There are only 16 days before the NBA trade deadline. That leaves 16 days to fret and dream, to plug ureasonable deals into the trade machine and admire your own restraint. With that, here’s a fully-loaded breakdown of where the Boston Celtics stand — complete with 16 notes for each day until Danny Ainge is left staring down an enormous phone bill.
1) Beware of the media
We are deadline drug dealers. I didn’t want to say “we’’ there but whatever — we’re deadline drug dealers. And these next 16 days are like spring break. There’s no such thing as too much product. Accountability is out the window. Life here is just one massive rave, with music from DJ Woj Bomb, and a source telling Yahoo! Sports that it’s about to get turnt. And it is. Once the lights are flashing and the content kicks in you’ll have visions of Blake Griffin catching alley oops from Marcus Smart. You’ll see DeMarcus Cousins walk across the Charles in a flowy green robe. It might get a little weird but don’t freak out. Just stay grounded and remember where we are and what we’re doing and that — at the heart of everything — this chaos is a temporary escape more than a window into a new reality.
2) Danny Ainge is pretty good at this trading thing
Like anyone he’s had misfires, but since July 2013, when the Celtics pulled off potentially the most lopsided deal in NBA history, Ainge’s record on the trade front is best described with a whole data plan worth of fire emojis. Think of it this way: Boston’s two best players right now are Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. They were acquired last season from the Suns and Mavericks, respectively. A year later, all the Suns have to show for that deal is Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick (which is currently No. 28). All the Mavericks have is Dwight Powell. And again, the Celtics have the two best players on a team that’s contending for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. (Plus first and second-round picks from Dallas this summer.)
3) The easy part is over
Let’s not take away from what Ainge has accomplished. Many GMs before him have done much less with more. But the first stage of this rebuild — the deconstruction of the Big 3 era — was the easy part. Back then the Celtics had big time established commodities that the rest of the league was clamoring for. Boston was able to play sides, and force hands, or just walk away if they weren’t happy. They made teams pry the likes of KG, Pierce and Rondo away and came out looking pretty good. But now in order to become better than pretty good, it’s the Celtics who need to pry. They’re the ones in pursuit of the commodities, and the GMs on the other side know that Ainge is sitting on a treasure chest of first-round picks and cap friendly talent. They know that Ainge has already gotten the best of more than a few colleagues and they don’t want to be next. We saw that with Michael Jordan at last summer’s draft, and while you don’t expect every executive to be so ridiculously stubborn, this next hurdle — from respectability into relevance — will be the hardest for Celtics to clear.
4) They’re still not desperate though
There’s no urgency. Well, maybe just to stay locked in and aware of every player that’s even remotely on the block. The ideal here is still a James Harden situation or a Kevin Garnett situation, where a superstar suddenly reaches the point of no return and a team is forced to move. But unless something like that presents itself, the worst thing the Celtics can do right now is make a deal for the sake of making a deal. There’s no reason to budge from their position of power for anything less than the perfect opportunity. And they won’t.
5) But no one really knows what Ainge will do
It’s funny because on one hand Ainge is like the Deadline Paparazzi’s Kim Kardashian. And I’m not talking about his trademark booty. I mean that everything Ainge does is news. He can’t so much as Google an opposing player without details leaking on Twitter. And believe me, most of the time it’s garbage. It’s just Ainge doing his due diligence. Oh, so he asked the Kings about DeMarcus Cousins? He spun the tires on Al Horford? Of course he did. That’s his job. And it’s the Internet’s job to take those slivers of truth and mold them into a viral tornado with the power to shred logic into pieces. But here’s the best part: For all the time spent focused on what Ainge has brewing behind the scenes, his actual deadline deals are almost always out of left field. There were no Isaiah Thomas-to-Boston rumors last February. Back in 2011, Kendrick Perkins was probably the only Celtic NOT rumored to be on the move. Or how about back in 2013, when the Celtics broke the Brad Stevens hire themselves? So basically if you want to take a stab at predicting what the Celtics will do before the deadline, take a look at everything that’s been reported and predict something else.
6) HOT TAKE ALERT
OK, so here’s one idea that would implode Boston’s collective brain: What if the Celtics move Isaiah Thomas? That sounds crazy but — and with all due respect to Thomas — the Celtics aren’t winning a title with IT scoring 20+ points a game. They’re not winning a title with IT playing at an All Star level unless there are at least two All Stars alongside him. Either way, Thomas is still better suited as the sixth man on a contender, but after this season’s success, it will be hard to take a step back. At the same time, he’ll never have more trade value than he does right now. He’s an All Star point guard that’s under contract for another two years for a total of $12.8M. That’s less than the Wizards are paying Nene for this season alone. This is Isaiah’s peak. This might be Ainge’s best opportunity to expedite the championship process. Like let’s say the big man’s shoulder isn’t too much of a concern, and the Celtics feel good about him sticking around on his player option — would you consider this?
Yeah, I know. But think about that starting five. Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk and Dwight Howard? The other team might not score. And you might stop reading after that trade idea, but please don’t.
7) P.S. everyone is available
Thomas is a great story. Crowder? Even better. It’s also been truly enjoyable to watch Avery Bradley’s maturation from a kid who looked terrified to step on the floor into what he is today. Meanwhile, for all the frustration, Olynyk keeps showing serious flashes. If Smart can just stay healthy, he’s got a real chance to be special on a few different levels. In general there are so many inspiring stories and likable characters on this roster. And every single one of them can be had for the right price. There are no bounds — emotional or otherwise — to what Ainge will do in the name of improving the Celtics situation.
8) Ainge will sleep with the enemy
There’s a belief in some circles that you never want to trade a guy within your division, or to a rival, or basically do anything that directly helps the competition improve. But Danny Ainge doesn’t think that way. When he makes a trade, the other team is just another team; a conduit to what the Celtics want. Most recently, two summers ago, Ainge jumped in and helped the Cavs unload the contracts they needed to sign LeBron James. More famously, back in 2004, he facilitated the Pistons acquisition of Rasheed Wallace and cemented two years of Detroit dominance. In both situations, people wondered why he’d lent his rivals a hand, but in reality here’s what happened: The Cavs were going to find a way to clear that money with or without Ainge’s help. The Pistons and Hawks were going to find another way to get Rasheed to Detroit. In each case, Ainge was faced with two options: 1) Let it happen, and do nothing. 2) Get involved, help make it happen, and walk away with a little something for his trouble. In the Wallace deal, the Celtics traded Mike James to the Pistons and Chris Mills to Atlanta. In return, they received Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter and a 2004 first-round draft pick. So basically they traded James and Mills for a first-round pick. Not bad. Even better when that pick became Tony Allen, who became a role player on the 2008 champs and played an even bigger role on the 2010 Finals squad. For helping the Cavs bring back LeBron, the Celtics only had to part with a trade exception and a second-round pick. In return they received Marcus Thornton, Tyler Zeller and a first-round pick. A few months later they traded Thornton and that first rounder to the Suns for Isaiah Thomas. An All-Star isn’t a bad consolation prize for helping a rival achieve something that they would’ve done anyway without your help.
9) Still looking for that superstar
If you’re writing out a deadline wish list, SUPERSTAR is still on top. And the position doesn’t matter. I’m not even worried about his contract, or working out an extension, because with the Celtics the hard part is just getting them here. Most NBA players love Boston as soon as they put on the uniform. The Celtics are a first class organization. Brad Stevens is a coach who already has the respect of every player in the league. There are still few atmospheres more inspiring than a packed Friday night at the TD Garden. But unfortunately for now that superstar situation is cloudier than ever because . . .
10) The Clippers aren’t trading Blake Griffin
Doc Rivers isn’t big on change. Hell he’d have turned down the Pierce/KG-to-the-Nets deal if given the chance. That’s because he’s fiercely loyal to his players. It’s one of his biggest strengths as a coach. But it’s also an unfortunate quality for a GM because it can sometimes stand in the way of the truth. And I’m not saying the truth is that the Clippers have to trade Blake Griffin, but just that he’d have to at least punch Austin Rivers before Doc even considered it.
11) The Cavs aren’t trading Kevin Love
Cleveland lost its first game under Tyronn Lue but has now won five straight. In the last four, Love has averaged 22.5 points and nine rebounds, and the Cavs appear to be finally finding their groove. If anything should go wrong between now and the deadline, there’s a decent chance that Love gets the blame, but at this point it would take a miracle for the Cavs to even entertain another one of Ainge’s phone calls.
12) The Kings aren’t trading DeMarcus Cousins
It’s been 10 years since the Kings made the playoffs, and at this very moment they’re only a game and a half out of the eighth seed. There’s just no way Sacramento blows this up when they’re so close to progress for the first time in a decade.
13) But the Hawks might actually trade Al Horford
He’s a free agent this summer, which complicates things. Do the Celtics view him as a max guy? Do they think they can convince him to sign a one-year extension and then go for the mega payday in 2017? Is Horford really a franchise player? Is he going to take you to the promise land or is he going to turn you into the Hawks? Ultimately this feels a little like one of those deals you make just to make a deal, and the Celtics are probably better off backing off.
14) Or what about THE MANIMAL
Danilo Gallinari gets most of the attention as trade bait in Denver, but don’t sleep on Kenneth Faried. His lack of range is a little worrisome, but he’s only 26, and he’s signed through 2019 on a contract that will look pretty good once the new TV deal kicks in. Plus can you imagine him and Crowder running amok together? Faried’s energy would fit in perfectly with the rest of this team. What about this and throw Denver two 2016 first-round picks (not Brooklyn’s) for their trouble.
15) Then there’s the Sixers scenario
The Celtics stole Isaiah Thomas last season because the Suns had too many point guards and were desperate to break up the band. This year the Sixers are in a similar situation with their big men, even it if it pertains more to next year. That’s when Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and international super hero Dario Saric are all expected to be active and healthy, and that’s too many big bodies. They need to do something, and you know they have a newfound commitment to being competitive. Unfortunately that means the Sixers probably won’t be as tempted by the lure of first-round picks. They want players. Now I obviously haven’t personally examined Embiid’s body but I’m fascinated by his potential, and a change of scenery could do wonders assuming his body can hold together. This plus another first-rounder might be interesting.
16) Then again, it’s all interesting.
And it’s all insane. And really this is just the beginning. So hold on, buckle up and if you’re looking for Danny Ainge he’ll be the guy with two cell phones glued to his ears.
Potential Celtics trade targets