Ten thoughts on the NBA trade deadline

Ten thoughts on the NBA trade deadline
February 18, 2014, 1:45 pm
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Hello, friends. Well, today is Tuesday. The NBA trade deadline is on Thursday (3 pm). So, welcome to the Final 48. One of the most crucial times in the life of an NBA executive. A chaotic window during which legacies can be fortified or destroyed. Where trust can be earned or lost forever. When some general managers are forced to act out of desperation, while others lurk in the shadows, ready to manipulate and abuse that desperation to their every advantage. It’s the NBA Trade Deadline: Where Mayhem Happens. Where Rumors Happen. Where Lies Happens. Where Winners Happen. Where Losers Happen. Where — sometimes — Nothing Happens.

It will be a bit of a shock if the 2014 deadline passes without leaving some kind of imprint on the Celtics. If Danny Ainge doesn’t make a move now, he won’t be able to make another (significant) one for four months. And Ainge doesn’t like that. Telling Danny he can’t wheel and deal is like telling an alcoholic that he can’t drink or Dino Radja that he can’t rip butts. Bottom line: No one wants this Celtics rebuild to drag on any longer than it has to, and the trade deadline is one of the few opportunities to expedite it. Ainge doesn’t want to just let that slip away. Then again, he doesn’t want to act just for the sake of acting. That’s how you end up accidentally pushing the wrong button and setting a rebuild back in time.

Truth is that the Celtics can go in any number of directions over these next 48 hours. Well, three directions. OK, more like two directions and one non-direction. They can go. . .

1. Down: Keep ditching established talent for future assets  

2. Up: Start ditching future assets for established talent.  

3. Nowhere: Stay put. No trades. Sad Panda.  

Option 1 is most likely. Followed by Option 3 and then Option 2. But in weighing those options for yourself, here are 10 things to keep in mind:  

1. Money is a factor
After signing Chris Johnson for the season, the Celtics are less than a million dollars under the luxury tax line, and would very much like to stay there. As they should. It’s one thing to mess around with the heavy repeat offender tax if you’re doing it in the name of a title, but at this stage in the rebuild it’s something the Celtics should desperately want to avoid.

Boston’s proximity to the danger zone drastically limits how creative Ainge and assistant GM Mike Zarren can get at the deadline. For instance, in the past the Celtics have had the flexibility to take on bigger, bad contracts (think: Gerald Wallace) to help sweeten the pot in potential deals. That’s not happening this time around.

They might be willing to go there for the right player, but that’s only in the unlikely event that the “right player” is out there right now.  

2. All Celtics are available
Actually, not all of them. Chris Johnson has deadline immunity. Joel Anthony and Jerryd Bayless can only be moved in individual deals (nothing multiplayer). But other than that, as Ted DiBiasie once said in an entirely different context: “Everybody has a price.”

3. Those prices are typically outrageous
Danny Ainge has a knack for overvaluing his players. And while he’s always more than willing to talk about a trade, he’s rarely up for negotiating. He knows what he wants and will rarely settle for less.  

Sometimes Ainge’s stubbornness leads to a lot of conversation and very few results. Sometimes it leads to acquiring three first-round picks (and the right to swap a fourth) for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.  

4. No skin off his back
Ainge understands the opportunity at hand and desperately wants to push past these dark days as quickly as possible. But he’s not desperate. He’s more than willing to do nothing at the deadline if he has to.  

This will be (and usually is) Ainge’s greatest piece of leverage. He’s never desperate. Instead, he’s always content to stand up and walk away from the table, while making no secret as to how little he cares.  

Ainge won’t be pressured into a deal. He is the one who knocks.  

5. Looking for low risk
With no real pressure to make a move, Ainge is in a minimal risk state of mind. Last week on Grantland, Zach Lowe reported that “Boston has kicked around almost every intriguing ‘buy low’ piece in the league, especially guys on rookie deals.”  

In other words, he’s looking for guys with a lot of potential, a reasonable paycheck and only a year or so left on their contract. Cleveland’s Dion Waiters would fit that description although it doesn’t appear the Cavs are as willing to trade him now as they were a few weeks ago. In a perfect world, I think Waiters is a better fit with a point guard like Rondo, and Jeff Green is better suited to play in a city like Cleveland. It’s a swap (with a few accompanying pieces) that could make sense for both sides. Especially if the Cavs also move Luol Deng.  

6. Oh right -- and first round picks
Ainge wouldn’t mind a few more of those, but there are two problems. First, because of this year’s Super Draft, there are only a few teams that are interested in dealing a No. 1 pick. Second, other than Rondo, it’s unlikely that the Celtics have the assets to realistically acquire one of the first rounders that are available.  

On the other hand, they already have nine first round picks over the next five years, and that puts them in a position to potentially flip the script, and become buyers at the deadline.  

But again, I’m not sure there will be anything worth buying. It’s far more likely that they’ll hold off until the summer.  

7. Danny doesn’t want to make the playoffs
Both trades that Ainge has made so far this season have clearly made the Celtics worse in the short term in the name of clearing a path for the future. He doesn’t want the Celtics to be good this year. He wants to be in that lottery. And he should. There’s no doubt that that is the Celtics best option. For the next two months, the worse they are, the better.  

Getting rid of Green and/or Brandon Bass is the best, most realistic and logical way to do that. I already mentioned Cleveland as a possible (if not all that likely) landing spot for Green, but you also have to consider Charlotte and Phoenix as potential destinations. Charlotte could also be a nice fit for Bass. Bass would be a nice fit for any contender looking for another layer of depth and big game experience heading into the playoffs.  

As opposed to Boston, a team that doesn’t want to make the playoffs at all.  

8. Rondo’s not going anywhere
Or if he does, it will be for a bounty that’s so over the top — reportedly in the neighborhood of two first round picks and another young star — that Rondo’s own mother would understand.

But in the process of not trading him, there will be lots of conversation. The Knicks have called Ainge seven times since you started reading this article. The Raptors are reportedly interested, too. Same for the Kings. This all sets the stage for another crazy summer of Rondo rumors. And they won’t go away until he’s finally traded or signed to an extension.  

9. Familiar frenemies
Houston and Phoenix will presumably be active at the deadline. Both teams also have close ties to Boston — Rockets GM Daryl Morey worked under Ainge for three years in Boston and Suns GM only recently wrapping his stint as a Celtics assistant. This makes for easy conversation and can sometimes increase the likelihood of working something out.  

We know that the Celtics and Rockets had at least some discussion about Omer Asik in December. They also combined forces on the very complicated Courtney Lee deal a few seasons back. There hasn’t been much news on the Phoenix/Boston front, but the Suns surprising season has transformed them into buyers at the deadline. They’re also one of the few teams with first round picks to spare.  

10. The Celtics can keep a secret
For all the non-stop rumors that we’ve been hit with this year and every year, the truth is that the Celtics are usually pretty quiet and stealth about conducting business. When Ainge finds himself in the rumor mill, it’s typically thanks to someone else. In fact, for the better part of his time in Boston, the deals Ainge actually makes aren’t heard about until they happen. Kendrick Perkins. Brad Stevens. To a certain extent, even last summer’s Nets deal.

In other words, for every embellished rumor that you hear, there are five other real conversations that go unleaked and unreported.  

For all the on-the-surface chaos, there’s so much more brewing behind the scenes. And we’ve still got 48 hours to go.  

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