Blakely: Ainge blinked . . . but with reason

Blakely: Ainge blinked . . . but with reason

BOSTON -- The big takeaway from the much-delayed Boston-Cleveland blockbuster deal?

Danny Ainge blinked.

This deal wasn’t going to be done unless Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, did the seemingly unthinkable: Cave in to the last-minute demands of the Cavaliers.


The two sides had already agreed that Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 unprotected Brooklyn first-round pick was going to Cleveland in exchange for Irving.

The Cavs had some concerns about Thomas’ injured hip and how long he would be sidelined, so they asked for additional compensation.

Boston dug its heels in early, but eventually agreed to tack on an additional draft pick -- a 2020 second-rounder from Miami. It was a compromise of sorts because Cleveland wanted another first-rounder from Boston to seal the deal.

But since when does Ainge compromise?

His track record for being a tough negotiator while pulling lopsided deals is impressive.
He got Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix for Marcus Thornton and a draft pick.

He shipped Rajon Rondo to Dallas for three players, one of whom was a throw-in named Jae Crowder.

He landed the No. 1 pick in last June’s NBA draft, only to trade down two spots to select Jayson Tatum (the player he would have taken with the top overall pick) and get a protected first-round pick via the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.

So it’s understandable how many in Celtics Nation felt the deal Ainge put on the table for the Cavs, the one that was originally agreed upon, was more than enough compensation for Irving.

But Irving is a different kind of player from the others Boston has been wheeling and dealing for in recent years. That type of player comes at a steep price, even if he was the one who demanded the trade and, theoretically, took some bargaining power away from Cleveland.

While his talent is special, what really sets Irving apart is that he’s so accomplished in this league at such a young age. Only 25 years old, he's an NBA champion who's been to the Finals three times, an Olympic Gold medalist, and a four-time All-Star.
Ainge was right in trying to take advantage of the circumstances by which Irving became available, even if it meant trading away two-time All-Star and fan favorite Isaiah Thomas.
But acquiring a player of Irving's stature requires going above and beyond the normal when it comes to negotiating.

That’s why as much as the Celtics didn’t want to give up any additional assets, adding a second-round pick to the deal was a small price to pay for securing the services of Irving for at least the next two seasons.

Isn’t that the point of having all those draft picks, to use them in a way to significantly bolster your roster?
Boston has more star power now with the addition of Irving, who joins an All-Star cast that includes Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

Still, the cost of this deal was a lot steeper for Boston than usual.

Fans have become spoiled with trades that provide a clear and decisive victory for the C's in recent years.

This one fell well short of that. Cleveland, the Celtics' main Eastern Conference rivals, is now deeper and more versatile, particularly with the addition of Crowder.

As one league executive texted me this morning, “Danny Ainge got Danny Ainge’d on this one.”
Still, Boston got the best player in the deal and still has a roster that talent-wise, ranks among the top two or three teams in the East.

Yes, Ainge blinked in giving in to Cleveland’s last-minute demands for more compensation.

But in doing so, the Celtics are balancing the incredibly difficult challenge of being a contender now while having a roster that has the potential to be in the chase for titles for years to come.


Reports: Cavs players aren't happy with roster


Reports: Cavs players aren't happy with roster

As the Cavaliers fall further and further behind the Celtics, it appears there's some internal grumbling that the problems that have led to eight losses in their past 10 games aren't fixable with Cleveland's current roster.

Multiple reports indicate that a number of "prominent" Cavs  (and there's no more prominent player in the NBA than LeBron James) shared those thoughts with ESPN, Cleveland.com and TheAthletic.com.

After their loss to the NBA-champion Golden State Warriors Monday night in another Finals rematch, the third-place Cavs have dropped 7 1/2 games behind the Celtics and 3 1/2 behind the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference.

The complaints are a clear message to management that a change will be necessary at the trade deadline and, according to Cleveland.com, the offseason acquisition of Isaiah Thomas isn't going over too well. Thomas, who was out until Jan. 2 while he recovered from hip surgery after he was acquired from the Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade, is shooting 36 percent and is averaging almost as many turnovers (2.4) as assists (3.4). But it's his defense that's hurting the Cavs more. Here's what Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon reported a "league source" told him:

“Rotations are awful. IT is so much worse than Kyrie defensively it’s insane. There is not a great feeling anywhere. They need to limp into the All-Star break and get away from each other.”

Meanwhile, the guy Thomas was traded for has led the Celtics to an East-leading 34-10 record and become a leading MVP candidate.

The Case Against Anthony Davis to the Celtics

The Case Against Anthony Davis to the Celtics

Let’s get this out of the way: the Celtics should absolutely try as hard as possible to land Anthony Davis. Danny Ainge’s track record means any deal that ultimately lands “The Brow” would, at worst, be fair, and at best, be a steal.

That said, there are arguments to be made against an Anthony Davis trade. Here they are:

This is more important than anything else. Gary Tanguay cannot have this win. We can’t validate his reckless speculation with a Davis-to-Celtics deal. Banner 18 is not worth the years of Gary telling us he was right about this. All joking aside, let’s give Tanguay some credit for predicting this, even if it was luck.

Freedom isn’t free and neither is a 24-year-old mega-star. It’s important to realize that the Celtics are not the only team making this trade. The Pelicans will, justifiably, need one of the biggest return packages in NBA history in order to move Anthony Davis. For starters, say goodbye to Jayson Tatum. The C’s wunderkind looks like a future star and there’s just no way New Orleans makes this deal without him. Ditto for the Lakers/Kings pick acquired from the 76ers this summer and at least one more future first-rounder. Did we mention Al Horford yet? His salary is almost a must in any deal for Davis. 


I’m not positive a package of Tatum, Horford and every future pick of value is enough to convince the Pelicans to trade Davis. If I’m New Orleans, I’m asking for Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Horford and the LAL/SAC pick for Davis and the ridiculously expensive corpse of Omer Asik. So yeah, the Celtics have positioned themselves to pull off a deal of this magnitude, but it’s sure gonna cost them.

Including Horford in a deal for Davis lessens the blow of adding another max player; however, the Celtics will also be trading at least one of their rookie-scale starters, and that cannot be overlooked. Tatum and Brown aren’t just potential All-Stars, they are cost-controlled starters who the Celtics are paying a combined $10.6 million this season. The other seven Eastern Conference playoff teams (as of Tuesday) are paying an average of $36M for their starting SG/SF combos. Losing one or both of Tatum and Brown means the C’s will be pinching pennies to try and fill out their starting lineup. The calculus gets much harder when Kyrie Irving opts-out of his deal after next season.

Davis is an absolute stud when he’s on the floor. The problem is he’s often sidelined with injuries. Davis has never played more than 75 games in a season, averaging 67 games through his first five years in the NBA (he’s already missed seven games this year). Davis’ alien-like size/athleticism combo make him a devastating two-way force, but might also make him injury prone for his entire career. Similar to Joel Embiid of the 76ers, Davis sometimes seems too big and fast for his own good, crashing to the floor at a rate rivaled only by Kelly Olynyk.

Is Davis good enough to overcome reasons 1-4 on this list? Going by individual stats, absolutely. Davis has the third-highest career Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in NBA history, trailing only Michael Jordan and LeBron James. But that individual success has only led to a 165-206 record and one playoff appearance for the Pelicans franchise. Before this season, the Davis-led Pelicans boasted a top-10 offense once in five seasons. It’s the same on the defensive end, with one top-10 finish in Davis’ first five years. If Davis is such a game changer, how come he hasn’t been able to impact winning at a greater clip? Most of that can probably be blamed on Pelicans management for doing a terrible job building around him, but it should be a question the Celtics ask before trading just about everything to acquire him.

The Celtics would be crazy turning down the chance to add Davis to a core of Irving, Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens, even if it does mean Tanguay can brag for the rest of his life. Ainge has assembled a super team before and you better believe he’s on the phone right now trying to do it again.