By now you’ve heard of the dreaded “treadmill of mediocrity” that some teams find themselves in. After covering Danny Ainge for well over a decade, I can tell you that his favorite place to be is on the treadmill of flexibility.
The work never seems to be done. Every deal leads to another one. Every move points to another one. When he gets the top overall pick, he flips it for the 3rd pick and a future pick. When he gets Al Horford, he’s looking for another max free agent. When he gets Gordon Hayward, he’s still going to look for more.
It is tempting to think that Celtics have made their big moves for the summer. They drafted Jayson Tatum, signed Gordon Hayward, and traded Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris. In theory, Ainge could sign a few more inexpensive free agents and pat himself on the back for a successful offseason.
As it stands, the Celtics have a very versatile roster with several players that can play multiple positions and bring a number of different skills to the table. They have added a lot of length in Tatum, Hayward, and Morris. They’ll be able to switch on everything 2 through 4. They are deep and talented and could very well top their regular-season win total from last year even if they make no other major moves.
That’s not a bad option, but don’t for a second think that he’s going to stop trying to make more moves to make the team even better. Consider what he told Steve Bulpett.
“No, we’re not comfortable yet,” Danny Ainge told the Herald. “We do like our team, but we’re still going to search things out to see if we can find anything that makes us better this offseason.”
Right now, the team needs to process moves in the proper order. Avery Bradley and Marcus Morris have to pass physicals in order for the trade to be official. Someone else will need to be waived (probably Jordan Mickey or Demetrius Jackson—if not both). Then the Celtics can sign Gordon Hayward. Only after that can they use the Room Exception, which is $4.3 million.
Maybe finding a big man with the Room Exception and filling out the rest of the roster with rookies and vet minimum guys are the moves Ainge is looking at. Or maybe he’s still looking to make another big move. Remember that the original plan was to sequence signing Hayward and follow it up with trading for Paul George.
Is there another Paul George-type move out there for him to make? It doesn’t seem likely. Players of that caliber don’t show up every day, and we’ve already moved a pretty sizable trade chip in Avery Bradley. Then again, he still has Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, and a big pile of future draft picks to dangle in case anyone becomes available. There’s also the option of flipping Marcus Morris combined with some other pieces if that’s what it took.
Frankly, I don’t have the foggiest idea of who might be available in a trade (at least not right away). I don’t think Anthony Davis is moving any time soon. Kristaps Porzingis would seem to be safe since Phil Jackson exited stage left. Marc Gasol is interesting but ultimately probably too expensive to match salaries with.
Of course, it isn’t always home runs that Ainge is looking for either. He’s said multiple times that the roster is unbalanced, and Morris is more of a 3-4 than he is a “big.” So you might see Ainge look to move Jae Crowder or either Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart for a skilled big man.
Regardless, the point is that Danny Ainge never sees himself as being “done” with anything. He’s always looking for the next angle. In that respect, he’s in lockstep with Brad Stevens’s philosophy—continual progress over short-term results. Understand the spacing and matchups and make the right reads at the right time. The “sequencing” plan didn’t work out, but there’s always another option on which Danny can set his sights.
It all comes back to flexibility. There are three ways to make your team better: free agents, the draft, and trades. They’ve signed two max free agents in the last two years. They’ve drafted two number 3 overall picks in the last two years. They still have multiple draft picks and sought-after players to use in trades. That’s a great position to be in.
So Danny Ainge isn’t really ever done. We’ll just have to wait and see what he comes up with next.