Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge keeps a John Wooden book on his desk, and he likes to think back to one of the legendary UCLA coach’s famous quotes when the NBA trade deadline arrives.
“Don’t confuse activity with achievement,” Ainge said. “It might be that the best thing you ever did was stand pat. Red [Auerbach] told me in my first year doing the job, ‘The best trades I ever made were the ones I didn’t make. I held restraint.’ I’ve actually often thought of that, because sometimes you start feeling the heat because everybody around you is doing things. It’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ But it doesn’t always mean that it’s making everybody better. It just means that you’re making changes.”
The Celtics on Thursday did not make any changes prior to the 3 p.m. trade deadline, instead deciding to move forward with their team that has compiled a 35-15 record and the third-best net rating in the NBA despite a string of nagging injuries to key players.
“We were looking to improve our team and we didn’t find any deals,” Ainge said by phone Thursday afternoon. “We’ve been pretty open to making trades over the years, but there’s a time and a place to make deals, and sometimes you just aren’t in those times and places. We didn’t feel like there was anything we needed to do.
“It’s always iffy of how much to give up, but we like our team. And we haven’t been healthy and are a top-five offense and defense in the NBA at this point and haven’t enjoyed the benefit of being healthy.”
Ainge said the Celtics had numerous conversations with teams about trades that would have added some punch to their bench. Boston was rumored to be pursuing Washington’s Davis Bertans and Detroit’s Luke Kennard, although neither player was traded prior to the deadline. Ainge declined to discuss either player directly.
But one league source with knowledge of Boston’s plans said Bertans, who is shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the 3-point line on 8.4 attempts per game, was never made available by Washington. The source said reports that he could be acquired for two first-round picks were inaccurate. Also, the fact that Bertans is an unrestricted free agent this summer would have made Boston reluctant to surrender that bounty anyway.
The source said Kennard was never made available by Detroit, either, adding that he is the Pistons’ top asset, so the Pistons would need to be “blown away” by an offer for a player who would simply be added to Boston’s bench corps. According to the source, the Celtics were pursuing slightly lower-cost options, like Pistons big man Christian Wood, but nothing materialized.
The Celtics are likely to have three first-round picks in June’s draft, and their roster is certainly too crowded to use all of them. But Ainge said there was no sense of urgency to tackle that issue now.
“There wasn’t a great deal of conversation about the picks,” he said. “The picks obviously have value in acquiring players, but I think that those weren’t factors in deals being done or not done. Those picks are still very tradeable come draft time.”
The Celtics’ trade possibilities were complicated by their contract situations. There is a large gulf between their high- and low-salary players, and most of Boston’s tradeable pieces from the bottom of the roster are on contracts so small that they would have little impact in salary-matching in a larger deal. In 2007, for example, the Celtics used the big contracts of Theo Ratliff and Wally Szczerbiak to acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
“You strive really hard to not have obsolete contracts, but sometimes on trading days they’re valuable to have,” Ainge said. “We like all of our contracts. We don’t have any contracts we’re trying to dump. So that makes it a little more challenging.”
The Celtics could now turn to the buyout market. While adding a player without giving up anything in return generally sounds like an appealing option, there are hurdles to clear on that route, too. The Celtics do not have an open roster spot, they can just offer a minimum-salary deal, and they probably cannot offer much playing time.
“Any time players come available, we inquire,” Ainge said. “I just don’t have any idea who those players are at this time. We try to guess the best we can, but we don’t really know.
“We’ll take them one by one as they come out of the buyout market and go from there. And we have a 15-man roster and two two-way guys. The buyout market could be tempting to make a change, but it’s got to be an improvement.”
The Celtics were monitoring the movement among other teams in the Eastern Conference’s upper tier, and while there were some minor trades, none appeared to shift the landscape.
The Heat made the biggest splash by acquiring Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill from the Grizzlies in exchange for Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, and James Johnson. The 76ers fortified their bench a bit by acquiring wings Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III from the Warriors in exchange for three future second-round picks.
“I don’t think it’s been shaken up, or there’s much change in the East,” Ainge said. “I had respect [for the other teams] going into the trade deadline and I have the same respect going out.”
At least one Celtic was pleased to see Thursday’s deadline pass without a move. Center Enes Kanter, a possible trade piece, posted a video of himself on Twitter counting down to 3:00 before running onto the team’s practice court with his arms raised.
“Let’s go!” Kanter said on the video. “Thank you, Celtics.”
Ainge said that he had joked with Kanter in recent weeks that the team’s medical staff wanted him to trade Kanter because he was so high-maintenance in the training room.
“Maybe he thought that was serious,” Ainge said with a chuckle. “But I know Enes does like it here.”