Think back to December 2003. Vice president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had already traded Antoine Walker and Tony Delk to the Dallas Mavericks for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills and a 2004 first-round pick.
The Boston Celtics started the season slow but eventually found their groove. After getting off to a 7-12 start, Boston won five straight games to even out their record to 12-12.
Then, on December 14, Eric Williams, Tony Battie and Kedrick Brown were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm and Michael Stewart.
The Celtics went 24-34 the rest of the way, finished 36-46 and were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
With history putting the 2013-14 season in perspective, the question is when will Ainge pull the trigger on a trade?
You know it’s going to happen. What we don’t know is who or what will be exchanged, but Boston’s roster will experience at least one significant change this season.
My expectation for the 2013-14 Celtics was 30-35 wins and just missing the playoffs. But because of the sad state of the Eastern Conference, Boston is sitting atop the Atlantic Division with a 10-14 record. If the playoffs began Thursday, Boston would be the fourth seed.
But what is first in the Atlantic worth? There are just three teams in the Eastern Conference at .500 or better. Take Boston’s 10-14 record to the Western Conference and the Celtics plummet from fifth to 15th.
Boston is currently in limbo. They’re not bad enough to be an Eastern Conference lottery team and not good enough to be a credible playoff team.
The Celtics are comfortably atop the division without a single minute played by their best player, Rajon Rondo. At this rate Boston couldn’t miss the playoffs even if they tried.
A run-of-the-mill playoff team usually ends up in a perpetual cycle of reaching the playoffs but finding it difficult improving into a legitimate championship contender. Thanks to Ainge, Boston isn’t that kind of team.
The beauty of the Celtics is they can either rebuild or reload. Depending on which direction Boston trends towards, Ainge can adjust and put the Celtics on the path he desires.
A trade isn’t guaranteed to cripple the Celtics and eventually put them in the tank. In fact, Ainge could pull the trigger on a trade to make Boston better and remain in the lottery.
Thanks to the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, three future draft picks and the right to switch selections in 2017, Ainge has the collateral to be very active in the trade market.
The real kicker is the Nets going all out for one shot at the NBA championship. Brooklyn is just 7-14. Their 2014 first-round pick belongs to either the Atlanta Hawks, if Atlanta decides to switch selections, or the Celtics. If Brooklyn fails to make the playoffs, Atlanta or Boston has a lottery pick courtesy of the Nets.
Boston also owns Brooklyn’s 2016 and 2018 selections and the right to switch selections in 2017. If the Nets fall well short of their goal this season, its possible Brooklyn will be dismantled. That could lead to a few difficult years as the Nets are scheduled to be over the cap until the 2015-16 season according to Basketball-Reference.com. In essence, the Nets could be tanking for the Celtics for the next four years.
All that’s left for Ainge to do is to find trade partners. It can be as simple as a one-for-one deal or a complicated agreement between multiple teams. But can Ainge find a deal he wants?
It was rumored briefly that the Heat were interested in acquiring a shooting guard with Dwyane Wade out earlier in the season, courtesy of Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. Recently ESPN’s Marc Stein reported the Sacramento Kings want to move power forward/center Jason Thompson.
More likely it will be a trade that no one sees coming, as Ainge has mastered clandestine negotiations. With additional draft picks and a team playing well, Ainge has plenty of intriguing trade chips.
Since being moved to shooting guard, Avery Bradley is playing his best basketball of his career. Newly appointed point guard Jordan Crawford is changing his reputation by playing under control. Courtney Lee is bouncing back after a disappointing first year with the Celtics. And Kelly Olynyk’s injury provided an opportunity to showcase Humphries and raise his stock.
The Toronto Raptors are the first team to go forward with intentionally tanking by trading Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson.
There's no telling what trade will happen next, but at some point the Celtics will appear in the NBA’s list of transactions. When is unknown, but there’s a lot of time between now and the February 20th trade deadline.
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