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Celtics Acquire Thornton, Zeller, Now Expected to Pursue Love

Marcus Thornton (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

On Thursday the Celtics completed a three-team trade with Brooklyn and Cleveland that is expected to have much larger implications in free agency and the rest of the offseason. In the deal, Boston received shooting guard Marcus Thornton from the Nets and center Tyler Zeller, along with a future first-round draft pick, from the Cavaliers, while giving up only a future conditional second-rounder to Cleveland.

Thornton, who like current Celtics power forward Brandon Bass was the SEC Player of the Year at LSU, was a second-round pick in 2009 and was named to the All-Rookie second team with New Orleans. The Nets acquired him from Sacramento at last season’s trade deadline, and he averaged 12.3 points in 26 regular-season games for Brooklyn, but his playing time dipped considerably in the playoffs.

Zeller, the ACC Player of the Year while at North Carolina, was the 17th pick in the 2012 Draft. After a promising rookie season, he’s coming off a significantly worse sophomore year, where he played just 15 minutes per game and averaged 5.7 points on 53.8% field goal shooting, to go with 4 rebounds per game.

Resetting the depth chart

There is no guarantee that either of the new Celtics will still be on the roster at the beginning of the season (more on that in a moment), but as things stand, let’s take a look at how this trade has altered the depth chart and Boston’s offseason prospects. Between the Draft and this trade, what was once a thin backcourt has suddenly become very crowded, with three point guards (Phil Pressey, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart) and four shooting guards (Chris Babb, Avery Bradley, Thornton and James Young) now on the roster.

Smart has been starting at SG during the Orlando Summer League, with Pressey at the point, and it could be the case that the Celtics want to keep the star rookie at that position as Bradley’s backup, while leaving Pressey behind Rondo. That’s bad news for Babb, who’s fighting for a roster spot in Orlando, but it also means either that Thornton must be traded again or Young will be spending a lot of time in the D-League.

Zeller, for his part, will face competition for the backup center position from fellow youngsters Vítor Faverani and Colton Iverson and veteran Joel Anthony, as it’s clear that Kelly Olynyk will be the starter while Bass and Jared Sullinger handle power forward duties. While Faverani and Iverson are both eligible for the D-League, Zeller looks like a prime candidate to be moved elsewhere this offseason.

Love sweepstakes heating up

One of the most interesting elements of this trade is that it has improved both Boston’s and Cleveland’s chances of trading for Minnesota star PF Kevin Love. The Cavs cleared significant cap space by sending Jarrett Jack to the Nets, thus allowing them to make a maximum offer to LeBron James – a necessary condition for them to then acquire Love, according to reports.

As for the C’s, who have been at the forefront of the Love rumors for weeks, the deal could solve their biggest obstacle in negotiating with the Timberwolves: that the Wolves don’t want draft picks, of which Boston has plenty, in exchange for Love, but rather are looking to receive established players in return. For the first time this offseason, the Celtics have more players than they can carry on their roster, and they may finally be in a position to make Minnesota an enticing offer for its superstar.

About Nick García - @N_A_Garcia

Nick is the Celtics and college sports editor at Sports of Boston. He writes about basketball, football and anything else that comes his way. Follow him on Twitter @N_A_Garcia

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