With the fifth-youngest team in the NBA, the Boston Celtics have a roster that's far from a finished product.
Now heading into the trade deadline having overachieved since they lost Gordon Hayward on Oct. 17, Boston will have two options: Stay conservative and roll with the current squad, or take a proactive approach knowing that a path to the NBA Finals looks open.
We break down what moves they can and should make in the next week.
The one thing that we have learned from GM Danny Ainge during his tenure in Boston is that no player on the Celtics' roster is ever truly untouchable. Putting personal feelings aside, starting with the trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013 and last summer with Isaiah Thomas, Ainge's focus has been solely to create a sustainable product. That said, Boston has five players — Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who are close to untouchable.
Would that change if an All-Star like Anthony Davis becomes available? As Ainge has proved in the past, no player or draft pick is totally off the table in discussions.
There is a difference to the Celtics' roster in comparison to teams such as the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards. While all have committed $80 million to three players, Boston built the base of its roster through the draft with a combination of lottery picks (Brown, Tatum and Marcus Smart), later first-round finds ( Terry Rozier and Guerschon Yabusele) and second-rounders ( Semi Ojeleye and Abdel Nader).
For that reason, the Celtics shouldn't have roster restrictions because of the luxury tax over the next three season — unless they elect to invest a contract in the neighborhood of $15 million during the offseason.
Ainge bought insurance for the future before the 2017 draft when he made the blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia 76ers to move back two spots.
Not only did the Celtics draft Tatum with the No. 3 pick, but Ainge also acquired another asset in either the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round pick (if it lands Nos. 2-5) this season or the 76ers/ Sacramento Kings pick in 2019 (protected at No. 1). Knowing that Boston would likely have a lottery pick in either scenario allowed Ainge to use the 2018 Nets pick to target a franchise player in Kyrie Irving.
Now with their own pick in all future years, a possible lottery pick in 2018 or 2019, the Memphis Grizzlies' 2019 first (top-nine protected) and the LA Clippers' 2019 first (lottery protected), Boston has stockpiled assets to either keep building its roster in the draft or have available when that next superstar is looking for a new home.
The Celtics do have their own second-round pick in the next two-seasons but only if it falls between Nos. 31-55. Currently the Celtics would owe second-rounders to the Oklahoma City Thunder this season and Grizzlies next year. Boston does have its own second-round pick without any protection starting in 2020.
The closest thing the Celtics have to player with an untradable contract is Gordon Hayward.
Had the former All-Star not suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the season, Hayward would not be mentioned in this passage. However, with a cap hit of $29.7 million, $31.2 million, $32.7 million and $34.2 million over the next four seasons, Hayward would not be considered a trade candidate for opposing teams until he proves that the ankle injury is of no concern.
The odds of Boston using its $8.4 million disabled player exception are low. Since 2007, only one in four teams have used the exception.
The one advantage that the Celtics have over teams in the past is an available roster spot and assets, either with their own first-round pick or future second-round picks. In no circumstances should the Celtics entertain offers in which it involves picks acquired from another team.
What players are available? These names stand out:? Lou Williams, Tyreke Evans, Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Joe Harris, Corey Brewer, James Ennis, Brandan Wright, Mario Hezonja and Alex Len.
All 11 players qualify because they are in the final seasons of their contracts.
Considering his All-Star-type season and Bird rights (giving the Celtics the ability to exceed the cap when re-signing him), Williams is the only player Boston should consider moving their own first-round pick for (currently projected for No. 28). The red-hot Williams also could help solve the team's offensive issues when Irving sits.
And unless a true superstar surprisingly becomes available in trade talks, that's the most aggressive the Celtics should be in improving this young roster for a deep playoff push. Though the East is wide open, a conservative approach is best since this team is not a finished product, with plenty of assets to improve in the future.
One name that should be on the Celtics' wish list is the Chicago Bulls' Robin Lopez.
The veteran Lopez, under contract through the 2018-19 season, has played a key role both on and off the court for a young Bulls team.
Lopez has a salary of $13.8 million and for Boston to put together a trade package it would need to include two of either Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes or Marcus Morris. That package would have little appeal to the Bulls unless Smart is involved or the Celtics include their own first-rounder this season.
Boston will have an open roster and pay close attention to the March 1 waiver buyout deadline.
One name to keep an eye on is the Suns' Greg Monroe. The center is expected to receive a buyout before March 1.