The Celtics on Thursday were linked to potential trades involving stars Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis.
But the night ended without Boston making a deal, and it left many fans wondering whether president of basketball operations Danny Ainge would be able to start cashing in his horde of assets for stars.
And when the Bulls traded Butler to the Timberwolves for a somewhat lukewarm return, it begged the question of why Boston had not offered more.
But according to league sources, the Celtics’ interest in Butler had cooled a bit recently, and the team was most comfortable moving forward with an eye on free agency and with its chest of picks intact.
A source confirmed that Boston was in discussions with the Pacers about George, however, and indicated that the team would have interest in reviving the talks, but is unsure where the Pacers stand in the process.
On Thursday night, the Bulls and Timberwolves completed a massive trade in which Chicago sent the All-Star forward Butler and this year’s No. 16 pick to Minnesota in exchange for fourth-year guard Zach LaVine, second-year guard Kris Dunn and this year’s No. 7 pick.
Butler was rumored to be on the trade market for much of the last two years, and the prevailing belief was that the haul the Bulls ultimately received would be more bountiful.
LaVine has shown great promise, but he is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Dunn was surrounded by buzz at last year’s draft, but averaged just 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in a quiet rookie season. Butler, meanwhile, is considered one of the top 15 players in the NBA.
The Celtics’ interest in Butler has been well-documented, so it was fair to wonder why Boston had not prepared a better offer.
“We’ve had many conversations with [the Bulls] over the last couple of years,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told reporters following the news conference for No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum on Friday. “We just couldn’t get anything done.”
But a league source said the Celtics were no longer overly smitten with the prospect of adding Butler. And the deal struck by Minnesota may have been an indicator that Boston was not the only team whose interest in him had begun to wane.
A source said the Timberwolves turned down a slightly lesser offer in a deal for Butler last season that included LaVine and Dunn. Of course, LaVine was still healthy then and Dunn was a much-hyped prospect rather than a second-year guard whose potential had taken a mild hit.
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau coached Butler in Chicago for the first four seasons of his career and knows him as well as anyone, and his reluctance to complete a trade last season raised some eyebrows.
A source said there has also been a sense in trade talks — both from Chicago and other teams — that because the Celtics have so many future first-round picks they would be less reluctant to surrender several of them in a deal. But the Celtics will not dump selections just because they have others.
The source did add, however, that reports that the Celtics had rejected an offer in which they would have received Butler for just the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft were inaccurate.
Boston was also said to be in trade discussions this week regarding Porzingis and George.
In a news conference Thursday night, Ainge threw water on reports that indicated the Celtics were aggressively pursuing Porzingis.
“It was a little blown out of proportion,” he said following the draft. “I’ll just leave it at that.”
League sources said Knicks president Phil Jackson’s trade requests to at least two teams were beyond extreme and that they may have just been a ploy to motivate Porzingis, the 7-foot-3 Latvian who seemed to anger Jackson by skipping an end-of-season exit interview.
Sources confirmed that the Celtics were among the teams that engaged in trade discussions with the Pacers about George. But it was unclear what step Indiana intended to take next. According to ESPN, the Rockets, Cavaliers, Clippers, Lakers and Wizards have also expressed interest in George.
On Thursday, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard indicated that even though no draft-night deal was completed, he intended to continue to look for a suitable trade involving George, who informed the Pacers recently that he did not plan to re-sign with them when his contract expires next summer.
“At the end of the day there’s so much other stuff that doesn’t include draft picks that we decided to stay put and look at everything that’s on the board in the future,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Thursday. “We’re not going to make a bad deal.”