Danny Ainge is brilliant. He’s done a magnificent job getting the Celtics to the spot they are in now, being the number 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season before falling to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. He has a top tier talent in Isaiah Thomas, a strong young core, and a spectacular coach in Brad Stevens. But his Celtics are missing one more piece to take them over the top. With the recent trades of Paul George and Jimmy Butler for small returns, fans are asking how a team with potentially 6 first-round draft picks in the next two years couldn’t acquire either one. Even if Ainge didn’t want to trade picks, he still could have potentially gotten George for Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley, a tandem that far surpasses the value of Victor Oladipo and Damontas Sabonis. Not only would the Celtics tandem have been more talented, but they would’ve been less of a burden on the books of the Pacers, who are now taking on 4 years of paying Oladipo 21 million dollars. The Celtics would lose two outstanding defensive players, but would be receiving an exceptional defender who can defend all five positions and contribute much more on the offensive end than the two players they gave up combined. However, this deal, or any other deal for that matter, has not come into fruition. The question then becomes, what is Danny Ainge doing?
While Knicks fans would kill to have Ainge be their President of Basketball Operations, that doesn’t mean he should be sitting still, content with his team and its future. I’m sure that he came up with a plan a few years ago where he would continue to accumulate draft picks and assemble a talented young core that could compete for years to come. However, the timeline has been sped up with the brilliance of Isaiah Thomas and luck with getting early draft picks. He has to be willing to leave his comfort zone and deviate from the plan in order to build a great team for right now. He doesn’t have to trade every single pick, he can still keep one or two first-rounders each year but he should be willing to give up a little to compete right now. It is ridiculous that he won’t make a move. In a perfect world, he should have been able to acquire Butler or George at the cheap prices for which they went, then sell Gordon Hayward on the idea of reuniting with his college coach, Brad Stevens, and being able to play with Thomas and George/Butler. Imagine this depth chart, assuming Bradley, Crowder, and maybe a pick were traded for George/Butler.
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Demertius Jackson
SG: Gordon Hayward, James Young
SF: Paul George/Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gerald Green
PF: Al Horford, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey
C: Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller
The starting 5 is elite enough to compete with any team in the league, and there is the ability to match up and play small by moving Horford to the 5, sliding George/Butler to the 4, and taking Tatum or Brown and adding them to the lineup. This lineup would probably be the one that they would have went with had they made one of these trades. That is a lineup that is explosive enough to keep up with the Warriors if they are able to defend. The only question mark would be how well Isaiah Thomas can defend the point guard position at his height, but down the stretch, Brad Stevens would have the ability to make offense/defense substitutions with Smart and Thomas because even if Thomas is unable to check in, George/Butler/Hayward can carry the offense in his absence.
So the question still persists as to what exactly Danny Ainge is planning, if anything. He has missed his first two major chances to land superstars without completely mortgaging the team’s future. Ainge seems to be set on finding the perfect trade, despite the report that he offered 3 first-round picks to Indiana for George. I find it hard to believe that report because I think that the Pacers have enough sense to not turn down that offer. Perhaps the report is true and the only problem is that nobody will deal with Ainge right now. However, the more likely answer is that Ainge is waiting for the ideal trade to come along before he makes a move. He could be banking on signing Hayward then making a trade deadline move for a star with an expiring contract such as DeMarcus Cousins or Dwayne Wade should he return to his former self. There is also the possibility that he simply wants to hold onto his money so that he can hold on to his team as Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Smart will be hitting free agency next offseason. We will just have to wait and see what crazy plan Ainge has waiting in the wings after not making a major move this far into the off-season.