Forget the Deadline: The Cs Are the Best Bet to Top the Bucks

Following the NBA trade deadline, Celtics GM Danny Ainge passed along an interesting anecdote from organization architect Red Auerbach (via NBC Sports Boston):

You’ve got to find good deals. It’s not about making deals, it’s about making good deals. And I remember Red Auerbach told me one time on my first year on the job, ‘Some of the best trades that I’ve made are the ones that I didn’t make’.  And that actually has stuck with me. This year I think everybody feels good that we didn’t make any moves with what the market prices were.

The organization has seemingly been preaching that sentiment for five years. That’s how long it’s been since Ainge has made a significant deadline trade. By now, it shouldn’t be overly shocking when the Celtics general manager doesn’t make a midseason shakeup, even when his team is pushing for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Despite what we know about Ainge, there were still plenty of fans and pundits who were clamoring for a trade deadline acquisition. We saw both the Sixers and Heat – two teams battling the Cs for playoff standing – make acquisitions this week. These trades slightly altered the Eastern Conference championship odds, as the Celtics are now fourth (+750) behind the Bucks (-170), 76ers (+700), and Heat (+600).

However, those criticizing the Cs for not making a move are mistaken. Dig in a little bit and you’ll recognize that the Cs should never have been in the trade conversation, and their championship odds are still better than those other squads between the 2-6 range in the East.

The Logistics

Let’s get one thing clear right away: the C’s weren’t trading any of their top-five players, a grouping that includes Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart.

Realistically, in the world where another team was willing to inherit three players in a trade, the most the Cs could have received back was around $16M. That takes them out of the running for the likes of Andre Drummond.

Besides the financial limitations, there were also lineup limitations (if you can even call them that). The Celtics’ top-five players ultimately account for minutes at four positions. Assuming those five are playing around 35mpg come playoff time, that really leaves around 17mpg for a non-big.

For all the talk of Davis Bertans, there’s no guarantee that he’d see a consistent role in the postseason. Depending on matchup and game situation, Brad Stevens could easily turn to the likes of Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye, and Brad Wanamaker. If one of those three is required to be the pseudo “sixth non-big,” then there’s no chance a hypothetical trade acquisition would see the floor for more than 10mpg.

Ultimately, trading for a backup wing or guard didn’t make sense considering the lack of available minutes. Sure, the Cs are flush with young players and future picks, but that doesn’t mean they should give those assets away for a marginal piece. We understand that he Cs basically have a full roster heading into the offseason, but Ainge has been incredibly active in the draft in recent years. The GM surely won’t let those young assets go to waste.

The Big Men

If the Cs could have made a play for one trade, it’s the Clint Capela move. The Daniel Theis/Enes Kanter combo has been more than capable this season, and the Cs are hoping that former first-rounder Robert Williams can play a significant role in the second half.

Still, Capela’s on a completely different tier than those three, and he was one of the rare, legit big men who the Cs could have traded for without sacrificing their five-best players.

Further, the Hawks ended up trading a mid-first-rounder and a giant expiring contract (Evan Turner) for Capela. While the Cs would have had to include at least three players (say something like Kanter, Ojeleye, and rookie Romeo Langford), they also could have compensated with extra picks. There’s no doubt that the Celtics could have presented a better offer to the Rockets and Wolves.

Considering the presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid come playoff time, it’s surprising that Danny didn’t make a swing at a legitimate rim protector.

The Outlook

Ultimately, in the hypothetical world where the Cs win the conference, their top-five players are performing at a high level. No trade acquisition (perhaps excluding Capela) would change that.

Plus, this Cs squad has the second best point differential in the conference,  they have an 11-8 record vs. teams with a record of .500 and above (the second best mark in the conference), they’re only 1.5 games behind the Raptors, and they’ve rarely had their full squad for any given game.

It’s obviously going to be tough for a team to get past the Bucks in the Eastern Conference. However, if you believe there’s a chance that another squad could sneak into the Finals, the recent moves by the 76ers and Heat shouldn’t change any opinions. The one squad that’s equipped to beat Milwaukee is the Celtics, a lack of trade-deadline moves be damned.

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