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Celtics in unique position as trade deadline nears

Celtics coach Brad Stevens would welcome the thought of Tayshaun Prince (12) remaining on the team as the veteran forward has provided a steadying influence.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The Dec. 18 trade of Rajon Rondo ignited a flurry of moves by the Celtics, and for a time, all that was certain was uncertainty.

Brandan Wright was acquired from Dallas in the Rondo deal and played a total of 86 minutes before being shipped to the Phoenix Suns. Austin Rivers was acquired in the trade that sent Jeff Green to Memphis, but never suited up before being moved to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The past month has been quiet, giving Boston some welcome stability and continuity as coach Brad Stevens molds this young team. But with Thursday’s trade deadline looming, and with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge just a phone call away, anything is possible.

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“One thing I’ve learned is just kind of be ready for anything,” Stevens said, “and coach the team that’s there as well as you can.”

The Celtics are in a unique position because it has become unclear if they should be acquiring, unloading, or staying put.

Boston (20-31) sits just 1½ games behind the Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Heat, who hold the Eastern Conference’s seventh and eighth playoff spots. Brooklyn (21-31), Indiana (21-33), and Detroit (21-33) are lurking as well.

The Celtics already have dealt their two most valuable chips — Rondo and Green — and no remaining players figure to command a bounty. On the other hand, giving up assets such as draft picks to improve the roster for a short-term playoff push might not be the preferred approach, either.

Easy Pickings?
Celtics' first- and second-round picks over the next four NBA drafts.
2015
5
2016
9
2017
4
2018
3
Globe Staff

Of course, the roster may not need to be bolstered for the team to reach the playoffs. The Celtics have jelled, and players said the stability that came from a trade-free month helped. If the Celtics reach the postseason, if only for a short stay, the young nucleus could gain important experience.

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“The young guys and the people that have been here have to continue to move forward,” Stevens said, “and everybody’s been doing a pretty good job of that.”

If the Celtics can find trade partners as they continue to rebuild, three veterans with expiring contracts — Tayshaun Prince, Marcus Thornton, and Brandon Bass — would be candidates to depart.

Even at 34, Prince remains a steady contributor who could be valuable coming off the bench for a playoff team. Acquired as part of the Green trade, Prince made 19 of 29 shots and averaged 14.7 points during a three-game stretch in late January. After that spurt, however, he missed four games with a hip flexor injury, and his durability could give potential suitors pause.

Setting The Pick
A look at where the Celtics' picks originated.
First Round Second Round
2015 own, LAC own, PHI, WAS
2016 own, BKN, CLE, DAL CLE, PHI, MIA, DAL, PHX
2017 own, swap with BKN, MEM CLE, PHX, LAC
2018 own, BKN own
Globe Staff

Stevens has praised Prince’s professionalism as well as his steadying influence. He would welcome having Prince in the locker room for the rest of the season.

Slowed by a calf injury earlier this year, Thornton is now healthy and dangerous. The 6-foot-4-inch guard entered the All-Star break on a tear, making 15 of 27 3-pointers over the last four games. He provides the instant offense teams covet.

Bass is currently averaging 22.9 points per 100 possessions, the second highest mark of his 10-year career. He also has playoff experience, which could intrigue teams. If the Celtics trade Bass, it would make their small roster even smaller, particularly as 7-footer Kelly Olynyk works his way back from a sprained ankle.

Prince, Thornton, and Bass also could be candidates for buyouts if they are not dealt before the deadline. ESPN reported that the Celtics have had “exploratory” talks with the Denver Nuggets about veteran point guard Ty Lawson, who is averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 assists per game. But Lawson will be 28 next season, when he is also due $12.4 million.

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The Celtics did not re-sign guard Andre Dawkins after his second 10-day contract expired. Dawkins has been reacquired by the NBA Developmental League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce. Dawkins averaged 16.1 points in seven games with the Maine Red Claws, but did not appear in a game with the Celtics . . . Tim Frazier, who was in training camp with the Celtics this year and had signed a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers this month, returned to the Red Claws after his deal with the Sixers ended.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.