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Brad Stevens reversed some of Danny Ainge’s decisions while continuing to put own stamp on Celtics with trade deadline moves

So that’s what an NBA trade deadline crackling with Celtics-related anticipation and activity feels like, huh?

Don’t know how you handled Thursday’s trade bonanza, in which Celtics basketball boss Brad Stevens made three moves that in totality brought in guard Derrick White and old pal Daniel Theis and sent out Josh Richardson, Dennis Schröder, Romeo Langford, Enes Freedom, Bruno Fernando, Bol Bol, and P.J. Dozier as well as some draft capital.

Over here, the afternoon was spent systematically refreshing Adrian Wojnarowski’s twitter feed, diving into Google for background on unfamiliar acquisitions, offering respectful salutes to likable players sent elsewhere, muttering “good riddance” for any particular one-dimensional future CPAC speakers that were dealt, and, once the deadline passed, sorting through the mixed feelings of all that went down in Stevens’s first deadline walkthrough as the prime decision-maker.


Danny Ainge gets way too much unnecessary retroactive grief for a perceived lack of activity (he did acquire Evan Fournier last year when the deadline was in March) or missing out on big stars (tell me which deals he should have made again) when he was in charge. But there was something refreshing about the Celtics being involved from all sorts of angles as the deadline approached Tuesday. The only way it would have been more interesting is if Stevens made a challenge trade with Ainge’s new employer, the Jazz.

A good night’s sleep or two after the deadline dust settled, it’s clear that there’s a lot to like about what Stevens did. Not all of it. But a lot. There’s an NBA adage, which I presume originated when the Lakers stole Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and Walt Wesley) from the Bucks for Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers, and Elmore Smith in June 1975, that the winner of any trade is the team that gets the best player.


The Celtics, among all the players dealt and acquired Thursday, got the best one in White, a well-rounded, defensively committed, playmaking guard who approaches the game like a decaffeinated Marcus Smart. White is an acknowledged favorite of Stevens, is familiar in a first-hand way to coach Ime Udoka, who was with him for two years while an assistant with the Spurs, and has experience playing with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Smart for Team USA in ‘19. He should fit seamlessly.

He also helps with creating a defined identity for the roster. The Celtics defense has been suffocating during their rest stretch of inspired play (six wins in a row and 13 of 17heading into Friday night’s game with the Denver Jokics), and White only strengthens that. A lineup of Robert Williams, Tatum, Brown, Smart, and White is, fully engaged, as tough a five-man defensive unit as you’ll find in the league right now.

Theis, acquired from the Rockets for Schroder, Kanter, and Fernando a year after the Celtics traded him at the deadline, will help as a versatile depth big whose presence will allow Williams and Al Horford to catch a needed breather now and then. His return is also a reminder of perhaps the most interesting subplot of Stevens’s tenure so far: watching him systematically undo some of Ainge’s moves, whether by trading Kemba Walker and Tristan Thompson before the season, trading Romeo Langford on Thursday, bringing back Theis, or clearing out dead weight on the end of the bench. It makes you wonder which transactions through the years Stevens and Ainge agreed on.


This is probably a good spot to acknowledge that my first reaction to the White trade – the Spurs received Richardson, Langford, a top-four protected 2022 first-round pick, and the rights to swap first-round picks in ‘28 – was a three-word declaration on Twitter: Do not approve. Hey, it’s only the 4,382,079th time that someone has shared an opinion on Twitter without thinking it through.

The Celtics did get the best player in White. But Stevens wasn’t shy about giving up something to get something, and he gave up a lot. Richardson shot 40 percent from 3-point territory during his fraction of a season here, hustled on defense, and proved to be a unifier as a teammate in a similar way to James Posey a decade-and-a-half ago.

I’m in the club of Langford believers as well, though we are admittedly a small group, and one without much evidence that our cause is worthy. Injuries and inconsistency kept him from living up to his promise as the No. 14 pick in the ‘19 draft, and his no-sweat demeanor leads to questions about how serious he is about maximizing his talent. But he improved his shooting this year, got himself into the lineup earlier in the season with his defense, and occasionally shows flashes of craftiness around the hoop. I’m still a believer, and I’ll bet you he plays for an Ainge team again.


It would have been helpful to bring in one more shooter, perhaps Payton Pritchard (who would get Schroder’s minutes), Aaron Nesmith, or Sam Hauser . Maybe there will be a veteran perimeter threat to be found on the buyout market. As a believer that there’s no harm and no foul in giving the paying customer what they want, I’m not totally averse to the idea of bringing back Isaiah Thomas. But know he most definitely is not a perimeter weapon at this stage: he’s shot 38.1 percent overall and 33.5 percent from 3 since the start of the 2017-18 season.

It also must be noted that a full assessment of Stevens’s first trade deadline can’t be completed until 2028, when the Spurs have the option of swapping first-round picks with the Celtics if it falls after the No. 1 selection. The decision to include that provision could prove irrelevant, it could prove regrettable, and it could prove a Ted Stepien-level disaster. The players who will be selected in ‘18 are around 12 or 13 years old right now. There’s no way to tell if it will haunt them.

What we do know now is that the Celtics have a top-eight or nine playeron their roster who fits better than before Thursday, when they were already playing well. Brad Stevens, that sly wheeler-dealer, made moves and has assembled the team he likes. Here’s hoping the reasons why only become more obvious.

Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.