Why the interest in Dragic?
With Dragic's camp suggesting he won't resign with Phoenix this summer, the Suns have to consider moving him before the trade deadline and that immediately positions Dragic as the best available player that can be had at a most optimal price tag before Thursday's trade buzzer. As friendly as Danny Ainge is with his former assistant general manager Ryan McDonough, he knows there's an opportunity here and no one has more future assets to dangle than Boston.
While Dragic's numbers have dipped this season in Phoenix's overcrowded backcourt, he averaged 20.3 points on 50.5 percent shooting (40.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc) over 35.1 minutes per game last season when he won the league's most improved player award. Dragic would provide the sort of offensive jolt the Celtics need, while adding individual talent to a young team lacking star power since trading away Rajon Rondo. Looking long term, adding Dragic could help Boston lure other top-tier talent in free agency this summer if they were able to re-sign him, though that's a risk in giving up potential draft picks.
What would the return package be?
The Celtics already set the market for what a 28-year-old high-level point guard on an expiring contract should fetch when they traded Rajon Rondo to Dallas in December for Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright, a protected 2015 first-round draft pick and a 2016 second-round draft pick.
Boston could let Phoenix pick a player -- Brandon Bass could help up front now and is an expiring deal; or Avery Bradley could replace some of Dragic's scoring if Phoenix could stomach the length of his deal -- and add a couple picks from Boston's treasure trove.
But what about Marcus Smart's development?
Boston has played some quality basketball recently while utilizing small-ball lineups and, coupled with the success the team had running three-guard lineups featuring Rondo, Smart, and Bradley earlier in the year, it's unlikely that Dragic would stunt Smart's growth too much. Essentially, it would put two combo guards on the floor with an ability to share ball-handling duties. There's still a balance needed to ensure minutes and touches for everybody, particularly if Bradley is in that three-guard mix, but there's a lot to like about a Dragic/Smart pairing (especially Dragic's ability to penetrate while Smart learns the pick-and-roll game at the NBA level).
Should the Suns really be trading Dragic?
No, but he's put the Suns in a tough spot and -- as the Celtics know full well from dealing Rondo and Jeff Green -- the fear of losing an impact body without compensation is enough to force teams to consider a deal.
There's a line of thinking that suggests the Suns should move Isaiah Thomas instead and hope Dragic changes his mind about re-signing before July (but what if he still walks and then you've lost two impact bodies). Boston has expressed interest in Thomas before, way back at the start of free agency and you get the sense Boston would be just as happy to take him off the Suns' hands at a lesser price tag.
Are the Celtics really contenders here?
Those skeptical will surely wonder if Boston's sudden interest is a ploy by Phoenix to get others to up their ante. But ultimately Boston has the assets to get involved in any of these talks and is doing their diligence by exploring any star that's available. You do wonder if Dragic's power play here might scare off some teams, particularly looking ahead to free agency this summer.
Keep Boston in mind, too, that Boston can linger in the talks and, even if Phoenix goes in another direction, there's always the facilitator role.
Bottom line as we'll keep repeating: These Celtics can be opportunistic if the right deal emerges. The ultimate goal is to keep adding value to your roster and Phoenix has two players that Boston clearly sees high value in.