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Why hasn’t Ainge made a move yet? Because Jimmy Butler

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Ainge has a lot of leverage here.

Chicago Bulls v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

“Why hasn’t Danny Ainge made a trade yet!!!???”

That is the common refrain I’m hearing from many Celtics fans (more so when the team has just lost a game). Certainly I feel the urgency too. This is a really fun team to watch from night to night but there seems to be something missing. Even when they are winning there’s that undercurrent feeling that this team could be so much closer to their ultimate goal with a move or two.

Every day we hear a new rumor about one player or another that could be available at the right price. From big deals (Carmelo Anthony) to smaller ones (Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bogut, Jusuf Nurkic, etc.). I have to think that if Ainge wanted to make a move right now, he could and would have done so. Why? Because he’s got what the league wants.

Per Steve Bulpett

With less than three weeks remaining before the Feb. 23 trade deadline, the Celtics are very much players in the transaction game. In addition to holding assets that other clubs covet, their stockpile of picks and high-quality complementary players also makes them valuable third-party participants to facilitate the deals of others.

“I don’t think any move of significance gets done before the deadline without Danny being given the chance to put his fingerprints on it,” said one general manager.

Nearly every trade rumor you hear in the next few weeks is likely to have some mention of the Celtics (just get used to it). The Magic seem eager to make a deal. Teams at the bottom of the standings might be motivated to make a move to offload talent (like the Suns and Heat?). Getting involved in the rumored Clippers/Knicks deal could be tempting too.

So why hasn’t Ainge pulled the trigger on any of them yet? Well, aside from the standard negotiating tactic of waiting till the last minute (deadline) to force the other team’s best offer, I think he’s waiting for one specific player in particular. Jimmy Butler.

Per the Chicago Tribune

There are rival executives who believe the Bulls and Celtics will rekindle trade talks centered on Jimmy Butler before the Feb. 23 deadline. The teams held serious talks in June, and the Celtics own the same assets — Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, the Nets' first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 — the teams discussed then.

On the Lowe Post podcast, Nick Friedell went a step further and reported that there’s a division in the Bulls’ front office over Jimmy Butler. Apparently they aren’t convinced that Butler can be the number one option on a Championship team and they don’t feel like he’s a great leader in the clubhouse. Friedell specifically names the Celtics as a team that would be an obvious landing spot for Butler.

While Butler might be the wrong guy to build around in Chicago, he could very well be the perfect final piece for Boston. In Boston he wouldn’t have the burden of leadership as it would be shared by Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas, and Al Horford. He can be a headlining star on a competing team without the burden of carrying the whole team on his shoulders. He even shares the kind of lunch-pail work ethic that defines the best players on the Celtics. In short, Ainge could be close to creating yet another Big 3 in Boston.

Of course it always boils down to cost. What are the Celtics willing to part with to add Butler? The Bulls have been asking for the moon (at the draft and even as far back as last year’s deadline according to reports) but how far will they come down to move on?

I think they’d want either Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder. Marcus Smart could make sense for them (ironically becoming the heir apparent to Rondo again). Add in some salary filler and then it comes down to picks. If they could get both Nets picks I think the deal would be done already. I think Danny will hold one of them back and getting the deal done might come down to which pick the Bulls get. If Ainge can convince them to take the 2018 pick and still get Butler, that would be the best case scenario.

On the other hand, if he does have to give up the ‘17 pick, Butler represents the level of player that any pick in this year’s draft would take years to reach. The Nets aren’t likely to be considerably better next year and the top of the 2018 draft is looking pretty good already (still too early to say for sure).

The point is, there’s negotiating room here. If the two sides can agree on a reasonable middle ground, a deal makes a lot of sense for both sides.

With all that said, getting deals done in the middle of the season is always tricky (the Bulls have a reputation of being particularly hesitant at the deadline). Danny Ainge is motivated to land a star player and Jimmy Bulter might be the most get-able star right now, but it is possible that another star or two could be available this summer. Boston needs to make some fundamental decisions by the time the draft rolls around, but they don’t need to make move at the deadline.

Likewise, the Bulls don’t necessarily need to make a move to blow things up in the middle of the season if they aren’t getting a great package in return. The very public locker room drama may make things a little more urgent, but smaller moves (like maybe waiving Rondo after the deadline) could serve as band-aids.

Regardless, this situation is worth watching as the trade deadline approaches. What would you offer for Butler and what would be the deal breaker you wouldn’t include?