1. The Celtics are somehow simultaneously close to being a good team, while currently being a very mediocre team, while also being close to being a bad team.
Confused? You aren’t alone.
Boston fell behind by 25 points to the Milwaukee Bucks after a largely lifeless three and a half quarters. Boston rallied and had the ball with a chance to win or tie at the end. Daniel Theis’ corner three at the buzzer caught iron and dropped out instead of in and the Celtics fell to 21-23 on the season.
It was nice to see the Celtics show some real fight. They did battle back. The final quarter felt like there was a real care factor, and that’s often been missing this year. Even Marcus Smart and Theis yelling at each other shows they still care. Those are good things. But to even be there is a confusing place to have landed.
An optimist says “They were right there with one of the NBA’s better teams!”
A pessimist says “Another loss. Can’t ever get it done.”
A realist says “This team is weird. They’re close, but can’t get it done. I don’t know how to feel.”
The realist is the correct one here. Are the Celtics as bad as their record? Nope. But, as Bill Parcells taught us, you are what your record says you are. Are the Celtics a trade or two away from a title? Probably not. That probably depends more on the trade or two.
The realistic trade options that are being bandied about will improve Boston’s roster. It’s not just about adding a good player, but everyone else slotting into a spot that makes more sense for them in the rotation. Let’s use an Aaron Gordon trade for an example, shall we?
Boston gets Aaron Gordon and he’s presumably a starter alongside Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Daniel Theis. That’s a switchable group with a lot of versatility to it. But there’s more to it than just those five.
Marcus Smart goes back to the sixth man/sixth starter role where he has generally excelled. His energy gives the team a jolt of the bench.
No more two bigs in the starting group, because Gordon is in there now. That means pretty good depth behind Theis in Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams. That’s important with Theis’ penchant for attracting (often bad) fouls. And Williams’ somewhat worrisome track record of poor health.
Payton Pritchard has a lot of pressure taken off him, because Smart can handle the ball handling on the second unit. That should allow Pritchard to play freer, as teams see him for a second or third time. He’s had some struggles in those situations this season.
Whoever remains out of the group of wings out of Semi Ojeleye, Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford can see about 10 minutes a night and just do their thing. That’s a bonus vs relying on them for 20-25 minutes a night.
In short, the whole roster starts to make a lot more sense for everyone. Not just the player coming in and the player going out.
The other option the Celtics have is to sell off some pieces. This won’t be anything earth-shattering. Kemba Walker isn’t going anywhere in this scenario. Neither is Marcus Smart. There just isn’t going to be the value there in a trade for either of them. And, of course, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown aren’t being traded.
But if Boston feels they can’t pay Daniel Theis what he’ll get offered as a free agent, they should trade him. If a team wants Tristan Thompson to firm up their frontcourt rotation, see ya TT! Anyone else? Boston should be very open to it.
This isn’t going to return anything great in terms of assets, but it removes some possible messiness this offseason. And it could free up a little flexibility in the process. Those are both reason enough to move on.
What can’t happen is standing pat. Under no circumstances should that be a thing. Otherwise, this team probably stays a .500 group and you then add some missed opportunities to get better on top of that. Both better right now and down the line. That’s not ok.
Is Aaron Gordon (or someone of his ilk) lifting the Celtics to title contention? Probably not. But the team still has enough potential that it’s worth being the best version they can be this season. It’s been a weird season, which means it will probably be followed by some weird playoffs.
Making a trade to add to the roster is about putting yourself in the best position to take advantage if things go your way. And the cost doesn’t seem overly prohibitive to do so. The Celtics don’t need more young projects by the way of draft picks. They’ve got enough of those already. And Boston isn’t likely to have to give up much in terms of current players to get someone like Gordon.
It’s a confusing time to be a Celtics fan or watcher. They aren’t usually out of games before they even start, but you also have no real confidence they will win. That can still be fixed. And it’s worth trying. Especially if the cost is relatively low.
Should you have faith Danny Ainge will swing a trade before the deadline? Probably not. Recent history tells you otherwise. But things do feel a little different compared to the last several years. The team isn’t waiting on someone to get back from injury. Nor have they played well enough to justify standing pat. Maybe it’s just hopeful optimism, but it feels like this is the year Ainge starts to earn back the “Trade Danny” moniker.