Going into the NBA All-Star break, it felt as though the Celtics lacked direction. They were about as close to a playoff spot as they were the bottom of the league.
Now, a game removed from their brief hiatus and the leagueís trade deadline in the rearview mirror, little has changed. On the roster, nothing has.
As you know by now, the Cís stood pat at the deadline, whether because team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge overvalued his players, wasnít offered fair value, or he just didnít feel compelled to make a move. No matter the case, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries, and others are still wearing green.
And itís disappointing.
Itís difficult to crucify Ainge for the lack of activity because we donít have access to his phone records. Ultimately, no stars were moved. No first-round picks traded hands. Big-money players all stayed put. All of the little moves that were made could be considered minor transactions. But itís hard to think a smaller deal couldnít have been made by the Cís. Look at how the Sixers pawned off two expiring contracts and acquired multiple second-round picks. If youíre a Sixers fan and a believer in tanking, youíre thrilled today.
If Ainge wasnít offered a second-round draft pick and an expiring contract for Bass, itís easy to see why he wouldnít accept anything less for a solid role player. But if he was, Bass should be calling somewhere else home. Green shouldnít have commanded much more. Humphries could have brought little return but, worst case, his $12 million comes off the books this summer. He didnít need to go.
Nobody was realistically expecting or even necessarily looking for a blockbuster. Iíve long been in the camp of retaining star Rajon Rondo and budding star Jared Sullinger, at least through this season. Rondoís trade value remains low coming off his injury and Sullingerís potential is still in question. If Kevin Love winds up in green and white, it wasnít going to be yesterday.
But some smaller moves, even one, would have left the Celts in a more favorable position in their pursuit of a high first-round draft pick this summer. Boston is a better team with Green and Bass on its roster.
Letís not discount Aingeís shuttling of Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford for what was essentially picks and cap relief. Dating back to his summer blockbuster with the Nets and the hiring of coach Brad Stevens, right up through the diamond-in-the-rough signing of Chris Johnson, Ainge is having a tremendous season. I think, in part, thatís why Thursday afternoon felt so underwhelming. There was something missing; the final blow.
The argument for greater potential gains in the offseason makes sense. Ainge held on to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett longer than most thought he should and then Trader Danny gave Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov the kind of pause that only fellow countryman Vladimir Putin can relate to these days.
Soon enough, heíll know his draft position, see whoís available through free agency, and revisit moves that werenít made yesterday once teams around the league have a better idea of their future rebuilding or contending needs. That all helps at the negotiation table.
However, that doesnít assist a talented though imbalanced Celtics team land a top-five talent. Stripping down the roster does, as Ainge knows and had been working toward until, for one reason or another, he pumped the brakes short of the final hour.
Will Boston make the playoffs? Currently six games out of the eighth-seed with 27 games to go, thatís remarkably unlikely. But theyíre too talented to sink near the bottom of the league without some sudden and creative injuries and absences. You know, like Avery Bradley missing this current road trip. Rondo canít miss back-to-backs forever, can he? Wonder how will his knee be feeling next month?
Plus, how will the lack of moves affect the development of young talent? Moving Bass or Humphries would have opened the door for more minutes for rookie Kelly Olynyk. Heís shown recent flashes of solid play but the Celtics have to determine whether heís a part of their future or a summer trade chip. Will this stunt his progress? Sullinger, to a lesser degree, factors into this equation as well.
Admittedly, players like Bass and Green donít have the most favorable contracts. Not Gerald Wallace bad, but bad for who they are. Maybe there were no takers. Itís hard to believe, given all of the rumors leading up to the dull deadline day but, as Ainge likes to note, there isnít truth in every scenario floated out to the masses this time of the year by us folks in the media. Still, considering Aingeís history, itís hard not to feel he wanted more than was a realistic ask for his pieces. If thatís the case, itís disappointing. Heís said a number of times that the best deals are sometimes the ones not made. Time will tell.
The Celtics have 19 wins. Odds are theyíll finish between 25 and 30. As itís been all year, the loose goal is losing with forward progress in mind. Development and competition while falling short at the final buzzer. Coaches hate it, players donít like it, and fans grow tired of it. But, in the end, itís the strategy of most rebuilding teams in the NBA and this club didnít improve upon its lottery standing by not making a move.
The Cís must now definitively determine their strategy. Perhaps being in limbo actually puts them on the cusp of clarity. Ainge seems to want to do what he did in 2007 and provide help for Rondo though a major trade for a superstar. Perhaps, then, another would be interested in joining the fold. Historically, free agents donít sign here, but the next great Celtic probably isnít coming by way of the draft either. He hasnít since Pierce, unless Rondo becomes that guy.
Ainge isnít playing for Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant. Heís got a team near the bottom thatís building with the mentality of sitting just short of the middle. With nearly 20 picks in the next half-dozen years, heíll make moves to improve this team. It will just take time. More than the one-year bridge year experienced by the Red Sox.
Would a move or two on Thursday have sped up the process? Most likely not. But a little activity would have felt like progress.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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