As rumors swirled recently surrounding Houston Rockets’ center Omer Asik, Boston Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge showed his willingness to jump into the trade market for a true center this season by holding talks with the Rockets, albeit unsuccessfully to land the disgruntled big man. As the Rockets’ self-imposed Dec. 19 deadline came and went without any trade taking place, Ainge will also move on and the Celtics look like they could be one of the most active teams in the trade market right up until February’s deadline. Reports have recently surfaced that another center could now be available and he could potentially be a better fit in Boston than the aforementioned Asik: Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders.
Sam Amico from Fox Sports reported on Monday that Sanders could be one of the most likely trade candidates over the coming weeks and after their recent interest in Asik, one would have to think Ainge will at least be in touch with Bucks’ General Manager John Hammond to gauge the asking price for Sanders.
“Perhaps no NBA player is as available as Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders.
The Bucks are beginning to really like their young core of big men. While Sanders is in that group, the Bucks feel he can bring something decent in return, and they don’t really want to move anyone else.
Second-year power forward John Henson has played especially well since Sanders went down with a thumb injury suffered in a bar fight in early November.”
“The Bucks like him and aren’t in a rush to move him. He’s 6-foot-11 and a talented shot-blocker. But the consensus among league executives is the Bucks would move Sanders if calls were placed — especially if a draft pick of some sort was involved.”
Now we know that if there is one thing the Celtics now have an abundance of, it is draft picks. They own no less than nine first round picks through the next five drafts and also possess a number of pieces on the roster that Ainge would not hesitate to unload if the right deal came along. The Celtics were a nice surprise to start the 2013-14 season, leading the Atlantic division early and hovering around the .500 mark. However, they have slipped recently and a tough January schedule may lead Ainge towards making a move to improve his young team immediately.
As for Sanders, he broke out in 2012-13, becoming the Bucks’ starting center and one of the most intimidating interior defenders in the NBA. In 55 games as a starter last season, Sanders averaged 10.3 points, 10 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in just 28 minutes per game. It all came together for Sanders in his third season and it looked like the Bucks’ 15th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft could be a centrepiece of the team going forward. However, after a disappointing start to the 2013-14 campaign and a broken thumb sustained in a bar fight which has left him on the sidelines for nearly two months, opinions may have changed in Milwaukee and the talented shot blocker could be re-locating before the season is over.
The 25-year-old Sanders announced himself as one of the most effective interior defenders in the league last season. At 6’11”, with long arms and tremendous athleticism for a man his size, Sanders controls the paint and alters shot attempts like few players in the NBA are capable of. He was second in the league last season in blocks per game with 2.8, led the league in block percentage with 7.6 percent and had the sixth highest defensive rating in the NBA with 98.5. Sanders’ presence in the paint has a dramatic effect on opposing post players and slashers, when Sanders is within five feet of an opponent putting up a shot around the rim, they convert at just 34.9 percent, which is exceptional.
Sanders’ length and athleticism at the center position would be a welcome addition to the Celtics’ roster that currently rolls out an undersized frontcourt of Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass, which provides next to no rim protection despite their efficiency on the offensive end. Sullinger is emerging as a potential future star in Boston, expanding his shooting range to compliment his excellent rebounding ability. The strength, smarts and range of Sullinger’s game would seemingly fit perfectly alongside the athletic shot blocking and above the rim finishing ability of Sanders. If anything, Sanders’ age and athleticism could make him an even better fit than Asik, who would seemingly have a higher asking price in a trade.
The problem in trading for Sanders, aside from potential concerns about his off-court behavior, is that he has already signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension (although it does not kick in until the start of the 2014-15 season). The NBA’s poison pill provision means that while the Bucks would be trading him at his current rookie deal of just over $3 million, the Celtics would be taking him on at an average of his current and new contracts, around $9.4 million. While it does not make a deal impossible, it means that there would almost certainly have to be additional players, or potentially teams involved to make any deal work this season.
Danny Ainge is a creative general manager, and if he decides that Sanders is his guy it’s unlikely that the poison pill would be enough to stop him from attaining him. Sanders is set to return to the Bucks’ line-up on Friday and his performance over the next couple of weeks could go a long way in determining not only whether he has a place in Milwaukee but exactly how much value he has in a trade when you account for the considerable amount of money he is owed. He could very well be the long term answer to the Celtics’ need at the center position and while it may just be another in a long line of names we hear linked to the Celtics leading up to the trade deadline, few would be surprised with Ainge’s name popping up if talks for Sanders start to grow more serious.