this deadline. This summer will be the third straight draft they’ve been able to play in in the first round, and they need to think about what the bench will look like in a few years from now if they don’t continue to develop quality prospects. Poeltl doesn’t seem to have a future in Boston unless either Rob Williams or Al Horford suffer a serious injury.
In all likelihood, a Celtics move at the deadline would look like a second-round pick for a complementary bench. They already invested their first to bolster the rotation when they made the White and Brogdon trades in 2022. This team no longer needs reforming.
But, whether it’s Danny Ainge or Brad Stevens at the helm, if the price is right, they’ll listen.
(Photo: Mike Watters/USA Today)
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