DETROIT — Despite Saturday being the first day that free agents who signed this past summer could be traded, and contending teams making deals in recent weeks, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he is not pressed to make a move.
The Celtics’ eight-game win streak, which had pushed them closer to the second seed in the Eastern Conference, came to end Saturday night. But the run showed off their depth. It took six weeks, but the Celtics are finally playing well collectively.
“I don’t feel any urgency at all,” Ainge said about making any moves. “I think players are playing better. I felt like early in the year, we didn’t really have anybody or more than one or two guys on any given night that were sparking. Now like every night, we at least have four guys who are playing really well and some nights even six guys that are playing really well. There’s a little more certainty.
“I don’t think we’ve played great the last two games, but before that I thought we were playing really, really well. It’s a long season.”
Ainge said he didn’t overreact or even consider changes after the Celtics fell to 10-10 following their Nov. 24 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, one of the most frustrating defeats of the season.
“I’ve just been around too long to be so results oriented in such a short period of time. I saw a lot of things early on, we just weren’t consistent,” he said. “We just weren’t sustaining the things that we wanted to do. Even in exhibition season, training camp, but you could see a lot of good things that were happening. It was just a matter of time before we got more consistent.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team’s improvement has been a matter of a more up-tempo pace.
“We’re playing faster,” he said early Saturday. “Not just up the court, but when we are in the half court. The ball is not sticking like it was at the start of the year and we are cutting harder. I think our structure is probably better, just everything adds together and then the familiarity is also helpful. Again, we had to relearn playing around those two guys [Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward] and also what everybody else does best when they are on the court with them.”
With the Celtics waiving Walter Lemon, the Celtics have an open two-way roster slot they have yet to fill. G-League Maine swingman P.J. Dozier has the other two-way slot. Ainge said he feels no sense of urgency to fill that opening, and he would even consider re-signing Lemon, who is now playing for the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s affiliate.
“There’s about a thousand players that would die to have [that two-way spot],” Ainge said. “We could have filled it any moment. When urgency comes, we’ll sign someone.”
Ainge said the team had nothing personal against Lemon, who signed his contract during NBA summer league and never appeared in a game with the Celtics.
“It was just a matter of chemistry for our team and we had seen Walt; I like Walt, he had played really well for us during the exhibition season and for the Red Claws,” Ainge said. “We have a really good idea of who he is and I wouldn’t hesitate to give Walt another opportunity if we needed that kind of player. Numbers aren’t our problem right now.”
The Celtics are progressively getting healthier, with Aron Baynes off minutes restriction after making it through a pregame workout in good condition. He had been on a 15-minute limit since returning from a left ankle sprain that caused him to miss two games. He had 10 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes Saturday night.
Stevens said center Al Horford remains out with patella tendon soreness and he will evaluate Horford’s progress Monday. The Celtics have three days off before facing the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. That will start a stretch where the Celtics will play every other day until Jan. 4 against the Mavericks, a nine-game stretch.
For the Pistons, Reggie Bullock returned to the lineup and scored 15 points after missing four games with a sprained ankle while Zaza Pachulia was out with the flu.
The last time the Pistons faced the Celtics in a home-and-home stretch in October, Boston was having an awful time scoring before experiencing a brief breakout in its win at Little Caesars Arena and then eking out a win back in Boston. Pistons coach Dwane Casey said the difference then and now with the Celtics is simply better shooting.
“It’s amazing how shooting will help you and they’re shooting the ball very well,” said Casey, before watching the Celtics hit only 41.9 percent of their shots Saturday.
“Now they’ve got a multitude of guys shooting the ball at a high level. [Marcus] Morris is shooting it very, very well. Kyrie has got his sea legs. Hayward is coming off the bench, giving them extra punch.”