At initial thought, grading something that was, quite literally, nonexistent seemed to be a strange task. The Celtics didn't perform at the deadline. No rumored trades came to fruition and Boston will be sticking with the current roster throughout what remains of the 2013-14 season.
However, in not performing, Boston still made a decision and statement. Nothing out there was deemed a satisfactory offer for any of their considerable assets, and they stood pat. This is somewhat of a declaration of a chosen path. The rebuild may not have moved forward, but it definitely didn't move backward, and Ainge felt comfortable enough not doing anything desperate.
That is something we can, if not grade, at least evaluate.
Did Danny Ainge overplay his hand?
When nothing happens at the trade deadline with a team that has a lot of work to do and a lot of possibilities for trades, the first thing that should come to mind is how the brass went about their business.
According to Sam Smith of the NBA's Bulls.com, the asking price for Rajon Rondo was two unprotected first-round picks. Obviously, Rondo is a highly coveted asset and it would take a great deal for Ainge to part with him. However, there is innate trouble in this type of information getting out by way of a highly credible source.
In letting that sky-high price, even for Rondo, be known, it could very easily turn away the league's general managers from seeking Ainge's help in other deals. If Rondo was supposedly worth that much to Boston, what was the honest asking price for Jeff Green or Brandon Bass?
This is information that never really came out, except from highly unsubstantiated rumors. If asking too much for Rondo, a player he likely never planned to trade anyway, turned suitors away from trading for his other pieces, Ainge made a critical mistake.
Is doing nothing that bad of a choice?
Standing pat at the deadline obviously has its positives and negatives. Largely, one's opinion on the matter will be skewed by their take on the art of tanking or the pride of competing.
A phone call from my father, shortly after 3 p.m. on Feb. 20, began with "Write a Bleacher Report article saying fire Ainge."
It is clear that certain fans have considerably strong opinions on what doing nothing means for this rebuild. My dad is not alone, judging by a few texts from other Celtics fans and a brief scan of Twitter around deadline time.
I was a bit more tempered in my immediate review. Can it be Ainge's fault if there was nothing out there to be traded for? At the very least, he didn't make some panic trade to further solidify a middling team.
"We have nothing going right now. Unless someone meets our demands or if we change our views and meet someone else’s demands we could get something done," Ainge told 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich. "But typically everyone is posturing until the last minute."
However, many, like the first Celtics fan I ever knew, have had the tanking lens on for quite some time. Thus, standing still and not flinching at the deadline is just about the worst thing Ainge could have done. While it is by no means a fireable offense, Ainge must realize this team is going to win a fair amount of its final 27 or so games.
With a rapidly improving Rondo back and pieces like Green and Bass, who were not moved at the deadline, the Celtics are going to be competitive. Of their final 27 games, 17 are against sub-.500 teams. Boston could without a doubt slide up the standings and into a battle for the No. 8 seed. it will be a steep climb, but with every win, Boston loses ping-pong balls in the lottery.
Every win, especially those that feature strong Green, Bass or Kris Humphries performances, will be met with criticism from the pro-tanking crowd. All that will direct eyes back to this deadline, when Ainge wasn't able to make his team better, immediately or in the long run.
Should Boston wind up with the No. 10 or 11 pick in June, when dumping Green could've meant the No. 4 pick, Ainge will have a lot of explaining to do about an afternoon four months prior.
Was there anything out there to be had?
A major reason for tempering our review of Ainge, is that not many teams were doing anything at the deadline. If nobody wants to play with him, it can't be Ainge's fault. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to make an NBA trade at the deadline.
Most deals to come out of Feb. 20 were minuscule in talent and league importance.
The Celtics were right to want nothing to do with the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings swap of Jason Terry and Reggie Evans for Marcus Thonton. None of those three players move the needle or fill a need for Boston.
Kent Bazemore and Steve Blake fall into that same bucket. How about this list of names; Roger Mason, Jr., Andre Miller, Eric Maynor, Jan Vesely, Gary Neal, Ramon Sessions, Luke Ridnour, Aaron Brooks, Jordan Hamilton, Antawn Jamison, Austin Daye, Nando De Colo and Byron Mullens.
Does anyone on that list carry any juice? Likely none of those players will be a factor in the outcome of this season, or any season in the future. Only the staunchest of tanking preachers would accept a deal involving these names for a still viable Brandon Bass or mammoth expiring contract in Kris Humphries.
Why not Boston?
There were two particular trades of note, which involved slightly bigger names on a larger scale.
Philly's haul for Hawes was an unremarkable expiring Earl Clark contract ($4.12 million non-guaranteed) and two 2014 second-round picks.
Now, Hawes does not represent a definite need for the Celtics right now. They do have a hole at the center position, but there is hope that Kelly Olynyk becomes that floor-stretching big.
On the other hand, could Ainge have tried harder to convince Cleveland to have a strong look at Bass instead of Hawes? The two make similar money, though Bass is under contract through next season. They are also both floor-stretching bigs who can rebound fairly well. If Ainge had offered to take just one pick back, maybe that would have tempted Cleveland a different way.
Philadelphia wasn't finished on the day, either. They also managed to swap Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, two more major pieces of their current team, to the Indiana Pacers for Danny Granger and a future second-round pick.
None of those players are having particularly great seasons, but Turner and Granger are slightly larger names. Turner was a solid contributor for the 76ers. Replacing him with a struggling and oft-injured Granger will only help their tanking aspirations.
If the Pacers were looking for a better sixth-man option, particularly at small forward, don't the Celtics have the perfect piece in Jeff Green?
It would have taken some expert schmoozing by Ainge to get a deal of that style done. Sure, Allen and Turner's money adds up to Green's, but only for what remains of this season. After that they are both free agents, while Green has a player option all the way in 2015-16.
The issue there is that the Pacers are going to have to pay Lance Stephenson this summer, when he is an unrestricted free agent. To have money for that, they need to shed some this summer.
This deal isn't impossible, as Green would still likely be a more valuable piece to Indiana than Turner, if just for his three-point shooting (45.5 percent on 4.5 attempts per game), but Boston would have had to incentivize it somehow.
What Philadelphia did was become worse immediately, while Boston stayed the same. That is not a good look against Boston's in-division tanking rival.
If the 76ers wind up with a franchise-changing star this summer, while Boston picks late in the lottery, these two deals, or non-deals for Boston, will need to be reexamined.
How was the non-performance
There is no way to fairly grade Boston's performance at the trade deadline. To trash it could make one look very silly in the near future. If Ainge does have a master plan and makes a blockbuster move early in the summer, with pieces he could've easily lost for mediocre return at the deadline, this grade is obviously pretty high.
On one hand, Ainge didn't succumb to any pressures to get immediately worse or better. He has some guys he likes on the roster and didn't see anyone available that he liked more.
On the other hand, if Boston goes into next season staring at another 30-35 win season, not pulling the trigger on Feb. 20, 2014 could become a red mark on his career as Boston Celtics president of basketball operations.