SACRAMENTO — When you are Danny Ainge and have amassed as many assets over the past two years as he has for the Boston Celtics, your phone is going light up during these days.
The Celtics have been linked to nearly every available player before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline but there isn’t a whole lot of action going on, according to an NBA source.
The Celtics are unlikely to acquire Utah’s Enes Kanter. They’re not getting DeMarcus Cousins, and Goran Dragic is unlikely to sign a long-term extension if Ainge did agree to a deal with his close buddy, Ryan McDonough, who is the general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
Ainge is in a rather interesting and enviable position. He doesn’t have to make a move to upgrade his roster because he has so many assets for negotiation during the NBA Draft and free agency period.
The only way Ainge would make a move is to significantly upgrade the roster down the road. He has made so many deals over the past few months, he has placed the Celtics in a position to become big-time free agent players for first time in nearly two decades.
What happens in Phoenix could be important to the long-term future of the Celtics. If the Suns decide to trade high-scoring guard Isaiah Thomas to appease Dragic, who has a player option in his contract this summer that Dragic will reject, then the Celtics would be quite interested.
Ainge called Thomas at midnight of free agency, knowing the Celtics did not have the salary cap space to sign him. Still, it made an impression on the young guard, who was the 60th and final pick in the 2011 draft.
“It was crazy because I was playing in a basketball game that night, I checked my voice mail and it was Danny Ainge,” Thomas told the Globe in November. “I was tripping because that’s big right there. That’s Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics, all of that. It really hit me like dang, [free agency] is about to start. He sent me a voice mail and sent me a text message. He brought up Avery [Bradley] and all the guys who have been [in Boston] from the [Seattle/Tacoma] area.”
Thomas wants a chance to play major minutes and the green light to score. His biggest issue during his career is being a one-dimensional player, but in Boston that likely would be welcomed. Marcus Thornton, who is playing on an expiring contract and could be included in a deal with Phoenix, has flourished in his bench-scoring role and also has responded with more defensive effort.
The Celtics want to add pieces and Ainge acknowledged that he has to devise more unusual ways to acquire players since Boston may not be a free agent destination. One of those ways may be to acquire an impending free agent through trade and encourage him to stay with a lucrative extension.
Also, the Celtics have so many draft picks and trade exceptions, they are an easy trade partner for teams looking to facilitate three-way trades. Even if the Celtics stand pat, they will have two first-round picks in June’s draft and $30 million of salary cap space to spend on free agents.
So there is no pressure on Ainge to make a trade, but he has always been a general manager that will take chances and calculated risks. And the rebuilding plan is working smoothly, with the club 1½ games out of the final playoff spot in the East.
“Yeah, I’m here,” Thornton told the Globe when asked if he would be content with staying in Boston. “We’re turning the corner as a team and I’m here and what I told you, I’d like to be here. As I said, I’ve been in this thing six years now and it’s uncontrollable. But you just give me a ball and a hoop and I’m ready.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has stressed over the past few weeks that he hoped all the major changes to the team were over. But he acknowledged Wednesday that he had talked with Ainge only once in the past week.
On Wednesday, Stevens had a full squad besides Kelly Olynyk, the injured forward who was expected to join the team Wednesday night. So Stevens, like the players, will sweat out Thursday morning and then practice in the afternoon.
But Ainge has no mandate or obligation to make a major move. He has made a series of minor moves that have ensured the organization has enough assets to keep the phone ringing for months. Ainge’s next step is attracting a franchise-caliber player or cornerstone who can take the Celtics to a playoff-caliber level.
And deals to attract such players are difficult to procure at the trade deadline unless matters of great detail fall into place quickly. So there is no rush for Ainge. He is in an enviable position.