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Ainge was tempted to deal, but Celtics stay the course

Brad Stevens and the Celtics return to action Friday in Utah.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

SALT LAKE CITY — The Celtics have become known as one of the NBA’s most aggressive teams during times of change. And their overflowing war chest of assets has made them a highly sought-after trade partner capable of doing just about anything.

So as Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline approached, common sentiment was that Boston would strike somehow, even when least expected. All along, though, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge preached patience. He would be active, but he would not rush into a deal that would hinder this team’s bright future.

Ainge said he came close to completing several deals on Thursday, but the Celtics ultimately reconvened at practice with the same team with which they entered the All-Star break. The deadline came and went without a ripple.


“At the end of the day,” Ainge said, “I think we’re in a better position by not doing any of the deals that were brought to our table.”

One league source said the Celtics inquired about plenty of stars but were not actively shopping players on their roster. They were staying aware of possibilities, staying prepared to pounce.

Now, they will move forward with a team that is 32-23 and in third place in the Eastern Conference. They will also move forward with their abundance of future draft picks untouched.

“We have an opportunity in the spring and during the summer to make our team better, much better than the opportunity we had this time in February,” Ainge said. “So we’re anxious for this spring and summer, and to have another crack at it.”

The Celtics tried to find a new team for David Lee, the veteran forward who is no longer in the rotation. Ainge will meet with Lee’s camp over the next two days to discuss the forward’s future. The sides most likely will come to a buyout agreement, making Lee a free agent.


“I’ve kind of seen the writing on the wall with what’s going on the last month,” Lee said. “But once again, this is a business. We all know that. I want to be in a place where I’m successful and where I’m wanted.”

The Celtics acquired Lee from the Warriors last summer and there were high hopes about the two-time All-Star’s cohesion with this young group. But the experiment fizzled. In 30 games this season, Lee is averaging 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds and shooting a career-low 45.3 percent from the field.

“Everything doesn’t always work out the way you wanted it to,” Lee said. “[I’m] just disappointed from the fact that I wanted to come here and make a major impact. And that didn’t happen.”

Lee lifted weights with the team on Thursday afternoon but did not take part in practice. He shot some baskets after the session ended.

“I think he’s been a professional,” said coach Brad Stevens. “He’s been good in the locker room. I thought he played pretty well when given the opportunity. Obviously, we’ve had a logjam at that position, and it was more of a style of play decision than anything else.”

The Celtics were on the team bus on the way to practice when Thursday’s deadline passed. They said there was some relief, but that players generally were not worried about being traded. They are mostly just excited to start the season’s second half.


“It’s time to go now,” forward Jae Crowder said. “It’s time to roll. We’re all locked in, we’re all a close-knit group, as you guys know. We’re just trying to get better. We know these are the guys that we’re going to go to war with. We’re looking forward to it.”

There was a belief that the Celtics’ recent success might make the team less likely to complete a deal before the deadline. But Ainge said the strong play had actually made a short-term move more appealing.

“We had a lot of conversations in that regard, but there was just nothing that we were willing to do,” Ainge said. “But because the team has played well, it would have been nice for the now and for the playoff run to upgrade our roster.”

One of the Celtics’ most valuable assets, of course, is the unprotected first-round pick they will receive from the Brooklyn Nets this June. That choice will almost certainly fall in the top five of the draft.

“We did have some discussion in regard to that,” Ainge said. “There’s some players that did get our attention and some that did not get our attention regarding that pick.”

But those talks, like all of the others, never turned into anything more substantial. And now the Celtics are eager to show that this team can be dangerous even without upgrades.

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Ainge said forward Kelly Olynyk is likely to be sidelined for two more weeks with an injured shoulder, but that he was not expected to require surgery. Rookie forward Jordan Mickey, who had been with the Maine Red Claws, joined the team here on Thursday.


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