The Celtics’ transformation into a true contender may have taken longer than expected and there may be more obstacles as the season progresses, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Sunday that he is content with the roster.
Ainge has been scouting college games during the Celtics’ five-game winning streak, watching the rapid improvement of his team’s bench, the spark provided by Avery Bradley, and the improved defense over the past 10 days. With two available roster spots, the Celtics could make an addition, but Ainge said there is no guarantee he will make a deal.
He has been pleased with the development of the players he brought in in the offseason.
“I think it’s obvious the team has played more inspired,” Ainge said. “And that was a big part of the underachievement the first part of the year to now. So hopefully we can continue to play inspired. Just because you play with passion and inspired basketball doesn’t guarantee you anything other than a better chance of success.
“The reason the team is winning is because each individual player has stepped up their intensity and the commitment on the defensive end.”
The Celtics were plagued by slow or inconsistent early performances from summer acquisitions Courtney Lee and Jason Terry and the returning Jeff Green. During the winning streak, that trio has settled in to reserve roles and improved its production.
“I’m not sure why that happens; we know that Courtney and Jeff and Jason, we know those guys are good players, we’ve seen them play, start, and succeed on good teams in the NBA,” Ainge said. “And so there’s never been a doubt whether they’re good. The question is how do they fit into the puzzle as players in our system. Like I said a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think anybody was playing as well as they’re capable of playing, and now in the last five games I think we have a handful of guys playing as well as they’re playing over that short period of time.”
The trade deadline is Feb. 21 and Ainge has been known to shake up his roster with stunning moves, such as the acquisition of Green and Nenad Krstic for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson in February 2011. Ainge said no such impact deal is imminent.
“I think over the next five weeks a lot will be told,” he said. “I feel like we don’t have any glaring needs when we’re playing the way we’re playing. Everyone’s playing their role; whether they’re playing well all the time is not as much of a point if they are accepting a role and giving an honest day’s worth of work.”
With Bradley back and Chris Wilcox practicing Sunday for the first time in three weeks, the Celtics are nearing full health. Ainge said he doesn’t feel the need to tinker with the depth of his roster.
“We just need to keep flexibility in case something does happen,” he said. “Right now we don’t have a real need and we have players like Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa who we really like and are hardly playing, so I don’t really see a need to bring someone else in, at least at this moment. We’re happy with our roster and we’re looking for improvement but we feel like we have plenty of bodies and Chris Wilcox should be back in not too long. I don’t think there’s any need to bring in someone right now to sit on the end of our bench.”
Ainge said this team is capable of making a deep playoff run but it has had the characteristic of recent Celtics teams with inconsistent starts.
“It’s taken us a while the last few years,” he said. “Not just this year. We have been a playoff basketball team over the last two years much better than a regular-season team, and I sort of feel like this team has turned the corner. At least it’s shown and believed in themselves what they’re capable of doing based on how they’ve played over the past 10 days . . . but that’s a big factor, what they believe they can do. That’s huge.
“I think their play recently indicates they do believe in each other. And that’s a big part of becoming a good team.”
Wilcox said he will play with his sprained right wrist at less than 100 percent. He has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and hasn’t played since Dec. 18 against the Bulls.
“It’s still sore, but it’s going to be like that for a while,” Wilcox said. “I want to do whatever I can and get back out here on the court.
“When I get a good practice in, play defense, push off, that will let me know where I’m at.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe