Why The Boston Celtics Should Have Made A Move

After entering discussions about Jimmy Butler and Paul George, the Boston Celtics stood pat on deadline day. While the asking prices may have been too high for those players, Boston may regret that choice in the years to come.

The Boston Celtics have been rumored to be involved in any potential superstar trades for the last few years. Their combination of young assets and future top picks from the Brooklyn Nets gives them the flexibility to enter the market for any big name player.

However, general manager Danny Ainge has stood pat on superstar trades at both of the past two trade deadlines. Despite being the only superstar moved near the trade deadline, DeMarcus Cousins was probably not a candidate for the Celtics. Zach Lowe of ESPN said in a November podcast that coach Brad Stevens would not “want…to touch DeMarcus Cousins with a 10-foot pole.”

With Cousins out of the picture, Boston reportedly tried to go for Jimmy Butler and Paul George. While the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers may have had very high prices for their two stars, the Celtics may regret not making a deal for either of them.

Boston may try again on draft day but they were unsuccessful in making any moves at the last trade deadline. This year was the best time to make a move. Danny Ainge once again chose the future over the present.

Boston may try to make a push for a superstar on draft day. However, they were unsuccessful in making any moves at the last trade deadline. This year’s trade deadline may have been the best time to make a move. Ainge once again chose the future over the present, but in doing so he is gambling on a draft class that does not have what the Celtics need.

Poor Draft Fit

The good news for the Boston Celtics is that their pick swap with the Nets will almost certainly have the best lottery odds on draft night. Brooklyn is 9-47 at the moment, eight and a half games worse than the Phoenix Suns. That pick cannot fall outside of the top four, and this draft class is supposedly loaded with talent.

The bad news for the Celtics is that the top players in this draft are poor fits for their roster. The top two players in the draft and three of the top five are point guards, according to Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report.

The Celtics are already loaded at guard, with Marcus Smart being squeezed out of the starting rotation by Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. Adding either Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball would create an even bigger backcourt logjam. Drafting those two players would necessitate moving on from one of Bradley or Isaiah Thomas.

The contracts of both Thomas and Bradley are set to expire at the end of next season, which might motivate the Celtics to draft a top point guard. However, Boston would only have one season to decide whether their rookie point guard could handle the spotlight. The Celtics may win 50 games this year; blowing up a 50-win backcourt in favor of an untested rookie seems rather foolish.

Potential Draft Fit

Jonathan Isaac would fit in well in Boston if the Celtics if they do not end up getting the first overall pick. Isaac is third on Wasserman’s big board and is a 6’11” combo forward with a solid offensive game. Isaac is shooting 38.5 percent from the college three-point line, and has a surprisingly solid handle for someone his size:

The Celtics could consider reaching for him with the second overall pick. If they win the lottery, however, they simply do not need presumptive first overall pick.
Markelle Fultz anywhere near as much as some other teams. Fultz may very well become a superstar, but Boston already has a superstar point guard. What they need is the kind of superstar wing player that they failed to acquire at the deadline.

Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler is a superstar player for a fringe playoff team in desperate need of a point guard. Butler is also on one of the best contracts in the league, with two more years at under $20 million and a player option in 2019-20.

When you combine those two elements, trading this year’s Nets pick for Butler seems like a fantastic move for the Celtics. However, Danny Ainge must not have seen it that way:

On the surface, this notion seems insane. Butler is one of the best two-way players in the league. He is averaging a career-high 24.5 points per game this year on a career-high 58.9 percent True Shooting percentage.

Furthermore, the Bulls are one of the few teams in the NBA that desperately needs point guard help. That alone would indicate that Boston could have made a mediocre offer centered around this year’s Brooklyn pick. With Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. all having fantastic seasons, Chicago would basically be guaranteed to get a top-notch point guard with the Brooklyn pick.

There is no way to know if the Bulls would have accepted an offer involving the Brooklyn pick. Still, Ainge should have at least asked Chicago if Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn pick would be enough of a return for Butler.

That move would have done little to damage Boston in either the short-term or the long-term. They would still have Brooklyn’s 2018 pick, which will probably end up in the top five. Crowder is a valuable player on an absurdly cheap contract, but Butler would still be a massive upgrade. The Celtics would then have a season and a half to see how well Butler can play with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford before Thomas enters free agency.

It is entirely possible that the Bulls would have refused all offers for Jimmy Butler. Nonetheless, Ainge should have at least made a reasonable offer for him. Instead, he opted to take a chance on a potential future superstar at a stacked position over acquiring a superstar in his prime at a position of relative need.

Paul George

The case against a Paul George trade is far easier to make than the case against a Butler trade. George has not been as good as Butler this season, and his contract expires one year earlier. Furthermore, the Pacers were asking for a massive haul in return for George:

That kind of deal would simply not make sense for Boston, especially without a guarantee that George would re-sign. USA Today’s Sam Amick also reported that George is very focused on signing with the Lakers if Indiana is not a championship contender.

The Celtics might become a championship contender with George in tow. However, the package above is far too risky without any assurance that George would re-up in Boston. While Ainge might regret not making a better offer for Butler, declining this offer for George makes perfect sense.

Future Outlook

The Celtics will have another chance to move their draft assets this summer on draft night. They may be more willing to discuss a Butler trade with Chicago once the lottery process is over. Chicago would obviously be more willing to give up Butler if they knew that they would get Fultz in return.

Nonetheless, not offering the Brooklyn pick to Chicago may come back to haunt the Celtics. Even the No. 1 overall pick is not always a sure thing.

This year might be the best chance the Celtics will have at making a run for a title. Kevin Love and J.R. Smith‘s injury mean that this might be the easiest year to sneak past the Cavaliers. Additionally, Boston played very well against the Warriors last year. Even a minor injury could potentially push the Celtics into Finals contention.

Danny Ainge decided to take the long-term approach at this trade deadline. He has had incredible success in the past with hoarding his assets — after all, that is what enabled him to put together the Big Three and win the 2008 title.

However, he opted against trading an asset that has more value to most of the rest of the league than it does to Boston. Unless this year’s pick turns into a superstar right away or gets traded for one on draft night, Celtics fans will look at Jimmy Butler and wonder what might have been.

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