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Celtics

Robb: Ainge’s Patience Pays Off In Three-Team Deal

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
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Marcus Thornton and Tyler Zeller. (Photos by Issac Baldizon and David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

Marcus Thornton and Tyler Zeller. (Photos by Issac Baldizon and David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

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ORLANDO – After seeing what the Celtics have done lately, one has to think even Bill Belichick is a little impressed with the treasure chest of assets Danny Ainge has accumulated in the past calendar year.

Boston’s president of basketball operations added another first round pick to his extensive collection of future selections on Wednesday in a three-team trade with Brooklyn and Cleveland. The Celtics landed a protected pick from Cleveland, plus a young center (Tyler Zeller), and an overpaid guard on an expiring contract (Marcus Thornton) for the cost of almost nothing (a protected second round pick).

With this move, Ainge followed the blueprint that he’s used in a number of minor deals since last summer in the midst of a rebuild. In these transactions, Ainge either dumps some long-term salary (Courtney Lee) or shows a willingness to accept some undesirable money (Joel Anthony) in order to add to his pool of trade chips.

With the Cavs in the heat of the Lebron chase this week, Ainge took advantage of the vulnerable front office in Cleveland that needed to dump salary right away to create a max salary slot for James.

The timing worked out perfectly for the Celtics, as they had a $10.4 million traded player exception that was set to expire this Saturday. With the TPE, the Celtics can accept players in a trade that puts them over the salary cap without sending out any money in return.

Waiting this long to use the exception was a somewhat risky maneuver for the Celtics, since once it expires a team gets nothing for it. Ainge surely passed on other opportunities during the past season to use it, while hoping that a favorable deal like this would surface. The patience paid off.

So how much value did Boston acquire in this deal? And will it help them much long term? Let’s take look a closer look at the pieces from Cleveland and Brooklyn, which may or may not be with the team for much longer.

Marcus Thornton

The 27-year-old shooting guard split his season last year between the Nets and Sacramento Kings. His best two NBA seasons were his first two, as the second round pick was an offensive sparkplug off the bench for the New Orleans Pelicans and later the Kings after he was traded there. He parlayed that production into a four-year deal back in 2011 that now looks like a steep overpay as his shooting numbers leveled off.

On the floor, he’s a streaky shooter, with a 36 percent career mark from 3-point range. If he stays in Boston, he should provide some much needed floor spacing for a bad Celtics offense off the bench, but that’s a big if. The Celtics have a very crowded backcourt with Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart right now, so minutes might be hard to come by for Thornton. The team could try to pump up his value in a trade during the season by giving him regular minutes, but this could be a tough situation for Brad Stevens to navigate.

Tyler Zeller

He’s a former first round pick out of North Carolina that has spent just two years in the NBA at this point. He immediately fits a need for Boston, just because he’s a 7-footer. Unfortunately, he won’t be solving the team’s rim protector problem since paint protection isn’t exactly his strong suit.

Zeller does have a nicely developing offensive game though. He shot a career-high 53 percent from the field last year and his adequate mid-range game should make him a cost effective replacement for Kris Humphries in the Celtics frontcourt. He’s signed for two more years with Boston, giving the Celtics a nice free look at the big man.

Cleveland’s protected 1st round pick

Multiple reports indicate this selection is top-10 protected from 2016-2018, before becoming unprotected in 2019. How good could this pick be? Talk to me in a few days when Lebron makes his decision on either Cleveland or Miami. If he’s heading back to Cleveland, this pick will probably be in the late 20’s.

All in all, this is as good of a haul as Boston could ever hope to get for simply taking on a decent young player making too much money in Thornton. Celtics fans should be excited as Ainge continues to accumulate pieces to cash in for Boston’s next big move, whenever that may be.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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