I figured that I would wait a week or so before writing anything about the NBA trade deadline partly due to exams, and partly due to shear frustration. After being glued to Twitter for the last 36 hours of the deadline, salivating over the seemingly plausible trade rumors, Danny Ainge (like he always does), did nothing. No Jimmy Butler, no Paul George, no Andre Drummond, no Carmelo Anthony (HUGE sigh of relief), and no meaning to IT’s eye emoji other than maybe a surprising rose given to a Batchelor contestant. I understand the value of the Brooklyn picks as well as anyone and see that Danny Ainge wants a long term solution, not a two month rental player (ahem, Serge Ibaka). However, as I look at the current roster, I can’t help but see the ostentatious timing issues.
Firstly, Al Horford, the Celtics big free agent signing of this past summer, has been instrumental in this season’s success, but his on court production has left a bit to be desired. He is currently averaging 14 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, per Basketball Reference. Though more than modest stats, Horford is getting paid 26.5 million dollars this season to, at times, disappear while Isaiah Thomas takes over games. Nevertheless, though Horford’s defense has been one of the reasons the Celtics are the 2nd seed in the East, his lack of production relative to his contract worth is alarming. Further, he is on the wrong side of 30 and, although some players can perform at high efficiency well into their 30’s like Tim Duncan, it is conceivable that there will be a drop-off in Horford’s performance at the tail end of his contract. Herein lies the timing issue. If Boston is to contend during Al Horford’s tenure here, we need contract relative performance from a 33 year old Al Horford, with dwindling trade value each day. Without trading for a superstar, the pressure is only increased on Horford to perform exceptionally.
Secondly, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley, the two defensive specialists for Boston have created the identity and culture of Boston basketball; however, Bradley is set to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and Smart the season after next. Essentially, Bradley now has diminishing return (no one gives up the world for expiring contracts) and will be seeking a contract in the 20-25 million ballpark from the celtics or elsewhere. Assuming that the Celtics don’t make a move on draft day that involves AB, we are stuck getting a sack of basketballs for a Defensive First Team player, or forced to outbid an often aggressive market for 3-and-D players, essentially eliminating our chances of landing a free agent or outrightly losing Bradley for nothing in return. Likewise, Smart will command much more than his rookie deal in 2 years when he hits the open market and as you will see below, the Celtics may not have the money for him and could lose him for nothing.
Thirdly, Isaiah Thomas, the catalyst of Boston’s resurrection, shouldn’t even be a a topic of discussion, right? WRONG! Though IT is one of my favorite players in the NBA, and deserving of MVP discussion, the decision to draft (especially in this draft if we are in the top two) indicates that even IT’s time in Boston could be numbered. If Boston takes Washington product Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball of UCLA, they will essentially have IT’s replacement; however, there is no guarantee that either will ever average 30 points per game like Thomas, or even be ready to really contribute during the Horford era. If Boston decides to draft one of these young point guards, it almost makes sense to trade Thomas (who’s value is that of gold right now) and get young pieces back in return to build around.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, I really do love this Celtics team and enjoy watching them play under the watchful eye of Brad Stevens, a coach that I think has Hall of Fame potential. Further, I love the above four players and how they fit with the current team, but I just don’t see the direction of Boston right now. Horford’s years of productivity are limited and IT, Bradley, and Smart will all want money: the time is now to make a move and try to at least challenge Cleveland and GULP the Warriors. Understandably, my frustrations will be assuaged with a Gordon Hayward/Brad Stevens Butler reunion where they get to -AND WIN- the finals, but free agency is unpredictable, and if I’m Gordon Hayward, I don’t mind the young core that Utah has developed. The Celtics are in the rare position of being a potential 50 win team that gets the 1st overall pick for two straight years, something relatively inconceivable, and I just don’t want to see them screw it up by creating a team who’s timing issues never let them see their true potential. You have to do something Danny, the clock keeps ticking and the sand in Isaiah Thomas’s hourglass emoji tweet is running out.