Why the Nets-Celtics Trade Makes Sense for Both Sides

At first blush, the Nets-Celtics trade reported last night, which sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and the Nets’ first round picks from 2014, 2016, and 2018, appears incredibly one-sided in favor of the Nets. And in some ways, it is. The Nets got the two best players in the deal, two future Hall of Famers for what amounts to a bunch of crummy flotsam from the Nets and 3 future first round picks. It’s easy to bash this deal for the Celtics.* The Celts got some picks that figure to be pretty low value in 2014, 2016, and a pick of more indeterminable value in 2018 and a bit of salary relief for two Celtics’ legends and guys who can definitely still play. That’s the bad part.

The more nuanced way to view this deal is that the Celtics had already determined they weren’t winning anything with their aging group and Rajon Rondo recovering from ACL surgery and they’ve now totally blown up their roster. In the NBA, the worst thing you can be is mediocre. So the Celtics got what they could for their guys, and they are now pretty clearly tanking to try and position themselves the best that they can for what is being touted as the best draft class since the fabled 2003 draft that brought LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony into the league.

Celtics fans would be forgiven if they weren’t thrilled with that plan, given what has happened to them the last two times they brazenly attempted to tank for top picks in the 1999 draft (targeting Tim Duncan) and 2007 draft (targeting Greg Oden or Kevin Durant). The plan, however, remains the C’s best bet to return to relevancy. They need to be bad before they can become good again. They’re accumulating assets, hoping to get a great draft pick in next year’s draft, and then hoping Danny Ainge can pull of another amazing set of trades like the ones which brought the Big 3 together. Ainge got absolutely the most value he could get from his current situation, make no mistake about that. Garnett seemingly wasn’t waiving his no trade clause unless he was dealt in tandem with his buddy Pierce. The only team nuts enough to trade for both Garnett and Pierce, at their advanced ages, given what they’re owed, was the Nets. Ainge found the only trade partner who he could realistically get to take those two deals and got the most value from them he could get. It will be interesting to see how things shake out for these Celtics, but Ainge has, rightly, blown up the Ubuntu Celtics and managed to come out of it with 4 future first round picks (including the one he received from the Clippers for Doc Rivers’s services) and the Celtics themselves will be one of the worst teams in the league next year and will have good odds of a top pick in next year’s loaded draft. Good on Ainge for making a hard choice and pulling the trigger, and kudos to Mikhail Prokhorov for being willing to spend, spend, spend to try to make his team a viable contender.

*I’ve seen some people try to bash this trade for the Nets, which I just don’t understand. The Nets made immediate improvements to their team and gave up picks that will likely now not be worth a whole heck of a lot in 2014 or 2016, who knows about 2018? But people saying they’ve mortgaged their future have it exactly wrong. They didn’t have a future, they just lost to half a Bulls team in the first round(!), now they’ve firmly ensconced themselves in the tier of contenders beneath the Heat. If Dwyane Wade has an off series next year or suffers more knee pain or an injury, it’s totally conceivable that the Heat could fall and the Nets will be as well positioned as anyone to take advantage of such a situation.