You didn’t think Danny Ainge was going to sit out one of the wildest NBA trade deadline days in recent memory, with players getting swapped like tall tales around a camp fire, did you?
It was no surprise that Danny the Dealer exercised his trigger finger and executed yet another trade in his quest to remake the Celtics. The stunner Thursday was that he surrendered Boston’s preferred currency, a draft pick, and didn’t add to the Celtics’ hoops hope chest of future selections.
Ainge traded rent-a-veteran Marcus Thornton and one of the raft of future first-round picks in the Celtics’ possession (a 2016 protected first-rounder from Cleveland) to Phoenix for pint-sized point guard Isaiah Thomas. Ainge also jettisoned lottery-position spoiler Tayshaun Prince, sending him to Detroit for the NBA equivalent of award show seat-fillers, free agents Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome.
The trade deadline was a win for the Green. They unloaded two veterans with expiring contracts who were photo-bombing their long-term picture. They acquired a young, scoring point guard on an affordable contract who could be a piece in their reconstruction. More importantly, they put a moratorium on stockpiling overrated picks.
Nobody loves draft picks more than me, well except for Ainge. I’m a draft-a-holic. I would watch a napkin-holder draft. But the value and importance of the Celtics’ collection of draft picks — realistically, they could have 11 first-round picks between now and 2019 — has been exaggerated.
This isn’t the NFL, where every first-round pick is treated like gold. In the NBA, the only truly coveted first-round picks are top-five picks. Picks outside that realm, even lottery picks, are dependent upon the depth of the draft and the interest level of an individual team, both of which can be fickle.
The Celtics learned this lesson last June, when they entered one of the most-hyped drafts in recent memory armed with the Nos. 6 and 17 picks and ready to deal. It didn’t happen because they owned the sixth pick in a draft that was regarded as having five potential superstars. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck’s fireworks got cancelled, and the Celtics ended up drafting Marcus Smart and James Young.
The 2015 draft does not look like it’s going to be an inspiring affair. So Ainge made a shrewd move and cashed in one of his future chips for a proven NBA player.
It helped that Ryan McDonough, the Suns’ general manager, is a former Celtics assistant GM. He is also the son of legendary Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough.
No one is going to confuse Isaiah Thomas for Isiah Thomas, the Hall of Fame point guard who led the Detroit Pistons to two NBA titles and is one of the most underappreciated players in NBA history. Or as he’s known around here, the guy who threw the ball to Larry Bird in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals.
But this Thomas can play, and he can shoot 3-pointers and free throws, a novel concept for a Celtics point guard.
The 5-foot-9-inch Thomas averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game last season for Sacramento. That was probably a case of a good player racking up inflated numbers on a bad team. But in Phoenix, he was averaging 15.2 points per game, coming off the bench.
His effective field goal percentage, which adjusts for the value of a 3-pointer, is 50.5 percent; he is a 39.1 percent 3-point shooter.
Thomas is a career 86 percent free throw shooter. Last season, he was 14th in the NBA in free throws attempted per game at 5.7.
Thomas should complement Smart, not stunt his growth. Smart can compensate for Thomas’s defensive deficiencies, and Thomas can reciprocate on the offensive end.
Draft picks are an important part of the rebuilding blueprint.
Teams such as Golden State, Portland, and Oklahoma City built through the draft, but they did it with lottery picks (picks that fall between 1 and 14). Among the franchise players on those teams the lowest drafted player is Klay Thompson, the 11th pick in the 2011 draft.
Among the Celtics surfeit of first- and second-round picks, the only likely lottery picks are their own and the picks they’re going to receive from the Brooklyn Nets from the new Big Three breakup trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to New York’s hipster hive. (Brooklyn dealt Garnett to his original team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, on Thursday.)
The Celtics have the Clippers’ pick this year and Brooklyn’s pick in 2016, then the right to swap with Brooklyn in 2017, plus Brooklyn’s pick again in 2018.
The other picks the Celtics are owed beyond this year come from Dallas, Memphis, and Minnesota. The Timberwolves have a rebuilding project of their own and their pick is top-12 protected this year and next. Then it becomes a second-round pick.
The pick the Celtics sent to the Suns to acquire Thomas, part of a three-point-guard experiment in Phoenix with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe that was ill-fated, was top-10 protected from 2016-18 and unprotected in 2019.
Unless LeBron James dumps the Cavaliers again, the pick was not likely to fall in the lottery.
Thomas was a better bet.
If Thomas, who is in the first year of a four-year, $27 million deal, is not a fit for the Celtics he is not a cap-clogger. Ainge is still going to have copious cap space this offseason to try to coax a free agent to Causeway Street (good luck).
Thomas is not going to derail the Celtics’ Grand Plan, if Ainge even knows what it is.
He is another asset, one that, unlike a draft pick, already has proven value.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.