NBA trade deadline inactivity didn't alter Celtics' ability to contend

NBA trade deadline inactivity didn't alter Celtics' ability to contend

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.

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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.

It's a matter of when, not if, Jaylen Brown will be an NBA All-Star

It's a matter of when, not if, Jaylen Brown will be an NBA All-Star

BOSTON -- We should have seen this coming from Jaylen Brown. 

It’s not like he didn’t clue us in to how he was built differently than most players coming into the NBA. 

His first NBA start came against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a game in which Brown showed absolutely no nerves, anxiety or fear of James as he went on to score a then-career-high 19 points in what was his fifth game as a pro. 

From there, Brown continued to show flashes of being an above-average talent, displaying an innate ability to successfully transition to whatever role he’s cast to play. 

With the NBA season at a standstill now, it provides us an opportunity to take in what Brown has done thus far. 

More significantly, it allows us to take inventory on what Brown’s body of work thus far tells us is on the horizon. 

The 23-year-old Brown is on course to establish himself as an All-Star whose strength lies in his versatility to impact the game at both ends of the floor. 

This season, Brown is averaging 20.3 points per game, joining teammates Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker as part of the only trio of NBA teammates this season with each averaging at least 20 points per game. 

Of that threesome, Brown’s inclusion is the most surprising when you consider it wasn’t a given that he would start, let alone drop 20 points a night, at the start of the season. 

A legit case could be made that Brown should have been an All-Star this season, with some surmising a top-two record by the Celtics prior to the break would have been enough to get him in along with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. 

But it’s fitting that Brown’s time to shine will have to wait. 

Because on many levels, that’s been the narrative surrounding his NBA career. 

And while it would have certainly deterred some and disappointed others, it only drove Brown to continue working on his game, proving his naysayers wrong - including those who booed Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck when he announced that Boston had selected Brown with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

“Oh, I remember,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston recently. “I definitely remember.”

But instead of dwelling on what has happened, Brown is more locked into what the future holds for both him and the Celtics. 

“Just keep getting better, keep grinding, keep working on all parts of my game,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done, to get where I’m at. So why stop now?”

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Want to witness one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history? Just tune into NBC Sports Boston on Sunday night.

Our "Classic Celtics" series -- which featured Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals on Friday night -- continues Sunday with a throwback: Game 2 of Boston's 1986 NBA playoffs first-round series with the Chicago Bulls.

That April 20, 1986, game at TD Garden was a defining moment for then-23-year-old Michael Jordan, who went off for an NBA postseason-record 63 points.

But Celtics fans can appreciate Jordan's masterful performance knowing that Boston outlasted Chicago 135-131 in double overtime and swept the series en route to an eventual NBA title.

The broadcast begins Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, and as an added bonus, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge -- who scored 24 points in this game while defending Jordan -- will join Brian Scalabrine to provide real-time commentary throughout the game.

Other reasons to watch:

- A vintage performance from Celtics star Larry Bird, who scored a team-high 36 points to go along with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

- The 1980s Celtics at their peak: Bird, Ainge, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton all scored double figures.

- Jordan hitting two free throws in the final seconds of regulation to force the first overtime.

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