OK, so the NBA trade deadline passed and the Celtics are the same team today that they were yesterday. Absolutely nothing has changed. There were rumors about Al Horford. There were rumors about Thaddeus Young. There were rumors about Kevin Love. There were rumors because there are always rumors but as usual they amounted to nothing.
This is frustrating for a few reasons. First we all want vindication for two weeks spent refreshing Twitter like lab rats self-administering cocaine out of a plastic sucky bottle. We want the Celtics to make a deal because it would look and feel like progress. It’s also just a lot more fun to write sprawling freak outs about a blockbuster trade than it is to force feed 1,000 words on why this disappointing afternoon wasn’t that disappointing, but hey — that’s life. So here we go:
In all seriousness, it’s hard to get down on the Celtics for not making a big move at the 2016 trade deadline when no one moved. It would be one thing if anyone even resembling an NBA star changed teams. But instead only two players averaging more than 20 minutes a game were moved on Thursday:
Jeff Green and Markieff Morris: only players traded Thursday who are averaging more than 20 minutes per game this season. #NBATradeDeadline— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 18, 2016
The first was Markieff Morris. He went from Phoenix to Washington, and while he’s only 26 and has loads of talent, he was also arraigned on assault charges over the summer and so far this season has thrown a towel at his head coach and tried to strangle his point guard during a game. The other 20+ minute guy on the move was Jeff Green. He went from Memphis to the Clippers, and this is where I’d love to insert three crying emojis. Doc really outdid himself on this one. Either way the Celtics weren’t touching Jeff Green with a pole the length of Shawn Bradley standing on Gheorghe Muresan’s shoulders while balancing on the point of the Space Needle.
Bottom line: Not every move is a move forward. Sometimes no progress is still a net positive. This isn’t 2010 or 2011, with Danny Ainge sitting inside his office as the walls close in, knowing he has to roll the dice on what little time his team has left. In 2016, the Celtics are in a position of power and yeah, I know, you might not buy that.
I know that some of you don’t. You think Ainge has already officially overplayed his hand. You think he has too many draft picks, and too many assets, and that he’s lost his leverage because the league knows what’s up. They know that the Celtics are overstocked. They’re sick of Ainge making them look silly. Now they’re not going to make a significant deal with Danny unless he works for it. They want to see him sweat. They want to see the pain in his eyes as he forks over way more than he’s comfortable with.
And maybe there’s some truth to that theory. At this very moment, there’s reason to wonder just what the hell Ainge is going to do with three first and multiple second-round picks in this summer’s draft.
But that can change quickly.
As of today, that Brooklyn pick is just the “Brooklyn pick’’ — a mythical figure that Boston has dreamed about for so long its almost hard to believe its real. But come May 19, during halftime at the Conference Finals, that “Brooklyn pick’’ might guarantee Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. It might become that potential superstar, or the chip that lands that established superstar. At that point Ainge won’t be guarding every little asset like Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart on a full court press. Maybe then, if certain negotiations break down, Ainge starts to say: “OK, sure. I’ll throw in another first rounder. Let’s get this done.’’
Of course there’s always a chance that the “Brooklyn pick’’ turns into No. 4 or No. 5, but luck was always going to play a major role in this rebuild. At some point, if there’s a string of bad luck, Ainge’s hand might be forced. Maybe he’ll have to compromise the process. But not now. Not yet. There’s no reason to worry. And really that feels like the most important message on the heels of a lackluster deadline:
For all the things in this world to be pissed off or worried about, the state of the Boston Celtics isn’t one of them. They’re good. Of course they’re not contenders yet, but how many teams have a realistic chance at the 2016 title? There’s the Warriors, the Cavs, the Spurs and the Thunder. You want to say the Clippers? I’ll give you the Clippers. So that’s five. That leaves the Celtics and 24 other teams, and here’s the question: How many of the 24 do you think would swap places with the Celtics? How many of those 24 GMs would look at their lives and stand pat rather than take hold of Danny Ainge’s embarrassment of riches?
That includes a likely top 5 pick in each of the next three drafts, plus at least four more firsts on top of that.
That includes the flexibility to add two max contracts this summer. That includes the best young coach in the NBA, who every day gets a little closer to removing “young’’ from that title.
That includes three of basketball’s best bargains: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder will make a combined $21.4M this year. That’s less than the Nets are paying Joe Johnson. That’s less than the Rockets are paying Dwight Howard. It’s barely a million more than the Bulls are paying Derrick Rose. And here’s the best part: This year Thomas, Bradley and Crowder make a combined $21.4M. Next year?
They make a combined $21.1M.
The total goes down.
But forget the future; let’s talk about now. Let’s mention that even without making a move the Celtics are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference — and not based on the standings alone. I mean, you hate to see Chris Bosh go through what he’s going through again, but in basketball terms his health problems might sink the Heat. Atlanta is only one game behind Boston in the standings but they’re like two ships in the night. Maybe Chicago makes a run if they stay healthy but we’ve been saying that for five years. Beyond that there’s the Pacers and Hornets, plus the Pistons (Tobias Harris) and Wizards (Morris) both made moves in an attempt to join the playoff race. But other than Cleveland and Toronto, there’s not one team in the East that you can look at and say: They’re definitely better than the Celtics.
With that Boston’s at least a threat to sneak into the Eastern Conference Finals.
And with that they’re definitely the only team in the entire NBA with a realistic shot to wake up on May 19, host a Conference Finals game, and then win the No. 1 overall pick at halftime.’’
So yeah, the Celtics aren’t any better today than they were yesterday.
But don’t forget that’s still pretty good.
The greatest Boston Celtics of all time