The Boston Celtics have moved into pole position to trade for Orlando's Aaron Gordon, as first reported by Matt Moore of The Action Network and confirmed by Sam Amick of The Athletic. The deal would reportedly also send Evan Fournier to Boston, which can use its $28.5 million Traded Player Exception from the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade to absorb Gordon, but would have to structure a separate deal for Fournier.
The Celtics are now considered the front-runners in the Gordon sweepstakes. A source with knowledge of the Gordon talks said the Celtics have indeed put two first-round picks on the table, and that the framework of the deal would also include Magic guard (and free-agent-to-be) Evan Fournier heading to the Celtics.
In that complex framework, the most likely scenario would then involve Celtics guard and two-time first-team All-Defensive selection Marcus Smart heading to the Magic, Gordon and Fournier being Boston-bound and the Celtics using their $28.5 million trade exception in the process.
Yet because the exception can't be used with more than one player, it appears the teams would have to find additional teams to make all the math work. I'll leave the rest of that analysis for Hollinger to figure out. The bottom line is this: Boston is now considered the leader for Gordon, with Denver seen as the strongest second suitor.
Clearly, the Celtics are not your typical 21-22 team fighting to stay out of a postseason play-in series. They have been in three of the last four conference finals. They have two All-Stars in Tatum and Brown, and if Kemba Walker can catch a consistent groove down the stretch, that's their third star. They have a reservoir of individual creators and versatile defenders, probably the two most important playoff components alongside shooting.
There is, in short, a reason for the Celtics to believe they can get back in the conference-title mix. None of the teams at the top of the East are perfect. Brooklyn struggles to defend. Philadelphia lacks an elite half-court creator. The Bucks have to prove they can succeed with new defensive schemes in the playoffs, and they're banking a lot on Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton to be the half-court creators when Giannis Antetokounmpo hits the walls that are sure to form in front of him.
Gordon would be a great fit for the Celtics as an athletic four-man with legit 3-point range to open up the lane for, and play pick-and-pop with, their plethora of wing scorers, which would then include Fournier, too. Boston really struggles to create offense as a unit. It doesn't move the ball well. It's a lot of "in his bag" dribbling to create one-on-one looks. If you're going to exist that way, you need as many capable creators as possible. Gordon and Fournier fit the bill.
Losing Smart's defense and overall energy would be a big hit, obviously, but Gordon brings a lot on that end as a bigger, more athletic stopper. The Celtics have played the patient card for a long time. They've made big moves, trading for Kyrie Irving and signing Hayward and Walker, but it's always been done with the security net of a bunch of high-leverage future draft picks in their back pocket in case the current plan needed additional support or a whole new design.
Those picks, from Sacramento in 2019 and Memphis in 2020, were supposed to be high lottery picks, but both the Kings and Grizzlies wound up performing better than expected. As a result, the Celtics wound up with the No. 14 pick in the last two drafts, which netted them Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith. All the picks from their 2013 robbery of the Nets are gone.
The finished product is supposed to be on the floor as we speak. That's where the urgency comes from in Boston. There are no more aces up the sleeve. This, for the most part, is it. So you can understand Danny Ainge's increased incentive to maximize his current roster. It didn't work out with Hayward; he was always hurt in Boston, and it has to sting watching him regain his previous form in Charlotte. The reverse happened with Walker. He was elite in Charlotte, and he's been an injured, diminished version of himself in Boston.
Could Gordon and Fournier be the sparks that reignite the once bright future in Boston? Stay tuned.