Cavaliers needed to shake things up; Celtics didn’t

Danny Ainge Boston Celtics
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge speaks to reports at the team's practice facility. –Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe

Cavaliers rookie general manager Koby Altman is collecting much praise from the NBA cognoscenti after swapping out six players and bringing in four in three separate trades at Thursday’s trading deadline.

He may even deserve it.

The Cavs, who in recent weeks revealed more self-inflicted melodrama than a typical episode of “The Bachelor,’’ weeded out some of the nuisances, most notably Isaiah Thomas, who in 15 games did enough damage to make a compelling case that he actually was an embedded secret-agent Celtic sent to destroy a rival from within.

Decent trade, Danny.

The Cavaliers (31-22) are, amazingly, closer to falling out of the playoffs (they’re just four games up on eighth-place Philadelphia) than they are of overtaking the Celtics (40-16) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. In the quest to ascend again to their usual place at the top of the standings, Altman hit the reset button on LeBron James’s supporting cast.


He shipped out assorted geezers and malcontents (file Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose in whichever category you prefer) while bringing in veteran point guard George Hill and three talented if hardly star-level 25-year-olds: Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, and Jordan Clarkson.

The Cavs got younger, and they probably got better, which is kind of a drag if you were watching from afar and hoping the polluted team would go up in flames the way the Cuyahoga River did in 1969.

I, for one, was enjoying the ill-advised attempted reuniting of the 2012 Eastern Conference All-Star team, which included James, Wade, and Rose in the starting five. (Kevin Love, then with the Timberwolves so much drama ago, played for the Western Conference that year.)

It’s fun to watch them reset at midseason in an attempt to get James to his eighth straight Finals and perhaps give him pause about departing as a free agent in the offseason. But it would have been more fun to watch them go out and hoard even more 2012 All-Stars. The Lakers surely would have been happy to contribute Luol Deng to the cause.

While the Cavaliers dealt their way through the most chaotic trading deadline in recent memory, the Celtics were casual bystanders. And that’s probably a good thing. In recent years, the Celtics didn’t always make a deal, but they were often involved in whatever rumors were swirling, in part because there were needs on the roster, and in part because they had assets to trade.


This year, they’re in first place despite losing Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of the first game of the season. I’m among those who look at the calendar, notice it’s still a long way until June, and believe Hayward will play more than a single game as a Celtic before this season is done.

Ainge sent the last of the picks acquired in the heist that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets to Cleveland in what has turned out to be the Kyrie Irving heist. So he didn’t hold as many tantalizing lottery tickets as he has at past deadlines. And he didn’t really need them anyway.

See Your Boston Teams Up Close

The Celtics are a true contender, at least in the East, as currently constructed. They’re probably the favorite, though sleeping on the tough Raptors is a bad idea. Adding Tyreke Evans from Memphis — a player they were frequently linked to as a potential bench scoring option — might have been helpful. But Terry Rozier’s emergence as an increasingly dynamic offensive player suggests the need for bench scoring might be settled from within.

And dealing Marcus Smart — the current Celtic whose named popped up in the most rumors — would have been a bad idea. Yes, he’s a current doghouse dweller after he went all Billy Martin-vs.-marshmallow-salesman on a picture frame at the team hotel in Los Angeles. Smart’s shot selection is aggravating even on the occasional nights when half of them find the net.

But he is a uniquely ferocious defensive player whose problems typically stem from caring too much. You want him on your side, especially if the Celtics are fortunate enough to close the season with four to seven games against the Warriors.


Besides, the Celtics did add a helpful piece along the way, even if it wasn’t technically via a trade deadline deal. Greg Monroe made his debut Thursday night against the Wizards, and while it was hardly a box-score filler (5 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists in 20 minutes), he is a fascinating addition.

He should be the best rebounder on the roster, but otherwise he is a player of unconventional skill. This is a cool thing. Monroe has a back-to-the-basket game straight out of 1977, and he is an exceptional passer for a big man.

Brad Stevens has a long history of creatively maximizing the talents of players who might be considered misfit toys elsewhere, from Jordan Crawford to Evan Turner to Thomas.

Monroe is going to give the Celtics a lot. But the best part, as their sleepy trading deadline reminded us, is that unlike the Cavaliers, they don’t need much more than they’ve had all along.


Get the latest sports alerts sent directly to your phone. Download our free app.
'This was always the dream'
December 11, 2018 | 10:24 AM