With Thursday’s NBA trade deadline fast approaching, the truth is . . . a needle amid a haystack of misinformation, spin and rumor, most of it circulating through social media.
One certainty: This season, the league has more than its usual share of rebuilding squads — such as the Celtics — that are hunting for assets to help get them back on their feet as fast as possible, which means teams will deal players for draft picks or deal players just to shed salary.
“The public probably views us more as sellers than as buyers,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe recently. “But I do think that people around the league know that we have some good players — good veteran players, good young players — and lots of draft picks. I’ve had calls for both.
“I’ve had teams contact me with the idea of trying to acquire young players and draft picks, and I’ve had teams that have called that are looking to get some of those. And I’ve had teams that have called looking for some of our veteran players as well. I think it just depends on who you talk to, but I think everybody knows that we have a lot of young assets.”
Assets, yes. The Celtics potentially have as many as 17 draft picks over the next five years, 10 in the first round.
“You know what, I look at them as 17 opportunities to draft some really good players,” Ainge said. “Or maybe 12 opportunities to draft and five to trade, or five to draft and 12 to trade. It depends on the players.
“Again, I think that we’ll be opportunistic. We’re just waiting for an opportunity to do something good. And I think it’s important, again — you can’t force these opportunities. You can’t just be so hungry for a deal that you try to do a deal. You’ve got to be patient. At the same time, you’ve got to be aggressive.”
The Celtics made two trades last month, first sending Courtney Lee to Memphis for Jerryd Bayless, then exchanging MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford for draft picks and Joel Anthony.
Do those swaps foreshadow more to come?
“I really don’t have an answer for that,” Ainge said. “I mean, trades sort of come out of nowhere a lot of times. A lot of times they’re from past conversations that rekindle when deals are not going to happen, and then, all of the sudden, someone changes their mind. I really don’t know how much dealing there will be around the league or how much dealing we’ll do.”
But it’s fair to say that fans shouldn’t be surprised by anything because anything could always happen.
“Yeah, you never know,” Ainge said. “You always hope that something could happen, but I’m not holding my breath on it at this trade deadline. It might not be the right time for us to do something.”
In previous years, the Celtics were looking to add a piece or two that could help with a postseason push, but that isn’t the case now with the team 19-35, the sixth-worst record in the NBA.
“I think the difference between other years and this year is that there’s a lot of different directions we could go,” Ainge said. “In past years, we’re focusing on just getting better for the playoff run. And now, we’re looking for possibilities of flexibility, young assets, things of that nature, but, at the same time, [we’re] opportunistic for any deals that could come along and speed up our rebuilding process.”
Said Ainge: “If our record were reversed, I think there would clearly be a different role at this point. But we are what we are. I think that I’m more concerned with how we’re playing, how individuals approach their job, who’s developing as a player and fitting in with our new coach and our system and how that will work. There’s a lot of things to consider.”
The Celtics are less than a million under the $71.75 million luxury-tax line and would prefer not to be a tax-paying team during a rebuilding season.
“We would go over the cap for the right deal,” Ainge said. “We’re not going to go over the cap just for the cap’s sake, just because we’re not a playoff team this year, most likely, unless we turn things around quickly. I think that it would not be prudent to be a tax-paying team this year.
“But if we needed to be a tax-paying team to make a certain acquisition, we certainly would. We have the support of ownership and I think we have the best ownership in basketball. And they would certainly be willing to spend the money. It’s not that; it’s just the competitive advantage to stay under the tax for future years and to allocate our money the best that we can.”
While trades can come out of nowhere, as Ainge said, the Celtics still have to decide which players they’d like to keep more than others — whom they “want on the bus,” as Ainge recently said.
Even then, no Celtic should be considered “untradeable” — and the same could be said for any NBA player because the league is first and foremost a business.
However, the one Celtic who’s probably the closest to “untradeable” is also the one who’s involved in more trade rumors than any of his teammates combined: Rajon Rondo.
Ainge has stated time and again that the Celtics view the four-time All-Star point guard and captain as an important part of the team’s future.
“What’s real is, he’s going nowhere,” Ainge told the Globe earlier this year. “That’s what’s real.”
When asked recently if Rondo will be a Celtic when the deadline passes, Ainge laughed at first, then asked, “So, do I have to answer that question every day?”
No doubt, Rondo has been involved in countless trade rumors throughout his career, but the chatter has been especially loud lately amid the rebuilding Celtics’ wheeling and dealing.
Last fall, Ainge admitted in a radio interview that in 2011, the Celtics were engaged in talks to trade Rondo for All-Star point guard Chris Paul.
Multiple league sources said that while several teams have inquired about Rondo, the Celtics have only had only one realistic conversation about potentially moving him — the one that involved Paul.
Time has passed and the circumstances might have changed, but it stands to reason that if the Celtics’ asking price for Rondo is a player of Paul’s caliber, then few players can match up, making it all the more unlikely that a deal like that comes along.
And if a team doesn’t have a player of Paul’s caliber to offer, it would have to offer multiple first-round draft picks for the Celtics to even entertain a possible deal for Rondo.