By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s no secret that the Celtics are in need of a big man who can rebound.
On the flip side, the Magic have a glut of those type of players in their own frontcourt. Hence, reports that the Celtics have held exploratory talks with Orlando regarding big man Nikola Vucevic make sense. CSNNE.com and ESPN.com both indicated Friday that discussions have taken place, but no deal is imminent.
Vucevic is perhaps the Magic’s most movable contract in the frontcourt. He will earn an average of $12 million per season through the duration of his deal ending in 2018-19. That type of a pact is a terrific value in the NBA’s current salary cap climate, and that’s before considering the big man’s skillset. He’s a 26-year-old seven-footer who is a walking double-double, averaging 14.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in his career. He’s grabbing 30 percent of all available defensive rebounds this season, a mark that bests the top defensive rebounder on the Celtics roster by 10 percent.
So is there is a deal to be made here? From a needs standpoint perhaps, but there are a couple of obstacles that make any potential trade a longshot in my estimation.
Let’s start with the contract, which is a good value as I mentioned. For the past three seasons, the Celtics have focused on acquiring low-cost pieces on short-term or team-friendly deals that enable them to keep significant salary cap space open for free agency.
That shrewd planning allowed the Celtics to sign Al Horford to a maximum contract last summer and with enough maneuvering they should have the necessary cap space again to land another big fish in free agency such as Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin. There’s no guarantee either of those guys would pick Boston if offered contracts, but the path right now to signing either of them is open without having to reshuffle the current roster.
Trading for a player like Vucevic and his $12.5 million salary next season complicates that free agency scenario. The Celtics would have to shed a piece or two of their current core signed through 2017-18 in order to give themselves the opportunity to make a run at a big free agent name. That’s a sacrifice that Danny Ainge would be happy to make for the right player, but it’s unclear if Vucevic is that guy.
The big man would unquestionably help the C’s rebounding issues, but what about other areas of his game? He’s not a 3-point shooter just yet (66 career attempts), limiting his ability to stretch the floor within Brad Stevens’ pace-and-space offense. His mobility from a defensive standpoint is questionable at best as well, which is a problem when you think about the possibility of pairing him up with Al Horford in the frontcourt. Other teams going small against that duo would create matchup issues for Boston, forcing one of the high priced players to head to the bench in all likelihood.
With Danny Ainge’s focus on finding strong fits for the long haul in a quest for a championship, it’s hard to envision him closing off a free agency path and sacrificing assets for a guy that doesn’t necessarily fit well with the C’s current personnel.
Vucevic might solve some problems for Boston (rebounding), but the odds are that he’d create some fit issues as well. For that reason, this is a deal I can’t envision coming to fruition in the next month for Boston.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.