- Green Street - http://greenstreet.weei.com -

Celtics acquire Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, 1st-round pick in deal that may pave way for LeBron James to Cleveland

The Celtics [1] acquired Tyler Zeller and a first-round pick from the Cavaliers [2] and Marcus Thornton from the Nets [3] in a three-team trade that may pave the way for LeBron James [4]‘ return to Cleveland, ESPN’s Marc Stein first reported [5].

In return, the Celtics [1] are sending a second-round pick to the Cavs and using the $10.3 million trade exception they received upon dealing Paul Pierce [6] and Kevin Garnett [7] to Brooklyn last summer. That TPE was set to expire on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Nets [3] receive Jarrett Jack [8] and Sergey Karasev from the Cavaliers [2], freeing enough cap space (roughly $24.0 million) for Cleveland to potentially offer James a maximum contract of four years, $94.8 million.

As a result, the Celtics [1] reportedly received Cleveland’s No. 1 pick in 2016 (top-10 protected through 2018), a 24-year-old 7-footer under their control through 2016 and Thornton’s expiring $8.6 million contract for a second-round pick.

In addition to acquiring Zeller, who averaged 13.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, the Celtics [1] could have as many as nine first-round picks over the next four seasons and $41.4 million in expiring contracts (Rajon Rondo [9]‘s $12.9 million, Brandon Bass [10]‘ $6.9 million, Joel Anthony [11]‘s $3.8 million and potentially Jeff Green [12]‘s $9.2 million player option). There’s no doubt the move puts the Celtics [1] in a better position to acquire Kevin Love [13] or any other desirable player by trade this season or by free agency next summer.

According to Kirk Goldsberry‘s easily digestible shot charts [14], Zeller (1,049 min, 5.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 58.1 TS%, 15.4 PER) attempted nearly 70 percent of his shots around the basket and converted almost 60 percent of them. Likewise, Thornton (1,741 min, 9.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 51.1 TS%, 12.0 PER) is a decent enough 3-point shooter from the right corner, left arc and straightaway, but underwhelming from mid-range and the paint. Neither are considered defensive stalwarts. Quite simply, this trade, in a vacuum, does not make the C’s much better this year.

Additionally, the Celtics [1] now have $64.7 million in guaranteed contracts dedicated to Rondo, Gerald Wallace [15] ($10.1M), Green, Thornton, Bass, Anthony, Avery Bradley [16] (estimated $8M), Vitor Faverani ($2.1M), Kelly Olynyk ($2.1M), Zeller ($1.7M) and Jared Sullinger ($1.4M). That puts them over the estimated $63.2 million salary cap. Details of Marcus Smart‘s contract haven’t emerged, but cap holds for him and James Young already add another $4.1 million to that number. Likewise, the C’s also have Phil Pressey, Chris Johnson [17] and Chris Babb signed to non-guaranteed minimum contracts, pushing their current commitments to $69.7 million.

In other words, the best the Celtics [1] can now offer a free agent is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3M), meaning Ainge probably isn’t done dealing this summer, especially if he hopes to avoid the lottery again next year.