BOSTON -- The idea that the Celtics could overtake Cleveland for the best record in the Eastern Conference seemed too far-fetched just a couple weeks ago.
Since then, Boston has won 10 of its last 11 to cut the Cavaliers' lead to just two games. And now comes word that Kevin Love (knee) will be out for six weeks, which is plenty of time for the Celtics to make a surge towards the best record in the East and, with it, home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
But the team many expected to contend with the Cavs this season, fourth-place Toronto, has traded Terrence Ross and a first-round pick to Orlando for Serge Ibaka, which addresses their greatest need. In doing so, they automatically get back in the hunt for the top spot in the East.
There was a report the Celtics shunned an Ibaka deal because they didn't want to trade Terry Rozier. While a league source indicated that the Magic did, in fact, have internal discussions about a potential deal with Boston that would have included Rozier, multiple sources contacted on Tuesday said that Orlando's preferred deal for Ibaka for the last several weeks has been to acquire Ross and a first-round pick.
"Toronto was the team we all knew had the inside track for Ibaka," said a league official who had talks with the Magic regarding Ibaka before Orlando traded him to the Raptors. "Orlando wanted to come out of this with a young veteran on the rise and a draft pick. I don't think they would have gotten that necessarily from Boston."
Boston has the right to swap picks with Brooklyn this year, a pick that will likely be in the top five.
And next year, the Celtics have Brooklyn's first-round pick outright. The Celtics also have a potential 2019 first-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers and another 2019 first-round pick from Memphis, but both could potentially become second-round picks depending on the timing by which other picks are conveyed to other teams.
So as you can imagine, Orlando wanted no part of those picks, which made a path for them to get what they wanted out of trading Ibaka extremely difficult with Boston as a partner.
And from the Celtics' perspective, giving up Rozier, Amir Johnson (most likely) and one of their two upcoming picks from Brooklyn just didn't make a lot of sense since Ibaka who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
So where does this leave the Celtics?
While they are playing great basketball right now, they could benefit from having one more rebounding/defensive frontcourt specialist to the mix.
But adding such a player likely means trading away a couple of players from the current roster, which has been successful despite an assortment of key players being out with injuries and illnesses all season.
And that's what makes this trading season trickier than most for Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations.
He's always got an eye out for finding talent to strengthen his roster. But he also understands the importance and value of chemistry and its role in a team being successful.
Because so many of this team's core players were around last season, they understand how to fill in when a player goes down and have the team not miss a beat.
Adding a player at this point in the season, especially if it's a rotation-type talent, will require an adjustment period that won't be a smooth one.
Look at Al Horford.
His game is about as perfectly suited for Brad Stevens' system as you'll find on a roster outside of the Celtics. He's definitely improved as the season has progressed, but you can tell he's still figuring out the best way he can help this team.
Boston's big issue is rebounding, something Ainge identified in a one-on-one interview last month with CSNNE.com as being his greatest concern heading into this season.
"Our team, I knew going into the year that rebounding would be an issue for us," Ainge told CSNNE.com. "I still feel like we're better defensively and better rebounding than we are doing. That is my number one concern."
The Celtics have indeed shown improvement during their recent stretch of success when it comes to rebounding and overall defense.
And while the calls for adding another rebounder or defender will continue to be the buzz around this team, Ainge understands that a cleaner bill of health than what we've seen for most of this season may be just the change they need in order to surpass Cleveland.
"I know that when our team plays like we're capable of playing and we're healthy that we're a pretty good team," Ainge told CSNNE.com. "A team I enjoy watching."
And if things play out the way the Celtics hope they will, others will get a chance to enjoy watching them play well into the month of June.