The Boston Celtics let the trade deadline pass without activity. Again.
This will bring much consternation to a trade-thirsty fan base that spends each February begging for a reason to get excited, only to be spectators on the NBA’s biggest day of dealing.
Quibble with Danny Ainge’s asset hoarding all you want, but the fact of the matter is that Boston’s trade deadline activity Thursday was never going to alter the trajectory of the season. The Celtics are banking that sustained health will be their best in-season acquisition.
So despite being armed with as many as three first-round picks in this year’s draft and admitting that Boston might have too many young players, Ainge didn’t jump into any deals.
"It’s not about making deals, it’s about making good deals,” Ainge said in an interview with NBC Sports Boston’s on Thursday night. "We didn’t have any good deals."
We understand some fans' angst. The league feels as wide open as ever, with Golden State navigating a redshirt year and the Brooklyn Nets waiting for Kevin Durant to get healthy. In an era where windows shut quickly, it feels like contenders need to be aggressive pushing their chips in.
But Ainge has often resisted a temptation to tinker. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, with Ainge admitting the team was “very active,” making more calls than Boston fielded. But for all the cries to pry someone like a Davis Bertans out of Washington, Ainge said he didn’t see an opportunity to add impact talent at a reasonable cost.
"I hear people talking about why we didn’t do a deal. A lot of times people want us to get the first- or second-best player on another team,” said Ainge. "Those players are expensive and, if we brought them here, they would be the seventh-, eighth-, or ninth-best player on our team.”
Boston’s chances of emerging from the East hinge more on the health and performance of their Best Five — Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart — and no deadline acquisition was likely to change that.
The Celtics are banking that, at full health, they have the horses to hang with teams like Milwaukee and Toronto — two teams that, it should be noted, also remained idle on Thursday.
Remember that Boston's preferred starting five has played a measly 15 games this season and a total of 160 minutes. That group — with Daniel Theis running alongside Walker, Hayward, Tatum, and Brown — has a net rating of plus-15.6 in 160 minutes this season. That’s tied for the fourth-best mark in the NBA among five-man units with at least that much floor time.
When healthy, the Celtics can pair Smart and Enes Kanter as their early subs. The question Boston labored over at the deadline was whether it needed an upgrade to, say, its eighth or ninth man, or could get away with leaning on players like Semi Ojeleye, Brad Wanamaker, or a soon-to-be-healthy Robert Williams. Can Boston trust rookies like Grant Williams or Romeo Langford under the harsh playoff spotlight?
Ainge admitted the Celtics will explore the buyout market but noted the team can’t count on that as a surefire way to add a veteran presence to the roster. Players like Tristan Thompson, Evan Turner, and Isaiah Thomas will be popular in these parts if they eventually land on the scrap heap.
The only question is whether Boston’s lack of activity could impact its quest for premium seeding.
One East rival in particular, Miami, made a splashy move, plucking Andre Iguodala out of Memphis, all while pulling back Jae Crowder (and Solomon Hill, too). Even at 36 and having not played a meaningful basketball game in eight months, Iguodala gives the Heat a veteran with championship experience who can help nurture the young core they’ve built around Jimmy Butler. Crowder hasn’t shot the ball well this year but could be a rotation presence.
Boston, Toronto, and Miami are positioned to jockey for that No. 2 spot in the East. It’s valuable real estate when you consider that it might mean a first-round matchup with Brooklyn or Orlando, instead of, say, an Indiana team that added Victor Oladipo or Philadelphia.
Asked to assess where his team stands in the league hierarchy, Ainge said he’d leave that to the prognosticators. But he said his team is pretty bullish on its chances.
"I don’t do predictions, I let everybody else do that,” said Ainge. "It only matter about what this team believes, and they believe they are pretty good right now.”
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Hawks-Celtics, which begins Friday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.