At 15-15, and as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics are still actively engaged in the trade market from a buyer’s perspective. Despite Danny Ainge nonchalantly dismissing the rumors that he and his front office “were up to something,” reports keep coming out, suggesting that there is a fire burning beneath the smoke.
The latest name associated with the Celtics is veteran forward Harrison Barnes, who’s having a strong season with the Sacramento Kings, and only six years removed from winning an NBA championship as a member of the Golden State Warriors.
Sam Amick of The Athletic reported on Friday morning that his name was one of those considered to be on Boston’s radar:
Harrison Barnes is playing some of the best basketball of his career and is known to be on Boston’s radar (and likely several others). The Celtics, as has been widely reported, are on the lookout for ways to make good use of the $28.5 million trade exception they created in the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade with Charlotte.
Barnes is averaging 16.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists for a pesky Kings team that’s 12-12, and fighting for a playoff spot out West.
The Celtics Don’t Plan on Letting Their $28.5 Trade Exception Expire
Whether Barnes or someone else, expect the Boston Celtics to actively pursue filling the trade exception left behind from Gordon Hayward’s sign-and-trade to Charlotte.
Given their aspirations as a club and championship window, it’s a no-brainer to swing for the home run now and acquire a starting talent, even if on a large-scale salary.
Jayson Tatum (22) and Jaylen Brown (24) are both playing some of the best basketball of their careers, inspiring visions of potentially multiple banners being hung in the rafters of TD Garden throughout the length of their careers. Coming off of three trips to the Eastern Conference finals over the last four seasons isn’t a bad place to start, either.
That’s no doubt what’s on the mind of Ainge and company. Because taking on Barnes salary, even at its declining structure, is a big commitment for a contending team like the Celtics, as Amick goes on to note in his report:
Barnes — who is second on the Kings in scoring (16.7 points per behind De’Aaron Fox), third in rebounds (6.5 per) and third in assists (3.5 per) — has a team-friendly deal that declines year-over-year ($22.2 million this season, $20.2 million next season and $18.3 million in 2022-23).
Given the nature of the trade exception, it makes sense that Ainge and Boston may be looking to cash in on an asset so rarely featured on championship payrolls.
It’s a gamble, certainly, but a gamble they won’t reap any consequences of until the offseason. If things truly shift for the worst, it should be noted that the Boston Celtics have all of their future first-round picks. That’s plenty of incentive for a lesser successful team to take on Harrison Barnes salary in the future.
A Trade for Barnes is Reliant Upon the Sacramento Kings’ Confidence
As is so often the case, it’s quite possible that these rumors could end up being just that, non-fiction.
Because the Sacramento Kings, as is also custom, are sitting at a fork in the road regarding what direction to take the club through the rest of the season. They’ve got a .500 record in the Western Conference, which is admirable, but also don’t have a championship (or playoff-caliber, frankly) roster.
At what point does the front office take the lessons learned this year, and punt any non-youth talent that could bring back assets for the future? Amick notes that as of now, this possibility seems unlikely, at least on Sacramento’s end: “To this point, sources say teams have been given the impression that the Kings have no interest in moving Barnes.”
It’s not surprising to read, given Barnes’ capability to contribute without interfering in the growth of Sacramento’s young talents like De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton.
But if Danny Ainge and this Boston Celtics front office truly covet the veteran forward and his services, don’t be surprised to see him end up in the white and green.