Danny Ainge made one of his regular appearances on 98.5 FM’s The Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich show and was pretty open about his desires approaching the trade deadline.
In years past, Ainge has preached patience for the Boston Celtics. He’s talked about the need to get healthy, or to be patient with the development of younger players. Ainge says he’s always open to trades, but has said he’s never felt the need to have to make a trade.
Stopping short of saying the Celtics must make a trade this year, Ainge was closer to that sentiment than ever.
Ainge was asked what Boston’s biggest need is and he quickly answered “shooting with size”. Ainge went on to add that he’s looking for complete players that can also defend.
That’s a pretty rare player, but not completely unheard of. Basically, Ainge is ruling out acquiring a one-skill player. He went so far as to say “It’s hard to find a shooter that can’t guard anyone and expect that player to make a major change on our team.”
That seemingly rules out someone like the New Orleans Pelicans JJ Redick, who has regularly been played off the floor by teams who attack him on defense.
Ainge went on to stress that whoever Boston may acquire needs to defend. He’s been fairly critical of the Celtics not defending at their established level to start the season. That makes his comments that he’s looking for defenders hit home a bit more.
As far as timing goes, Ainge said using the team’s $28.5 million trade exception around the trade deadline is the “sweet spot”. That exception will carry over into the offseason (exact expiration is still TBD pending timing of the 2021-22 league year), but it sounds like Ainge has some motivation to use it now.
The reality is that the Celtics are close right now. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are that good. Many of the depth pieces are fine, especially up front. And the point guard position will be ok once Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard are fully up to speed. That leaves the need for wing depth and that seems to be where Ainge is zeroing in on.
Who could that help come in the form of? Boston saw one primary target last night in Harrison Barnes. He’s a 3-4 who can score on spot-ups and do some work off the bounce as well. Barnes also has perhaps the league’s most extensive experience playing as a fourth or fifth option on a title team from his time with the Golden State Warriors. His salary fits neatly inside the Gordon Hayward trade exception, and he’s signed through 2022-23. That helps long-term, as Boston is limited in adding reinforcements outside of the Hayward TPE.
Aaron Gordon is also a guy who can fit what Ainge seems to be looking for. He’s currently injured and will be out almost until the deadline, but he’d be another 3-4 option that would add some more athleticism to the Celtics frontcourt. Gordon has been miscast as a secondary, sometimes primary, playmaker for the Orlando Magic. Many around the NBA feel he’ll shine when he’s the fourth or fifth best player on a contender. Like Barnes, Gordon could be in Boston for a couple of years, and he has the benefit of being a bit cheaper in terms of salary.
There are countless options if the Celtics wanted to look at more pure wing options. Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross both fit that mold, although Fournier is on an expiring deal. Wayne Ellington would be more in the category of “shooter” without bringing much on defense.
If Ainge wanted to go for a combo-guard, George Hill is seemingly available from the Oklahoma City Thunder. If it was truly size (meaning a big man) with range that Ainge wants, old friends Al Horford or maybe Kelly Olynyk could be in play. Or, for a bigger investment in terms of salary and trade package, Boston could pursue Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic.
The main takeaway is that Ainge is no longer preaching patience. He seems to understand that this year the Celtics need help. Because of the giant trade exception, Boston is in a better position to make that happen than they usually are. It’ll cost some of the young players and maybe a draft pick or two, but that’s the price of doing business. If making a move gets the Celtics Banner 18, no one will care what the cost was.