Grab a coffee, just 4.800 words this time ;-)
So here we are, currently playing a lot of blame games. Almost everybody not named LeBron or Austin Reaves is included there. There's different opinions and many of them are extreme. But what most agree upon: the team needs another wing defender who (unlike Stanley Johnson) doesn't hurt the offense. This was apparent even before AD's injury and all the guys being out due to protocols so it should only be a bigger need now. A stretch 5 also seems to find quite some agreement among the needs, as well as giving up a guard or two in return. These trade proposals often include THT, which seems fair to me because his timeline of developing his full potential doesn't fit LeBron's timeline, his non-shooting is a non-fit on the roster and he makes plenty of mistakes on offense, too. There's talent but that talent might be more valuable to a different team. Nunn is another name floating around, one of the new guys who hasn't been in action yet, makes sense. Both guys earn more than the minimum, enabling a larger variety of trades. Other names are mostly just throw-ins in trade proposals.
I have addressed these needs in a different fan post, suggesting several names for 3&D guys on the wing or stretch 5s. That's not the point of this post. What I would like to shine a light on are these questions;
1) With AD being injured and with the state of the team, is there enough hope this team could potentially compete for a championship that it makes sense to sacrifice young assets? Everybody has to answer this question for himself/herself. To me it's a resounding 'yes, because they have LeBron and secondly, what future? If they lose all their role-players, others will emerge or be found a couple of years from now, the best role-players are already gone'. You gotta try being in the fortunate position to have LeBron.
2) The second question is are these smaller trades or tweaks sufficient or should they try to trade a star? I'd answer maybe on the first part of the question and 'it depends on the return and fit' on the second part.
3) If they do trade a star, everything changes. Is there enough time to start over from scratch? Personally I think they've had such a lack of continuity that they haven't been able to develop much of an offense, defense or schemes anyway. I see some good chemistry developing between LeBron and Russ, Bron and Reaves play really well together, Monk has fit in well but that's pretty much it. So yeah, I'd try if the return is interesting enough.
If you evaluate any of these points differently, don't bother to continue reading, it wouldn't be your cup of tea. If we came to similar conclusions, I'd be happy to hear other opinions on the trade proposal itself and the comparison of potential fit.
Here's my breakdown of a potential trade of Anthony Davis plus a minimum salary for Jaylen Brown plus salary filler (likely Juancho Hernangomez plus spare parts - the latter then to be waived). The deal I would try to negotiate is actually Anthony Davis plus Talen Horton-Tucker or Kendrick Nunn for Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, why that is and why it could be interesting for the Celtics, see below:
I gotta make this clear from the start because Anthony Davis is widely regarded as the better player, so why would the Lakers give him up? I do agree that Anthony Davis has a significantly higher ceiling than Jaylen Brown when it comes to his potential two-way impact. So why trade for a 'lesser' player?
General idea/big picture:
The biggest issue for the Lakers is offense and it's not close. They are currently 25th in offensive rating at 106.5, 12th in defensive rating at 108.6. How about without AD relative to their average? The games AD has missed:
@Indiana: 115.3 offensive rating, 8.8 points better, 107.9 defense, 0.7 points better
@OKC: 14.1 points better on offense, 9.8 points better on defense
vs Orlando: 2.5 points better on offense, 11.9 points better on defense
@Chicago: 5 points better on offense, 7.9 points worse on defense
vs Phoenix: 20.6 points worse on offense, 5.5 points better on defense (top9 Suns players available, no Dwight, Reaves or Monk)
vs Spurs: +0.2 points on offense, 25.3 points worse on defense (no Ariza, Reaves or Monk; Forbes and Young out)
vs Nets: +4.3 points on offense, 9 points worse on defense (no Ariza or Reaves; Nets missed a plethora of guys)
vs Houston: +24.4 points on offense, 13.3 points worse on defense (no center at all, no Ellington, Ariza or Reaves)
vs Memphis: -3.4 points on offense, 0.9 points worse on defense. What's interesting here is that both ratings are better than average once you eliminate the huge negatives (-45 and -72 net rating) that Darren Collison and Stanley Johnson were. The team would have been better on both ends, even with AD out, had they had some depth.
Without AD, offense has not been an issue but you gotta be cautious, it has been a big issue vs the one elite team they faced. Is that due to missing AD, due to missing depth or both? The defense has held up vs bad, mediocre and a good team, then the same question pops up on defense, is it plummeting due to AD being out, lack of depth or both? I'm sure about the defense, they obviously lacked both AD as well as defenders like Ariza or Reaves who aren't liabilities on offense.
Fit Anthony Davis:
Major reasons for offensive struggles have consistently been a lack of space to operate for LeBron and Russ alike as well as role-players struggling to produce consistently and a lack of depth to replace struggling role-players adequately. You could make the same argument about Russ:AD is shrinking the court for teammates. Yes, he does command at least a body inside and at times he's doubled. But we now - with AD out - see that the offense is already better even when they do miss more players/offensive contributors than they missed while AD was available. There's a clear indication that Russ and LeBron have an easier time generating offense playing without a traditional center and/or with an additional shooter, let alone two additional shooters. There's also the stat that BeautifulLakes provided, LeBron and AD being 12 points worse in offensive rating without Russ, a massive difference. Of course, you'd still trade Russ over AD if a trade was realistic and the return the same but that's not even remotely true. Here some additional data:
LeBron's averages up until AD's injury: 25.7 pts, 6.2 rebs, 6.8 asts, 1.7 stls, 0.9 blks, 50% fgs, 35.7% 3s, 4.7 FTA, 3.7 TO
since AD's injury: 34.8 pts, 10.3 rebs, 6.5 asts, 1.7 stls, 1.5 blks, 57% fgs, 40.4% 3s, 7.3 FTA, 3.3 TO
LeBron has a bigger workload without AD obviously. His usage rate has increased by 3%. He takes 3 additional shots on average without the second option. He has to do more as a rebounder and has to be more alert and active on defense. Even though he is, he is not as successful: his defensive rating went from 107.7 prior to AD's injury to 115.3 after it, his plus minus from +1.7 to -1.5. Okay, the Spurs game with a 135.9 defensive rating had a lot to do with that and lack of depth also played a role but obviously the team is worse defensively lacking a guy like AD. Furthermore, the 3-point shooting has a lot to do with variance.
But there's also more indications that the spacing is improved: LeBron's efficiency is much, much higher, his turnovers are lower and he draws way more fouls because there's more open driving lanes since playing more small ball or sometimes an additional shooter instead of AD. LeBron's offensive rating improved from 110.1 to 113.4, while lacking an offensive threat like AD and additional depth.
How about Russ?
Russ prior to AD's injury: 19.4 pts, 7.7 rebs, 8.3 asts, 1.1 stls, 0.2 blks, 45.2% fgs, 31.9% 3s, 5.5 FTA, 4.5 TO
after AD's injury: 20.8 pts, 10.2 rebs, 8.3 asts, 1.3 stls, 0.3 blks, 46.4% fgs, 33.3% 3s, 5.2 FTA, 5.5 TO
Like LeBron, Russ sees a massive boost in rebounds, an uptick in efficiency and no change in assist volume. Overall, the difference isn't as big as with LeBron. Russ doesn't get to the line at a higher rate and his turnovers are actually higher without AD (may very well be due to a small sample size, nonetheless it goes against the theory of improved spacing without AD). Like LeBron, Russ sees an uptick in usage rate (+2.2%) and field goal attempts per game (+2.6), his offensive rating is 5.3 points better even though he has played in some atrocious lineups (e.g. the Westbrook/Collison/THT/Johnson/Anthony lineup had an offensive rating of 70 in the first quarter, a net rating of -30, an offensive rating of 50 in the third quarter, a net rating of -110 and he played with the same lineup vs Houston as well, point being: without that anomaly his numbers look way better). Like LeBron, the defensive rating drops significantly but lack of depth generates a lot of noise in the numbers here as well. His defensive rating is 12.1 points worse since AD's injury.
Summary: the offensive numbers for LeBron and Russ look a lot better without AD, even when missing important role players, even during a losing streak. The defensive numbers look much, much worse. The team not only needs some players back but they need a defensive difference maker, whether that's AD or a player they bring in.
Let's get to Jaylen Brown:
He is such a guy who can shoot as well as score and would fit into the offense. The defense needs to hold up with Brown replacing AD, that's the crucial point here. Would it? Well, you lose an elite defensive anchor in AD - when healthy and reaching his ceiling - and would get an excellent and versatile perimeter defender in return. Your point of attack defense and perimeter defense should improve a ton while you probably have issues on the defensive glass - do you? The Lakers are 4th in defensive rebounding percentage since AD's injury, up from 22nd prior to his injury. Hmm... How about Brown's rebounding? The Celtics are no better or worse whether Brown is on or off the court. Last season they were a percentage point better with him. It remains pretty speculative, depends how they would box out and rebound as a team rather than size as the recent stretch with a lot of small ball shows. The bigger question is whether or not they could generate stops. Well, the Celtics are 7.9 points better on defense when Brown plays. Of course it depends on his replacement and other factors, last season Boston was slightly worse with him on the court so we gotta be cautious here but it's an encouraging stat. AD in comparison? Lakers are 1.0 point better on defense with AD but they were a whopping 10.6 points better in the 2020 playoffs. I personally think AD's defensive value is not only connected to how motivated he has and obviously to the defense of his teammates but stands and falls with health. AD hasn't looked physically right all season long, the injuries are mounting and the real question here is: do you believe that AD can stay healthy moving forward compared to an alternative, in this case Jaylen Brown?
Jaylen Brown has played 337 out of a possible 390 games over his first 5 NBA seasons, the last five years.
AD has played played 304 of those 390 games. His first 5 seasons in the league he played 335 out of a possible 410 games. The comparison that matters here though is the first value as you're trading for both short- and long-term value but with an emphasis on the short-term due to the championship window closing rapidly.
Jaylen Brown has played 62 out of 63 possible playoff games before missing all 5 playoff games last season with a wrist injury.
Anthony Davis has played 39 out of a possible 40 playoff games.
Current health status:
Jaylen Brown is healthy, Anthony Davis is recovering from a grade 2 MCL sprain.
Jaylen Brown has dealt with knee tendonitis and has dealt with the mentioned wrist injury. The wrist injury should not affect his long-term health at all, knee tendonitis could point to future problems but doesn't necessarily do so.
Anthony Davis has dealt with a series of lower leg injuries, all over the last several years: calf, adductor, thigh, knee, now the MCL sprain. His future outlook with regards to health is worrisome. It's reasonable to assume similar health moving forward if you're optimistic, deteriorating health isn't out of the question and the downward spiral could have already have begun and impact this season's playoff chances.
Summary: Jaylen Brown comes with significantly reduced risk in the long run with regards to health, especially regarding the position and role he plays. Furthermore, the short-term risk is much, much, much higher with Anthony Davis. Even if Anthony Davis can stay 'healthy', what's regarded as healthy may have a similar impact on his level of play as seen earlier in the season. I'm not excluding the possibility of past injuries heavily affecting his outside shot or his ability to play center (which would be basically a necessity on this roster without an outside shot).
Jaylen Brown's offense:
Jaylen Brown can play on and off the ball and he can score from anywhere on the court: his 3-point shot is relatively consistent, having seen just a maximum variance of 5.6% from season to season, with a floor of 34.1% and a ceiling of 39.7% so far, anywhere between slightly below-average to excellent. He's not just consistent and quite good with his 3-ball, he can also knock down the difficult shots and the volume is there at currently 8 attempts per 36. That kind of spacing and offensive production is hugely valuable next to LeBron and/or Russ. About 40% of Brown's shot diet comes from beyond the arc.
Jaylen Brown has got a mid-range game: over the last 3 seasons, Jaylen Brown has had either a mid-range jumper or a long 2 to go to that he can knock down at 47.5 to 49%, last season he knocked down shots from either distance north of 48%. In spite of his efficiency, he's not in love with those shots, taking 10% of all his field goal attempts from either distance.
Jaylen Brown keeps improving finishing at the rim. An elite 70% (AD territory) in the last two seasons, a hyper-elite 77% this season. He creates 47% of those looks on his own/unassisted, a number slightly down from last season but generally trending up as well. As his game diversifies more and more and he takes more 3s, shots at the rim account for just 17% of his shot diet.
The rest of his shots (21%) come from 3-10 feet, an area where he can still improve developing for example a better floater. This is his one weak area at 35.7% this season but he's been at 40% or better over the three previous seasons. Last season, Brown shot at least 44% effective field goal percentage from anywhere on the court.
Point being: there's not really a weakness you can scheme against. With AD, things look completely different: he's got the same weakness as Russ, outside shooting (plus passing out of double teams, quick decisions). Packing the paint additionally takes away the most reliable and efficient offense not only these two can create but also LeBron's, THT's or Dwight's should he play next to AD. This is why there offense so often completely plummets, they depend on role-players knocking down shots in order to open up the floor. This is why the better fit of Jaylen Brown could change everything for the Lakers. His offense is more well-rounded as it doesn't really offer points to attack whereas AD's offense not only does offer an achilles heel, worse, it's the same vulnerable spot that Russ has and that LeBron could have on a bad shooting night or when being defended really well a.k.a. playoffs.
Once again, don't get me wrong, I could write the same about Westbrook. The point is not to blame one or the other for being a non-fit, just looking at the status quo here and what realistic ways there are to improve upon it.
AD's body language:
AD has had a negative, if not depressed body language for the vast majority of this season and it rubs off on others, including LeBron. It affects effort. Sure, one can hope and even expect that things are different come playoff time. I'd rather not take the risk though.
Why the Celtics could/should consider it:
Danny Ainge is no longer GM and AD is currently injured after having looked less dominant. Nonetheless, AD does have the higher ceiling, at minimum it's reasonable to expect AD becoming a top10, if not top8 or top5 player again at some point in his career, he's just about a year into his prime. Brad Stevens is GM now and it should be a safe bet that the rumours surrounding AD found his blessing.
The Celtics have fit issues themselves. Not only could they get the player with significantly higher upside, they could resolve their fit issues and get a fresh start while also acquiring a superstar from their biggest historical rival. AD presents higher value for the Celtics than for the Lakers. They have the stretch big to play next to AD in Horford for the short-term and the stretch big for the future next to AD in Grant Williams.
They would add size and a higher upside to their team, the latter being badly needed to make it to the Finals again. That badly needed that the Celtics can somewhat ignore the injury history.
The Celtics have the time to build for contention in 2023, 2024 or 2025. The Lakers don't.
AD in the East to throw at Giannis or KD? Hell yeah, Finals have just become much more realistic.
I've just made arguments for the Celtics, aren't those arguments why the Lakers should NOT do it?
Mostly not. Losing size, AD's defense and the higher upside hurts. But you get compensated for it with:
- Brown's defense which is important because the way to the Finals in the West doesn't lead through Giannis or KD, it leads through Devin Booker, Paul George, maybe Kawhi Leonard or Donovan Mitchell, all guys Brown can defend better than anybody else on the roster, including LeBron. If you - in theory - wanted to throw AD on-ball at for example Kawhi, the team gets cooked inside as we've witnessed over and over and over again. When AD defends high and leaves the paint, the Lakers lose points in the paint and second chance points by a massive margin. Brown defending those guys doesn't come with that disadvantage.
- Brown is a much better offensive fit, therefore a high chance of much more efficient offense, individually for LeBron and Russ but more importantly for the team.
- You replace a two-way player with a two-way player but you add another shooter who also happens to be more versatile on offense, displays a better shot distribution and provides roughly the same volume. Brown has got 6 games of 30 points or more this season (over 21 games), AD 7 over 27 games. Brown has a season high of 46 points, AD of 35. Last season Brown scored at least 38 points on five different occasions, AD at least 36 on just 3 occasions. Brown played 58 games, AD 36 to put things into perspective. AD still got the edge in the playoffs, having scored 43 as recently as 2020, to Brown's 31.
- Brown is trending up, AD is more likely to trend down or stay the same.
- Future building block: Brown is 3 years younger and healthier. By the time the Lakers got picks again, he should still be highly productive. Not so sure whether AD's body holds up til that age.
- Brown's a leader, in particular off the court but also a leader by example on the court.
- Brown is due 10 to 12 million less per season over the next 3 years and doesn't have a hefty player option of 43 million dollars in 2024-25, a salary that may or may not be paid for a guy who isn't available half the time. You would trade for matching salaries this season and next as the Celtics are in the tax as well but depending on who makes up for the matching salary, the Lakers may have additional cap space as early as next season.
- Brown can play the 2, the 3 or even the 4 going small. Given Covid protocols, age and injuries on the roster, an extremely important factor. Should Melo drop off, the small ball power forward option could prove very, very valuable, even more so if the Lakers could also get Marcus Smart in the deal. Imagine this for a second: Westbrook/Smart/Reaves/Brown/LeBron.
Alternatively Westbrook/Richardson/Reaves/Brown/LeBron or Bradley or Ellington or Nunn at the 2. You'd have a high degree of switchability, way more shooting on the court, additional creation from Brown, not nearly as much ball-stopping and I'd argue in some lineups you aren't worse defensively.
Why could the Celtics possibly want to include Marcus Smart in the deal?
Well, they'd probably prefer Juancho Hernangomez and Jabari Parker as fillers. But they receive potentially the better player in the deal, a superstar who has reached levels Brown hasn't reached yet nor is likely to reach. A player that was worth plenty of picks plus young assets for the Lakers, a guy who had a massive share in delivering a championship.
They also resolve their fit issues. Maybe it's just rumours that Brown next to Tatum doesn't work. Maybe it's just coincidence that very rarely both play well at the same time. One way or another, a new guy offers a fresh start and the Celtics clearly need one before more guys (like Brown or Tatum) get disgruntled.
Smart also seems to be the main guy not in line with their playing style/critical of the play of Tatum and/or Brown. If it's Brown that could become an issue on the Lakers but I really don't think so. Smart just wants to win, he's as competitive as Westbrook and he'd get a much better chance at winning a chip with the Lakers. But back to why Boston may do it:
They still got time to improve. Taking on THT while giving up Smart could potentially give them some kind of replacement, at least defensively. THT would be cheaper than Smart (who is due about 2 million extra every year). The 7.5 million dollars they would save in 23-24 matter a ton because after acquiring AD they'd stand at 113 million in salaries if they keep Smart and that's before re-signing Schroeder or a replacement, Richardson, Horford and most importantly Grant Williams, let alone bench players.
Taking on Kendrick Nunn if they didn't believe in THT's development would at least provide a guard who could prove useful in addition to more cap space to re-sign or sign players they like.
Summary: I do believe the Celtics would prefer Hernangomez plus Parker in addition to Brown but with some time to think and good negotiations, I could see them moving on from Smart. They need to start over and while Brown is an excellent player, AD is probably an offer they can't refuse.
For the Lakers, Brown individually is not a better player but he still makes a ton of sense for the Lakers: he's a much safer bet for the regular season, a much, much better fit that allows for so much lineup versatility and improved offense, a better asset long-term in all likelihood, a player that would make it much more difficult to scheme against all of the new big 3, a guy who probably provides higher volume scoring just as if not more frequently than AD and a bit of a wild-card offensively for the playoffs but a wild card that will help you a whole lot in Western Conference matchups on defense and comes with upside on offense.
Matchups after a potential trade (including Smart):
Phoenix: Dwight would have to defend Ayton or small ball has to be potent enough to outscore them but I deem that unlikely. You'd need another big body that can move in order to not only defend Ayton but also McGee. Smart vs CP3 would be a massive upgrade, Russ has mostly defended Bridges and Booker previously, he could alternate with Brown. LeBron stays on Crowder. Lakers get killed in pick'n'roll, not great when you face the Suns. After a trade, they could switch 1-4, possibly a game-changer. Offense would have more contributors, more flexibility when it comes to lineups and adjustments, more shooting, better spacing, a deeper bench.
Golden State: you can very well match small-ball now, without being at a disadvantage. You got enough capable defenders to throw at the triple-threat of Curry, Klay and either Wiggins or Poole. On the other end, Steph can NOT hide on some THT or Avery Bradley. You'd also be able to get much more physical with them without having to worry about AD.
Utah: Russ hasn't looked great defending Donovan Mitchell on most occasions, Bradley is too short, Ariza and Bron too slow, Reaves not yet good enough. Brown vs Mitchell would be a huge upgrade on defense. On offense, if there's one team in the West where you really, really need outside shooting, it's Utah. Small ball may be a great option vs either of their centers, if it doesn't work you at least have the advantage of being able to switch 1-4 and Howard could stay back vs their non-shooting bigs.
Memphis: Brown defending Ja, Smart defending Bane, Russ defending Brooks sounds so, so much more comforting. Going small vs them could go two ways as well, work great and open up everything while drawing Adams out of the paint or getting smashed on the defensive boards. Just to be safe, you'd have to add another big for this one as well, just like the Suns matchup.
Clippers: small ball and switches once again and you need 457 wing defenders on the roster vs them.
Potential Finals matchups:
Nets: not that much of an issue. Not even sure anyone can stop KD but Westbrook, yes Westbrook, has defended him incredibly well and even got into his head on several occasions. AD ain't stopping KD. Additional perimeter defenders vs Harden and Kyrie, great.
Bucks: if Lopez is healthy or Cousins plays well, this one's an issue without AD. You can bother Giannis at times but he's still only getting better and there's no stopping him over an entire series. Don't think Lakers would have better odds vs them after a trade.
Heat: Tucker at the 4 is a good matchup on defense, he could bother Brown more than he could bother AD though. Adebayo may be a bigger problem after a trade but Herro, Lowry and Butler could be less efficient. You also have better chances now in terms of toughness. Bet your house the Heat would get super-physical, especially vs AD.
Sixers: nah, they ain't going to the Finals. But if they do, Embiid is a task for Dwight and a second center anyway, not for AD. Bron vs Tobias Harris, yup, good one. Better perimeter defense vs Seth Curry and Danny Green, yes, please. Another good matchup after a trade.
In conclusion, I'd say that there's certainly other interesting players should the Lakers decide to listen to trade offers for AD and keeping AD may very well be the right call. As long as he's healthy, no trade return will have his ceiling. But Brown, especially Brown plus Smart, would be a return I'd carefully consider, for all the reasons stated above.
After such a trade I'd prefer an additional move or even two as the matchup breakdown has shown. As long as you can get upgrades, get them. A stretch 5 would help a lot or just another big and I'm still higher on what Kyle Anderson or Kenrich Williams could provide compared to all the guards that won't all see playing time.