Raptors, Bucks trades leave Celtics as clear underdogs in Eastern Conference


There has been a flurry of activity in advance of Thursday's 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline. Here are some thoughts on a handful of moves that affect the Celtics, particularly when it comes to the top two seeds.

The Bucks (Nikola Mirotic) and Raptors (Marc Gasol) just improved, while the Celtics once again appear content to stand pat. Let's break it all down.

1. Raptors acquire Marc Gasol

If the Raptors want to build San Antonio East around Kawhi Leonard, Gasol isn't a bad fit. The versatile big man does a little bit of everything and this year is averaging a career-high 4.7 assists per game. The Raptors boast one of the most physically imposing lineups in the league, with Leonard and Danny Green excellent defenders and guard Kyle Lowry a Celtics killer. Gasol brings a wealth of postseason experience, including a berth in the 2013 Western Conference Finals.

Gasol just turned 34, so it's not as if his best basketball lays ahead of him, but he's one of the most unselfish big men in the league, and that should fit right in on a Toronto offense that already ranks among the top 10 in the league.

There's still a chance Memphis moves fellow franchise linchpin Mike Conley. And since everything comes back to the lottery, there's also this: The Celtics get the Grizzlies' first-round pick if it falls outside the top eight this year or top six next year before becoming unprotected in 2021, which makes it perhaps the most valuable piece they can offer in any Anthony Davis deals. The worse the Grizzlies get now, the more likely that pick belongs to Boston in two years.

2. Bucks acquire Nikola Mirotic

Gasol will garner more headlines, but Mirotic probably represents the more impactful acquisition. A high-volume gunner and underrated defender, the 6-foot-11 Montenegrin presents a matchup nightmare in the frontcourt alongside fellow giant Giannis Antetokounmpo, with the added benefit of being a decent 3-point shooter (.368) and floor-spacer. He leaves the Pelicans to join a club that has remade itself around the 3 under coach Mike Budenholzer.

Mirotic is averaging career highs in points (16.7) and rebounds (8.3) and the projectionists at FiveThirtyEight now give the Bucks a 37 percent chance of reaching the Finals, trailing only the Raptors (40 percent) in the East, and well ahead of the Celtics (12 percent).

Thon Maker, whom the Bucks traded to Detroit for Stanley Johnson, had a habit of making big 3's against the Celtics. Mirotic will be infinitely more dangerous while taking the same shots.

3. 76ers acquire Tobias Harris

The deal with the Clippers involving draft picks and a lot of spare parts is a major win for the Sixers, because it adds a missing ingredient to their formidable starting five.

With Ben Simmons unwilling to shoot from beyond 15 feet and Joel Embiid best utilized in the post, Harris gives the Sixers a third wing player capable of shooting 3-pointers, joining sharp-shooter J.J. Redick and versatile forward Jimmy Butler.

Harris is shooting over 43 percent from deep this year while averaging a career-high 20.9 points a game. He'll have to adjust to life with fewer shots in Philly, but that starting five now rates perhaps second only to the Warriors in the NBA. The road to the Finals just got a little more congested for the Celtics.

On the flip side, the Celtics own the Clippers' first-round pick, but only if it falls outside the top 14. With L.A. entering a rebuild, the likelihood of that pick conveying just dropped considerably. The Clippers are only 1.5 games out of the lottery, but now they're without their leading scorer.

4. Kings acquire Harrison Barnes

Speaking of the lottery . . .

Long-term, this may not be the best use of resources for Sacramento, which surrendered promising second-year guard Justin Jackson and will owe the one-dimensional Barnes $25 million next year. But all that's relevant to Boston is the present and that's why this deal hurts.

The Celtic own Sacramento's first-round pick and entered the season believing it could land at the top of the lottery. Now, with the Clippers selling and the Kings buying, Sacramento could reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006, dropping that pick somewhere into the teens.

Barnes should help them get there, adding scoring punch to one of the league's most entertaining offenses and bringing some size to a starting lineup that includes three guards: De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Buddy Hield.

5. Anthony Davis is still here

We've already laid out why the odds overwhelmingly favor the All-Star big man joining the Celtics, but step one will be making sure he's not dealt before the deadline in fit of surrender by the Pelicans. So far, so good on that front.