The trade deadline has come and gone as thunderously as it always does, and the Boston Celtics are the same as they were two days ago, even as the Eastern Conference has evolved to some extent around them. The Philadelphia 76ers landed a pair of much-needed wing shooters in Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III for the low price of three unremarkable second-round picks. The Miami Heat, meanwhile, landed a future Hall of Famer with championship experience in Andre Iguodala. Both teams look like direct competition with Boston in the race for the #2 seed, and there’s some understandable angst from fans after watching them improve while the Celtics stood pat.
This is a conversation that seems to pop up every year when it comes to Danny Ainge and the deadline, and it seems it’s time to have it again. Is he actually willing to spend his oft-praised treasure trove of assets, or is he content with always almost acquiring whatever target he’s been linked to in a given year?
It’s a dialogue that invariably ends up looking a little silly in retrospect, and this instance will be no exception. In the case of Burks and Robinson, sure, the Celtics could have outbid Philadelphia. But for what purpose? Both players are merely journeymen, posting solid-but-unspectacular numbers for one of the worst teams in basketball through 50 games. They fill a need for the Sixers’ ill-fitting roster, but neither would crack the Celtics’ loaded wing rotation when the team is at full health. Sending out a haul of picks — even fairly valueless ones — for such a move has never been Ainge’s M.O.
They could have sent out a larger haul for Davis Bertans, yes. It was a move I was even in favor of. The Wizards never seemed to be negotiating with serious intent in his case though. Every indication has suggested that they intend to re-sign him to play alongside Bradley Beal and John Wall in the 2020-2021 season, making the their involvement more of a formality than anything else. Bertans is a nice player, and would have bolstered the Boston bench, but the Celtics wanting him doesn’t obligate Washington to give him up nor should the Celtics have given in to an obvious ploy to coax an overpay.
Beyond the draft picks, the Celtics also don’t match up well salary-wise in many trades. Marcus Smart is their most movable contract, and for reasons that shouldn’t need enumerating, he’s not going anywhere. Given Gordon Hayward’s max deal, any trade involving him would probably amount to trading a quarter for two dimes in terms on on-court value. On the flip side, any deal packaging Romeo Langford or Carsen Edwards would be selling at possibly their lowest value, before they’ve really had an opportunity to prove their worth.
And yes, the Celtics will certainly have to consolidate before too long. There is simply no space for three incoming first round picks on this roster this summer, both in terms of the team’s timeline and in terms of sheer roster space. It will need to be addressed. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Celtics need to feel pressure to make a move right this moment however. The off-season still lies ahead.
In reality, the biggest acquisition the Celtics need right now is better health. Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge have publicly said as much. Players have been shuffling in and out of the lineup all season long. Yes, a trade might have brought in some depth to fill those holes, but the buyout market is coming and can fulfill the same purpose if it needs to (a certain diminutive point guard will likely be available).
Despite all the injuries, the Celtics have continued to pile up wins — including eight of their last nine games — buying themselves some leeway. Though it might feel good to see something happen to answer Philadelphia’s and Miami’s improvements, making a hasty trade to improve the short-term just isn’t necessary. That isn’t Danny Ainge’s style, and in building this franchise to the strong long-term position it currently enjoys, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt.