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Report: Celtics and Sixers discussed trade involving Jahlil Okafor

One of the most surprising developments of the trade deadline was the Celtics’ complete inactivity. Armed with a huge stockpile of picks and movable young players, GM Danny Ainge had been among the most active executives in the league working the phones, trying to either trade for an impact player or acquire more picks as the third team facilitating another deal.

Not that Ainge didn’t come close. He said this week in a radio interview that the Celtics came close to making a major deal with another team (which he obviously did not name), but the other team backed out. Given that the Nets’ unprotected 2016 first-rounder — Ainge’s most attractive trade chip — was involved in the deal, you can only assume it was a big name.

Now, that mystery player has been revealed. Via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

That is not to say this isn’t a team of talented players with very good attitudes that is very entertaining and can hang with some of the best in the league on given regular-season nights. But not even the most optimistic Greenheart believes this roster is ready to play in June.

Danny Ainge clearly doesn’t. And that is healthy. It’s why he spent the last several days trying to get the kind of magnetic player needed to lift the Celtics from the NBA’s middle earth. While a league source has indicated the late target Ainge has referred to in radio interviews was Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor, Ainge has turned silent on the matter.

Trading for Okafor would have been a fascinating move for both teams. From Philadelphia’s standpoint, it would seem to be a continuation of #TheProcess that they’ve been trying to move away from since bringing in Jerry Colangelo to run basketball operations earlier this season. The Nets pick has the potential to be a high one, but given how many times the Sixers have already traded promising young talents for more picks, it would have been hard to sell to fans.

For Boston, Okafor would have been a clear upgrade over their current frontcourt rotation of Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, and given them a legitimate building block for the future that is on a cheap rookie contract for three more seasons. Okafor has been solid in his rookie season despite some off-the-court incidents in November, and a more stable organization like the Celtics would have been great for him.

But the deal never happened, and now all that’s left is a giant what-if.