The Boston Celtics have been wildly successful this season, so why not really go for it? Heading into Thursday's trade deadline, they had a 35-15 record, good for third in the East, and the league's second-best net rating. It was reasonable to assume that they would be buyers.
Fairly or not, Boston's center rotation -- Daniel Theis has been starting, with Enes Kanter, Grant Williams, the little-used Vincent Poirer and the injured Robert Williams III behind him -- has been under scrutiny. The Celtics could have used any kind of proven player, though, to solidify their playoff rotation. Instead, they did not make a move. Save for the Miami Heat, none of the Eastern Conference's best teams did.
In an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich on Friday morning, Boston president Danny Ainge explained the team's logic:
"It's very simple, there were no good deals to be made," said Ainge. "You have to find a partner when you're making a deal. You cant just say 'I need to make this deal and do whatever it possibly takes to make it.' That's not how it works.
"We've made many trades over the years. We're not afraid to make trades. We were very busy over the last couple of weeks communicating with teams in the NBA and there was never really a deal that we thought was a good deal."
Ainge said the Celtics negotiated with 8-10 teams ahead of the deadline and simply couldn't find a match. He continued that the team "unanimously agreed" not to make a deal, as opposed to other seasons that might have had more "bickering." He believes part of the issue is that teams often have to get third and fourth teams involved, and that's what the NBA saw in a lot of deals that did get made.
A couple of other notes from the interview:
- Ainge said that the team will be monitoring the buyout market, which isn't exactly news but feels notable firstly because Boston has already been linked to Tristan Thompson. "The Boston Celtics would be major in the market for that guy," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on "The Jump" on Thursday. (The Athletic's David Aldridge reported shortly after the 3 p.m. ET deadline that the Cleveland Cavaliers will not buy out Thompson's contract, so Celtics fans probably shouldn't be buying customized Thompson jerseys right now.) It also feels notable because Celtics fans still have their Isaiah Thomas jerseys, but Ainge evaded a question that was clearly referring to The Little Guy.
- Ainge said that he is optimistic about the team and believes that, as presently constituted, Boston can win the title this season, although he acknowledged that "a lot of things have to go our way." This is debatable. The Celtics are in the top five on offense and defense, so they fit the profile of a true contender statistically, but it's not popular to suggest that they are actually in the same tier as the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks.
- Ainge directly addressed the idea that Boston needed to add someone who could defend Giannis Antetokounmpo one-on-one in a potential series against Milwaukee: "That is a team effort. And we will have Jaylen Brown guarding Giannis, we will have Marcus Smart guarding Giannis, we will have Semi Ojeleye guarding Giannis, along with the centers in the background at the rim."
Your opinion on Boston's inactivity likely hinges on how you feel about Boston's bench. The most significant stat Ainge referenced in the interview is their bench's net rating. (He brought it up twice and said it ranks fifth, but it's actually sixth, per NBA.com.) The Celtics have had a harmonious season, especially in contrast to the one that preceded it, and there is an argument that only a clearly meaningful talent upgrade would justify messing with the chemistry.
In the playoffs, you can expect Boston's five best players -- Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Brown and Smart -- to see increased playing time. "With our wing play and our guard play, we have a very, very dynamic team and there's not a lot of minutes to be had out there," Ainge said. He also pointed to the amount of smallball they have played lately, noting that using rookie Grant Williams at center has been "working really well for us." Maybe, between the heady rookie, the well-traveled Brad Wanamaker and Ojeleye, the Celtics have all they need.
If you don't trust those guys, you can make the case that Boston missed an opportunity. It isn't clear, however, that there was a realistic trade to be made. I would have loved to see Davis Bertans on the Celtics, firing 3s from all over the place and making it even harder to guard their playmakers. The price was probably too steep, though -- The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that the Washington Wizards demanded two first-round picks for Bertans, whose contract expires at the end of the season, and the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach reported that Washington wouldn't have even necessarily traded him for that.
Ainge did not directly comment on Bertans. But he said this: "We're not afraid to trade draft picks. There just wasn't the deal. I don't want to give up multiple draft picks for a rental player who is going to be our ninth man. Ultimately, (that) was what it comes down to."
Given how well Boston has played, it was reasonable to hope that it would make a win-now move. It is also reasonable to think that the Celtics haven't peaked: They've had numerous injuries, and Robert Williams III will be be back in the relatively near future.
If there's one name to watch in the coming weeks, it's Marvin Williams, and I don't say that simply because signing him would allow Brad Stevens to deploy a Williams-Williams-Williams frontcourt. The veteran can space the floor, and he's still a more-than-solid defender, even when asked to protect the rim as a smallball 5. If the Charlotte Hornets buy him out and Boston manages to pick him up, few will care that Ainge didn't make any trades.