Before the NBA trade deadline, the word around the Association was that the Boston Celtics were desperate to deal. It was a notion that stood to reason, too — after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020, the team was scuffling just to stay above the .500 mark in ’20-21.
In the end, Celtics GM Danny Ainge’s big move was the shuttering of a handful of bit players in order to bring in Evan Fournier. The former Orlando Magic wing has since performed relatively well when he’s actually been healthy and on the court, but the move nonetheless lacked the sizzle that many expected from a deadline deal.
And the Celtics’ situation remains unchanged.
With just two games left to play on their regular-season schedule, they sit in seventh place in the East at 35-35 and locked into a play-in scenario.
Injuries and the club’s continuous bouts with COVID-19 clearly played a role in what transpired. However, fans and pundits alike have also been left to wonder whether “Trader Danny” should have been more aggressive with roster tweaks when he had the opportunity.
If Ainge did make a mistake, though, his most recent comments on the matter lead one to believe that he’s not keen on making it twice.
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Ainge Says Changes Could Be Coming
On Thursday, Ainge gave his weekly interview with 98.5 FM The Sports Hub‘s Toucher & Rich. During the appearance, he was asked if it would be acceptable to enter next season with essentially the same roster in place, given all that has occurred this season.
While Ainge quibbled somewhat about what was meant by “acceptable,” the Celtics GM left little doubt concerning his desire to mix things up.
“I think that we will definitely be looking to make some changes in the offseason,” he said. “And, obviously, I can’t go into any of those kind of details. But yeah, there will be changes. How significant? I don’t know yet — we’ll see.”
Ainge did note that the Celtics’ season had been affected by things outside of their control. In the end, though, he conceded that the club didn’t perform as anticipated in its current iteration.
“Our team has been decimated with injuries and has underperformed,” Ainge said. “There’s no doubt about it. And, you know, we’re not as good as we thought we were. That simple.”
Cs Will Be Limited by Their Cap Situation
Ainge may have expressed a desire to improve his roster, but he may be limited on what he can actually do. The team’s cap situation all but eliminates the possibility of luring a high-price free agent. And the multitude of exorbitant deals on the books could also affect his ability to pull of a trade.
Fournier’s $17-plus million deal is the only substantial contract coming off the books this offseason. Conversely, the Celtics have approximately $80 million tied up in three players alone — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker.
On the other hand, Marcus Smart — who is owed approximately $14 million next season — will be on an expiring contract. There had been noise about moving him this season and Cs alum Kendrick Perkins believes the team’s relationship with him has run its course. In any event, Smart may be the key to pulling off a significant trade.
There has also been some chatter that the Celtics may not be title contenders with Tatum and Brown leading the charge. And either player would net a big-time return on the trade front. It seems incredibly unlikely that Ainge would move on from either of his young All-Stars, though.
The team holds multiple trade exceptions as well, which could help them circumvent some of their deal-making limitations.
Beyond that, though, Ainge will have his work cut out for him beyond adding through the draft and working around the margins.
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