All right, stop the presses. That deal we all thought was pretty much final? The one that would finally bring the Celtics the rim-protecting center they desperately needed, bringing in Omer Asik from Houston for the reasonable price of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a draft pick? It's dead, apparently. Talks are completely off, Asik is still a Rocket, and the Celtics' guys are still Celtics. At least for now.
Until further notice, I guess we have to suspend our fantasies of Asik, a healthy Rajon Rondo and a blossoming supporting cast rallying up the Eastern Conference standings and making noise into April and May. Cancel the duck boats, or something like that.
I don't know about you, but this abrupt change leaves me shocked, confused and maybe even a bit disillusioned with the process. This deal made sense for all parties involved, it appeared to be close and all was going according to plan... and then all of a sudden, it was off? What? Huh?
I'm still trying to collect my thoughts on this whole mess. I've come up with 10 of them. Feel free to share your own in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter and vent at me 140 characters at a time. We'll get through this together.
1. I still don't know what to think.
The more you learn about all these trade rumors, the dumber you feel, you know? There was buzz going every which way these last couple days. Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski was insistent last night that a deal was close. The Herald's Steve Bulpett said things were quiet. Everyone had their sources and their reports and their speculation, but it was hard to know exactly where it was all coming from. Who's leaking stuff, and why? And what incentive do they have to lie?
You have to take everything you read these days on Twitter with a grain of salt, even if it comes from great journalists with reliable sources. There's always someone running game on you. In fact, I'm not even sure now that the deal's dead. This could just be someone's negotiating ploy.
This is Daryl Morey we're talking about - the same guy who followed Paul Millsap on Twitter last night even when everyone and their mother insisted that a potential Hawks/Rockets trade for Millsap was dead. The guy enjoys messing with us, clearly, and no one really knows what's true anymore.
2. He's still coming to Boston eventually, right?
OK, fine. Asik's not on a flight to Boston today. For now, the trade talks are on hold. But still, the more you think about it, the more it makes sense that eventually, one way or another, he's coming here. One by one, you look at the other suitors, and the fit just isn't there.
Philly? Nah - they're rebuilding with Nerlens Noel as their center starting next year. They might trade for Asik, but only as an asset they can flip elsewhere (i.e., Boston).
Atlanta? No way - they're playing well and they're happy with their frontcourt of Millsap and Al Horford. Portland? Same thing - they're doing just fine with LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez, no need to rock the boat.
Cleveland? It would just be a lateral move from Anderson Varejao, and an expensive one at that. Why bother when either way, you're not winning anything?
The Celtics are still the only team that really makes sense as an Asik landing spot. If he doesn't come here now, he still could at some point, perhaps closer to the Feb. 20 deadline.
3. This proves we're not tanking, I'd say.
The Celtics may not have gotten Asik, but the simple fact that they tried should be evidence alone that Danny Ainge doesn't want to lose basketball games. I thought the notion was silly all along, honestly, but this should only reinforce that. The Celtics are 12-15 after a third of a season, they're a decent team, and they're trying to get even better. Do yourself a favor and remove the T word from your vocabulary.
4. What happens to these assets?
If not today, the Celtics need to start moving some of these trade chips soon. They have Bass, Lee, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, a massive trade exception and a pile of extra draft picks just lying around, waiting to be dealt. It's never easy in the NBA to turn 10 dimes into a dollar, but Danny Ainge has got to keep trying. This is how you build a winning team without a No. 1 pick or a big free agent - you collect valuable pieces and you build with them. If not Asik, he's got to do something to bring in a real piece.
5. Brandon, Brandon, Brandon.
Brandon Bass is still a Celtic for the time being, and I have mixed feelings about that. I ripped him pretty hard for the way he handled the rumors and played poorly last night, and I'm feeling pretty sorry-not-sorry about it now. I stand by a lot of what I said - Bass has looked like a lazy player all season, and his performance last night was infuriating to watch - but at the same time, it's good to have the guy around.
As a human being, Bass is great. He's a genuinely unselfish human being in a league that doesn't have terribly many of them. Everyone wants to have the self-effacing "aw, shucks" persona, but not many really live up to it. With Bass, there is nothing false about his modesty. He's a true gentleman.
As a player? Yeah, I'm kinda fed up. There's nothing above-average about his game. He's not a good defender (the "Carmelo stopper" narrative last spring was a myth), he's not a good post scorer and the rebounding leaves quite a bit to be desired. He's clogging up the depth chart and blocking the development of Jared Sullinger, a true rising star in this league. That doesn't sit well with me.
6. Hey, C-Lee, welcome back.
I'm 100 percent thrilled that Lee is staying in Boston for now. As a locker room guy, he's the absolute best. Always diplomatic and pleasant to talk to. After a tough loss, he's one of only a couple guys (Avery Bradley also comes to mind) that will keep his head up and handle his job like a true professional, speaking candidly without losing his temper. That's awesome. I'm glad we still have that.
He's also a solid outside shooter and wing defender, a useful role player Brad Stevens will gladly keep bringing off his bench.
7. This team still has matchup issues.
All year long, I've been saying "Gee, I sure wish the Celtics had some kind of post presence they could throw at that guy." Whether it's Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas, you name it, there's one practically every night. They're all matchup nightmares, and Boston has had no answer. Bass isn't cutting it in that department. Neither, sadly, is Vitor Faverani (sorry, Vitor).
If not Asik, the Celtics had better keep looking to find that player. Those guys aren't easy to come by.
8. Look at the bright side: We saved $15 million.
The one scary thing about this Asik deal was the center's massive contract for next season. It's not just the big poison pill contract for next year, though - it's also the fact that had the Celtics landed Asik, they wouldn't have been able to extend him. Under the CBA, Asik wouldn't have been able to sign an extension for his true value (think $9 million or so), since that would be too big a pay cut.
What would have happened is Asik would have played out his final year and a half in Boston, then hit free agency. The Celtics would have either had to overpay him on the open market (big guys like him always get overpaid) or let him walk. Remember, this Celtic team is still looking for a long-term rebuilding strategy, not a quick fix for the next year or two. Maybe the C's are better off investigating another approach.
9. Deal or no deal, this was pretty cool.
Let's pause for a second and think back to 2008. Who was the big trade chip being bandied about that winter? It was Pau Gasol.
Then in 2010, who was it? Yeah, Carmelo Anthony. In 2011? Chris Paul. In 2012? Dwight Howard. And later that fall, James Harden.
All those guys listed above are massive stars - guys who headline fantasy drafts and SportsCenter highlights and YouTube montages. They're conventional NBA big names. Asik isn't that, and that's what's cool about him.
Omer Asik's career averages are 5.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. On paper, he's totally mediocre. The casual NBA fan has no idea what's so great about the guy. But if you watch the games and you understand the analytics and you listen to all the smart people out there singing Asik's praises, you grok his understated greatness. He's a fantastic help defender, a screen-setter and a generally mistake-free player who helps teams win without showing it on a box score.
In 2013, Omer Asik is the biggest name on the trading block - bigger than Rudy Gay, who's exactly the kind of conventional star people would have gone nuts over five years ago. But now, we're smarter than that. This is progress, people.
10. Where do we go from here?
OK, back to the Celtics. Where does this leave them? They woke up this morning with the seventh-best record in a bad Eastern Conference. Without Asik, can they hold that position? Can they climb even higher? Or are they headed for a fall?
I honestly don't know. I could make a hell of an argument for any of the above possibilities, but it's difficult to say for sure. And right now, in the wake of all this dashed Asik optimism, it's hard even to think straight.
What do you think? Are these the Celtics we're stuck with for the rest of this year? If so, how do you feel about it? I'm struggling, that's for sure.