ORLANDO, Fla. -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics acquired center Tyler Zeller, guard Marcus Thornton and a future first-round pick as part of a three-team swap with the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
The Celtics are expected to give up nothing more than a possible second-round pick (likely with protection from being too high in the round) in exchange for taking on the salary of Thornton ($8.6 million), while also adding Zeller ($1.7 million) with the $10.3 million trade exception generated during last summer's blockbuster swap with the Nets. Boston will also receive a future first-round pick from the Cavaliers (top-10 protected from 2016-18; unprotected in 2019).
The Nets get a valuable sixth man in Jarrett Jack, while the Cavaliers free space to make a run at LeBron James. But the Celtics come away with three assets for simply helping to facilitate that deal. Let's look at each piece closer:
• THORNTON: The 27-year-old shooting guard has averaged 13.4 points per game over five NBA seasons. More important, he's an expiring deal, which could help Boston maintain cap space for the summer of 2015 (and Thornton could also be a possible sign-and-trade asset next offseason as well). Or, if the Celtics give Thornton minutes early (tricky because of their young guard depth), they might be able to create an in-season market for him during the 2014-15 campaign.
• ZELLER: The 24-year-old center has averaged 6.9 points and 4.9 rebounds over two NBA seasons with the Cavaliers. The 7-footer was the 17th pick in the 2012 draft and will get a chance to develop with size-deprived Boston. The Celtics will hold a $2.6 million team option for Zeller next season, giving them the chance to evaluate him this year and decide if they want to continue to nurture him based on his performance. For size-deprived Boston, adding a pure big with potential could be the coup of this deal if able to develop him.
• FIRST-ROUND PICK: The Celtics add another future first-rounder to their overflowing surplus that already included two in each of the next two seasons (their own and the Clippers' in 2015; their own and the Nets' in 2016). Boston now likely has eight first-round picks in the next four drafts (and that could be nine if the 76ers were to make the playoffs this season, though that seems unlikely). The Cavaliers, if they lure James back to Cleveland, would seemingly be picking late in the first round, delivering that pick early, but nothing is certain in this league.
Even with an impending deadline to use their trade exception, the Celtics patiently waited for an opportunity to pounce and took advantage of the needs of some of their Eastern Conference rivals. All three parts received have potential to help Boston moving forward and only add to the haul obtained last summer in the initial deal with Brooklyn.
The Celtics have further positioned themselves to have money to spend next summer. If the 2014-15 season is heavy on development, Boston can stomach a salary like Thornton's while knowing a chance for louder fireworks looms next summer with further flexibility. With the growing pile of picks, Boston can pick its spot on when to cash in. The key here is patience, and it paid off for the Celtics with this deal.
Some will wonder if this move puts the Celtics in a better spot to pursue Kevin Love moving forward. Boston did little to add the sort of established talent that Minnesota might crave. The Celtics certainly have more assets to add to a rebuilding-themed package, but is that what the Wolves desire? Keep in mind, the Celtics can't immediately move these acquired assets in a package (though could move Thornton individually). Boston may have helped its case on the chance that Love reaches unrestricted free agency next summer.
Keep this in mind: If the Celtics find a way to move the final season of Gerald Wallace's deal and Jeff Green opts out of the final year of his contract, Boston would be committed to little more than $21 million in total salary for the 2015-16 season (and able to bring back Zeller at low money, too). That leaves this low-cost base to build around:
Avery Bradley - $7.2 million (estimated)
Marcus Smart - $3.4 million
Jared Sullinger - $2.3 million
Kelly Olynyk - $2.2 million
Vitor Faverani - $2.2 million (nonguaranteed)
James Young - $1.8 million
Chris Johnson - $981,000 (nonguaranteed)
Phil Pressey - $947,000 (nonguaranteed)
That available cap room could allow the Celtics to bring back Rajon Rondo and still pursue another big-ticket name, or go after two stars of their choosing without having to navigate the trade path that they're restricted to this summer.