With the end of the trade deadline recently occurring and Danny Ainge hesitating to pull the trigger on any sort of move, Celtics fans are in an all too familiar position; better than most, but not the best.
Sitting at 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, it is almost safe to say that they will lock up a preferable playoff spot. However, with teams close behind adding talent and depth (Toronto obtained PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka, while the Wizards bolstered their bench grabbing shooter Bojan Bogdanovic and guard Brandon Jennings) there is no feeling comfortable just yet for Boston fans. In first place & in front of Boston, the Cavs have also been linked to post-trade deadline moves (These being confirmed with the recent additions of center Andrew Bogut & guard Deron Williams). For many Bostonians this raises the question; with teams in front and behind of the Celtics improving their rosters, what is Ainge doing?
Many consider this year to be our best chance to rise to the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference, especially with the Kevin Love injury occurring and the Cavs struggling earlier in the season. Other teams have recognized the opportunity as well, and have made moves to take their shot at Cleveland. The Celtics, on the other hand, have remained quiet despite sparking a few rumors which ultimately smoldered out to nothing. Danny Ainge’s passive attitude may seem confusing (and often frustrating) to many fans. In my opinion, however, Ainge’s refusal to make a move was well intentioned and can be summarized in 3 points.
#1: Teams are nervous to make deals with Ainge
Despite the feelings this statement evokes, this truly is not a bad thing. After Ainge swindled Brooklyn out of what seems to be their near future, teams took notice. Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, two former franchise players well past their prime, for a few no name players and a multitude of picks. In total Boston received the 2014, 2016 and 2018 1st round Nets picks, with the rights to swap for their 2017 1st round pick. Brooklyn is still feeling the pain of this trade, as they currently sit at the bottom of the NBA leaderboard with almost no players of value outside of Center Brook Lopez. Another example can be seen in the trade that brought us our beloved Isaiah Thomas. Ainge managed to leave Tayshaun Prince in Detroit, and then exchange Marcus Thornton and a 1st round pick for the Fourth Quarter king himself. Teams know that when Ainge gets involved in trades he is determined to come out on top, and because of this they’re skeptical in having the rug pulled out from under them by making deal.
#2: Winning now is not a Priority
Let’s be honest. If Ainge really wanted to he could have shelled out any combination of assets for a superstar. Jimmy Butler and Paul George are two who were heavily linked to Boston, but both the Bulls and Pacers wanted more than Ainge was comfortable with. Demarcus Cousins was also traded from Sacramento, and the Celtics likely could have tossed a combination of guards, Amir Johnson, and picks to get Boogie to the East coast. Even Andrew Bogut was tied to some Celtics rumors, but those quickly fizzled out. This just shows that Ainge isn’t worried about getting to the Finals this season. He sees the potential in the young team he possesses, and knows that his franchise will be a nightmare for opponents in a few years. Ultimately, Ainge is more concerned with getting the right deal for the right price in order to position the franchise for success in the future.
#3: Ainge wants someone who will stay
Prime example of this point: Paul George. Paul George has already made it clear he aims to play for Los Angeles at some point, and that he would only commit long term to LA. Would it have been fun to watch George tear it up alongside Thomas and Horford this season? Of course, but I would rather keep all the assets we would give up permanently only to temporarily have the superstar. Basically, it can be summed up with the question “Why commit assets to a trade when the desired player could later walk in free agency?”
In closing, all I can say is have faith in Ainge. He’s a mastermind on the trade block, and knows how to use his draft picks. With an arsenal of skilled youth, draft picks, and one of the best coaches (outside of Popovich) in the NBA, there’s little reason to get nervous. Ainge has been a huge factor in getting us into the position we’re in now, and to doubt him at this point is nothing short of foolish.