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.”

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How the Andre Iguodala, Justise Winslow deal impacts the Celtics

How the Andre Iguodala, Justise Winslow deal impacts the Celtics

The Boston Celtics haven't yet made a move ahead of Thursday's NBA trade deadline, but some of the bigger trade dominoes have started to fall.

And one of the most recent deals could have a big impact on the C's.

On Wednesday night, the Memphis Grizzlies agreed to a deal that will send Andre Iguodala to the Miami Heat, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The Heat, in turn, will send Justise Winslow to the Grizzlies as "part of the package" to acquire Iguodala.

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As NBC Sports Boston's Chris Forsberg points out, this deal will impact the the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, especially if Iguodala can get back into game shape quickly enough.

Assuming the 36-year-old Iguodala can shake the rust from his long layoff — remember, he hasn’t played a real basketball game since June 13 and Game 6 of the NBA Finals — then the Heat are adding a veteran player with championship experience and someone that can further help Jimmy Butler bring along Miami’s young core.

The No. 2 spot in the East is valuable real estate because it means likely avoiding a team like Indiana or Philadelphia in a first-round matchup. The Celtics, Heat, and Raptors are set to jockey for those spots over the final two months of the regular season.

Yet it's not just Miami's addition that hurts the C's. They also have a vested interest in Memphis' success, as the Celtics own their 2020 first-round pick, and it's only top-6 protected.

As Forsberg points out, the Grizzlies are basically performing addition by subtraction, as Iguodala wasn't even playing for the Grizzlies before being traded.

Memphis,  meanwhile, adds a nice player — one that Danny Ainge famously lusted over in the 2015 draft — that can further aid their own playoff quest. Remember, Iguodala wasn’t playing and, when healthy, Winslow is a versatile forward who complements the Grizzlies’ young core.

The Memphis pick, top-6 protected but slotted at No. 17 entering the night, could slide even deeper in the draft and it might be just another nudge for Ainge to cash out if there’s an intriguing deal available before Thursday’s deadline.

It's too early to judge the real impact of this trade, but it certainly seems like both teams got better, which is bad news for the Celtics. The Heat got a rugged, veteran defender for their squad while the Grizzlies got something for nothing and should be better off for it.

We'll see if the Celtics make a move to counteract the Heat's move ahead of the deadline. Or maybe the C's will be more willing to deal the Memphis pick with the upstart Grizzlies continuing to look like a legitimate playoff team.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of the NBA trade deadline. This Thursday at 2:30 p.m., stream the 2020 NBA Trade Deadline Show on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBoston.com. Then at 7 p.m., tune into our Celtics Trade Deadline Special.

Marcus Smart explains Celtics' improved approach to NBA trade deadline

Marcus Smart explains Celtics' improved approach to NBA trade deadline

BOSTON — We are about 24 hours away from the NBA trade deadline, which is about when deals start to get done after having been internet speculation for months. 

We’ve already had a four-team blockbuster agreed upon involving Atlanta, Denver, Houston and Minnesota, with more deals likely on the horizon. 

And while the potential for a major shake-up is always present in Boston, there’s a level of calm surrounding the Celtics that we haven’t seen in the lead-up to the trade deadline in recent years. 

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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters earlier Wednesday that if the Celtics did anything at the trade deadline, it would likely be a very minor deal.

It’s unclear if that sentiment has trickled down to the players, who have been playing with the kind of care-free, get-it-done approach that has catapulted Boston into the No. 3 spot in the East.

“We’re really just focused on the task at hand, and that’s the game tonight,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told NBC Sports Boston.

Smart, who will miss tonight’s game due to a right quad injury, chalks it up as one of the many lessons he and the team’s veterans learned from last year’s trade deadline, a teaching moment of sorts they have passed along to the younger Celtics. 

“In the recent past, a lot of guys … were probably focused on things they probably shouldn’t have been focused on (near the trade deadline),” Smart said. “If you’re focus is on that, then your focus isn’t on what it should be on — which is to play basketball and win games.”

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has made no secret about his trade deadline wish: for his team to be healthier than it has been so far this season.

Several players have been in and out of the lineup, making it more challenging for Ainge and the Celtics to accurately determine what areas they need to bolster before the trade deadline. 

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This has been especially true at center, a position that was believed to be an area of weakness for Boston at the start of the season. 

But the 1-2 center punch of Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter has been strong for Boston, providing the kind of inside scoring/rebounding/defense that has allowed Boston to be among the top teams in the Eastern Conference most of this season. 

“They’re holding their own with all the centers in the league,” Ainge told NBC Sports Boston. “I feel good about our center position.”

However, don’t for a minute think that Ainge has given up on the search for an upgrade at the big man position. 

The Celtics were among the teams reportedly in the running for Clint Capela, who was part of the aforementioned four-team trade that will send him to Atlanta. 

If the Celtics fail to strike a deal for another mobile center, they may set their sights on trying to attract another guard with a bit more of a scoring mentality who could provide some much-needed offensive punch off the bench. 

Two league sources told NBC Sports Boston this afternoon that the Celtics are more likely to add a player from the buyout market than they are to trade for one. 

“Those guys, you can tell have great chemistry,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “Danny saw last year what happens when the chemistry isn’t great. He’s not about to put this team and his coach (Brad Stevens) through that again if he can help it.”

And while there’s a strong sense that Ainge wants to keep this core group together, Smart has been around the league long enough to know that things can change quickly when it comes to the trade deadline. 

“We’ll see; we’ll see,” Smart said. “Like I said, all we can do is control what we can control and that’s go out, play the game and hopefully win. That’s the only thing we should be thinking about, really.”