With the Celtics in the midst of a roster makeover last winter, the feverish nature of the trade deadline offered another chance to accelerate their reconstruction. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge had long been enamored with Isaiah Thomas, and he made an offer for the Suns point guard. But as the deadline neared, the two teams had not come to an agreement. Ainge was prepared to move on.
“An hour before we made the trade for Isaiah, I would have told you I didn’t think we could get him,” Ainge said. “We’d made an offer, and it wasn’t an offer that was good enough.
“We wanted to get Isaiah, but we wanted to do a deal we felt comfortable with. We weren’t going to do a deal that we weren’t comfortable with. So it looked like there was no deal.”
Teams are understandably reluctant to accept trades when there is still time for other offers to flood in, because there is always hope of a better option. Or, a team might fear another team’s more shiny proposal and give up more than it had planned.
The Celtics were careful not to get swept up in their pursuit of Thomas last year, and with Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline fast approaching, they figure to be similarly judicious.
“Basically, you have to be ready to pull the trigger and you can’t get involved in a chase,” Ainge said. “Maybe you overpay for that transcendent player, but if you get caught up in bidding against five or six teams, I think that’s when mistakes are made.
“So you’ve got to sort of make up your mind on what you’re willing to do, and if you get a deal in those circumstances, then do it.”
In the case of Thomas, of course, the Celtics ultimately reached an agreement within their parameters. Minutes before the deadline, they sent guard Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick they’d acquired from the Cavaliers to the Suns in exchange for the electric young point guard. Last weekend, Thomas became an All-Star for the first time.
This season, the Celtics are 32-23 and in third place in the Eastern Conference, and there are fewer obvious holes to fill. They remain in the hunt for a transcendent star, but the trade market is generally not flooded with them.
“I think the first thing is I have to be patient and calm,” Ainge said. “I can’t be in a major rush. I can’t be pressured into making decisions that hurt our team for the long haul unless I know it’s going to give us, like, a real, real chance.”
The Celtics have become known as one of the league’s most active traders, as they’ve amassed a thick portfolio of assets in recent years. And those deals have, in essence, made them a candidate for more deals, because the assets make them an attractive trade partner.
The Celtics could have eight picks in next June’s draft, none more valuable than the unprotected first-round choice they will receive from the Nets. Brooklyn is currently tied with the Suns for the third-worst record in the NBA. Ainge said teams have inquired about that Brooklyn pick, and he understands its worth.
“We know it’s important, but it’s not untouchable, either,” Ainge said. “It’s important and it has value for us. It’s not the most important value. We have some [Celtics] players we value more than we value the Brooklyn pick.
“We’re listening to teams that call and ask us, whatever assets we may have. There are players we would trade the Brooklyn pick for, and many players that we wouldn’t.”
The Celtics’ two most glaring needs are a rim-protecting big man and an elite scorer to complement Thomas. But Ainge said that in the search for a star, teams cannot afford to narrow the field so severely.
“We just want a player who can make a difference at their end of the court,” he said. “It’s not like we’re just looking for one position. It’s not like baseball where we’re looking for a second baseman. We’re just looking for guys that can complement the players we have now.”