Reasons Why Ainge Stood Pat at Deadline

LOS ANGELES – Danny Ainge chose to stand pat at Thursday afternoon’s NBA trade deadline.

Key word: chose.

Ainge had no pressure to make a move ahead of the deadline, and here’s why.

First and foremost, the Boston Celtics are set up for success this season even without making a move. The forecast for the rest of this season says as much.

The Celtics headed into the All-Star break with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, at 32-23. They have already beaten or nearly beaten every title contender in the league this season (Cleveland, Toronto, Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers). Boston has gone 3-6 against those teams with a very narrow point differential of -2.6 over the nine games.

Adding to Boston’s optimism heading into the home stretch of the regular season is the fact that the teams chasing it, namely Atlanta, Miami, Indiana and Chicago, did nothing to strengthen themselves at the deadline. In some cases, those teams may have even taken a step back.

Atlanta reportedly dangled each of its top players not named Paul Millsap in trade conversations. Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder were all considered to be attainable, though in the end none were dealt. Horford will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, while the rest of the group must feel uneasy about their footing in Atlanta. These types of rumors do not typically bode well for team chemistry down the stretch run of a season.

The same could be said in Chicago, where Pau Gasol was reportedly made available in trade conversations. He may now be looking toward his future elsewhere, while the team’s star, Jimmy Butler, is expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks of action with a knee injury.

Miami also has its share of injury concerns. Chris Bosh is currently out of the lineup with health issues and the team has not announced when he will return. Fears have grown around the league that he may miss substantial time.

Miami also was involved in multiple deals at the deadline, but marginally altered its team. Chris Andersen and Jarnell Stokes, both non-factors, were sent packing in salary-dump moves.

Charlotte (acquired Courtney Lee), Detroit (acquired Tobias Harris, Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton), and Washington (acquired Markieff Morris) all improved at the deadline, but those teams currently trail the Celtics by four, 4.5 and seven games, respectively, with only 27 games remaining. It would require quite a hot stretch for one or more of those teams to supersede the Celtics by season’s end.

Meanwhile, in Boston, there are no signs of a looming demise with its current team. It has been consistent throughout the season with both effort and performance. There should be no expectation that such will change moving forward. In fact, it may only improve as chemistry continues to grow and the team becomes more accustomed to the style of play it has displayed over the past six weeks.

Those are all here-and-now factors as to why Ainge chose to remain idle at the deadline, but even more important are the factors of the future.

Not a whole lot will change for the Celtics over the next four months in regard to its stockpile of assets.

The draft picks it has loaded up on will not lose any value. In fact, they will likely only gain value once opposing teams know exactly where those picks will fall in the Draft. Take Brooklyn’s unprotected pick that will be relayed to Boston, for instance. No NBA team was going to give up a perennial All-Star player for a pick that could become a top-three selection. Teams want to know it will be a top-three selection before giving up a known commodity of the level Ainge would require in exchange for that pick.

In regard to player assets, much will remain the same for Boston leading up to the Draft on June 23. Jared Sullinger (restricted), Tyler Zeller (restricted), David Lee (unrestricted) and Evan Turner (unrestricted) will head into free agency, but those players likely did not hold a ton of trade value for that exact reason. Sullinger, Zeller, and especially Turner are also key cogs to what Boston has been able to accomplish through its first 55 games.

By not making a trade, Boston also preserves every penny of salary cap space it set itself up to have this summer. As Ainge noted today, the Celtics can be one of the top two teams in the league when it comes to salary cap space this summer if it so chooses to be.

To sum it all up, aside from knowing exactly where Boston’s draft picks will land in June’s pecking order, Ainge’s assets really don’t change from today through June 23. He and the rest of the league’s general managers know that.

They all also know that the Celtics are in strong position to grab home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and potentially beyond.

Add those factors together and you’ll quickly realize why Ainge showcased such patience at today’s trade deadline. His Celtics are set up for short-term success this season, and long-term success heading into the Draft, free agency and beyond.

Ainge was in no hurry to make a deal Thursday afternoon, nor should he have been.

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