The lack of moves for a 19-36 rebuilding squad, one chalk full of veterans that could have helped contenders around the league, was a bit perplexing. With four natural power forwards on the roster, the Celtics also did not solve the team’s logjam in the frontcourt, an issue that will remain in place for the rest of the season.
It takes two sides to tango at the trade deadline, however, and Danny Ainge does not have a track record of selling low on his players in trades. Let’s not forget that Ainge had already done some work this year before deadline day hit.
To start, Ainge created some breathing room under the luxury tax by trading away Courtney Lee’s long-term contract last month. Ainge also acquired additional assets in the form of draft picks from Miami by agreeing to take on the two years remaining on Joel Anthony’s contract in a three-team trade with Golden State on January 15th.
Despite these moves, there was more potential maneuvering to be done at the deadline. Boston’s inaction on Thursday was representative of a largely uneventful day on the trade market around the league, though. Most teams had the inability or unwillingness to take on salary and/or give up draft picks, creating an environment in which both sides were unwilling to budge on their demands.
In addition, players like Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries have been good soldiers this year for the Celtics and could still be a part of Boston’s future. Without an appealing option for either on the trade market, Ainge kept the possibility in place that both guys could be brought back for next year or used in a trade this offseason.
Now that the Celtics have decided to stand pat for the present, a more pressing question comes into play: What should be Boston’s priorities for the rest of the season and next summer, given their lack of moves at this deadline?
Evaluate a Healthy Rondo
Whether the Celtics plan to build around or trade away their captain, it’s important to use the remainder of the season to evaluate Rondo and determine how good of a fit he is in Brad Stevens’ system. Rondo has played just 11 games under his new head coach and hasn’t been close to full strength for any of them, making it tough to make any real judgments on his play to this point.
For now, the Celtics should continue to be cautious with their star point guard, letting Rondo work himself back into peak form on his timetable. By the later stages of March into April, Boston’s coaching staff and front office will be able to make an informed assessment of whether they prefer Rondo to be a building block or summer trading chip heading into next season.
Play the Youngsters More
The Celtics roster is loaded with young assets with varying levels of potential. Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani and newly signed Chris Johnson all have two years or less of NBA experience and are signed to team-friendly, long-term contracts. In order for Ainge to effectively rebuild, he needs to try to get all of these players to develop and figure out what he has in each of them.
Ainge could have done this by dealing away some veterans at the deadline, but that didn’t pan out. It now falls on Brad Stevens to ensure that giving these guys minutes is a priority on a team that is falling further and further out of the playoff race.
This means veterans like Gerald Wallace and Bass should be playing less for the final couple months. That way, there will be ample opportunity for the youngsters to grow their games and turn into assets for Boston, either on the court or in trades.
Prepare for Major Offseason Moves
Any team on pace for 30 wins in a season is in need of some wholesale changes during the offseason, and the Celtics are no exception. The good news for Celtics fans is that Boston’s front office has already collected several necessary resources to make an impact move.
The Celtics are flush with assets in the form of young inexpensive players with potential, nine first-round picks over the next five drafts, and a sizable $10 million trade exception from the Paul Pierce trade last summer. Other teams around the league will also have greater flexibility to make deals, giving the Celtics more potential trade partners to use these resources with than they had this week.
If Ainge chooses to, he can make this team relevant again in a hurry this summer by pooling his trade chips and acquiring a stud player or two to put around Rondo. However, if Ainge can’t find those players to put around his point guard, or doesn’t think Rondo is the right guy to build around due to the hefty raise he will command in free agency, the Celtics can fully prepare to move on without him.
Whatever route the Celtics choose, pivotal decisions await Ainge this offseason. A lack of movement at today’s trade deadline only puts more pressure on the Celtics’ front office this summer to determine the best course of action to get the franchise back on track.
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