Crack a beer, Celtics fans.
You’re done bottoming out.
Danny Ainge went out and snared himself a nice piece in scoring guard Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix right at Thursday’s trade deadline, then turned around and brought in Pistons’ forward Jonas Jerebko, a rangy, solid defender with an expiring contract. Both are good moves on their own merit for a team that actually may have some designs on a playoff spot in the woeful Eastern Conference.
But what made them great moves — both for now and for the future — is that Ainge gave up virtually nothing in either deal while maintaining all of the best, most valuable currency he’s been piling onto Asset Mountain since the summer of 2013.
For Thomas, the Celtics sent Marcus Thornton’s expiring deal and the 2016 first-rounder acquired in last summer’s ice cream headache of a three-team deal with Cleveland and Brooklyn that netted Tyler Zeller and, somewhat ironically, Thornton. That pick was Cleveland’s, is protected from 1-10 and given the Cavs’ place in the current NBA hierarchy, it’s likely to fall somewhere in the mid-20s in the 2016 draft. In other words, who cares?
Next, he spun Tayshaun Prince, who he was reportedly going to buy out on Friday, back to the site of Prince’s glory days with the Pistons in exchange for a player who does some of the same things only is significantly younger, and is also up at the end of the year. In other words, come on down, play defense and take a few 3s for the next two or three months, maybe help us make the playoffs and vaya con dios.
It should probably also be noted here that the Pistons also sent bench fodder Luigi Datome to the Celts in order to make the money match up just right. Datome probably won’t play much, if at all, for the Celtics and is a restricted free agent after this season. But the fact that Ainge swung two players for Prince, who again was to be gone for nothing within 24-48 hours, is miraculous.
So just like that, the Celtics have a go-to guy on offense who they’ve coveted for months and who makes relatively cheap money. Thomas scored 20 per game last season with Sacramento and this year with the Suns he’s putting up 15 while playing nine fewer minutes a night. He’s small (5’9″) but can get to the rim with terrific speed and quickness and also shoot just under 40 percent from deep. Having him around takes some offensive burden off of Avery Bradley, who has made himself into a good jump shooter but can’t create his own shot or do much of anything off the dribble.
The Celts can now better contend for the playoffs this year even with Jared Sullinger out for a stretch (really, grabbing that 8-seed and picking, say, 16th in the draft, is pretty much the same as not grabbing it and picking 13th or 14th, right?), still find plenty of time to play and develop Marcus Smart (and possibly free up more minutes for James Young in the absence of Prince) and maintain all the flexibility to go nuts come summer time. None of the potentially top-flight draft picks acquired these past couple of years have gone anywhere. Those picks Ainge stole from Brooklyn in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade? Still here.
A year and a half later, the Celtics are left w/James Young, two 1st round picks + another swap. The Nets are left w/30 games of Thad Young.
— Rich Levine (@rich_levine) February 19, 2015
And if for some reason Thomas doesn’t work out, his contract makes him completely movable should the Celts feel the need to include him in targeting a big name or two in June and July.
This is a good day for the Celtics and their fans. They got better without giving up anything of consequence to do so and are just as flexible for the future as they’ve been all along.
There is light at the end of the rebuild tunnel and it’s shining nice and bright.