With his Boston Celtics sitting in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference on Thursday morning, team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told Boston radio station WEEI that there was a 50-50 chance that he'd make a trade later that day. (Classic troll move.) Yahoo! Sports' own Adrian Wojnarowski, among other reporters, heard that the Celtics were involved in serious talks about moving stars Ray Allen and Paul Pierce before Thursday afternoon's trade deadline.
By the time the clock struck 3 p.m. on the East Coast, though, nothing had materialized, leaving Doc Rivers' squad intact moving forward. (For what it's worth, Ainge was emphatic after the deadline that the team "never, ever tried to trade [Rajon Rondo]," according to the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett.)
Ainge told reporters Thursday that nothing lined up just so, with no bowl of porridge the right temperature and no bed quite comfy enough, according to Bill Doyle of the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette:
"There were deals," Ainge said during a conference call [Thursday] night, "that we wanted to do that we couldn't get a taker, and there were deals that other teams wanted to do that we just couldn't bite on." [...]
"We were close," he said, "to a handful of different types of trades from small to bigger that just couldn't be resolved. That happens often."
Ainge cited other teams' reticence to surrender draft picks as a major roadblock preventing potential deals, according to the Herald's Bulpett. Woj reported early Thursday that the asking price for Allen — a 36-year-old shooter whom the acquiring team would only be getting on a three-month rental, since his contract is up after the season — was a first-round pick and a young player. Prospective suitors must have deemed that a bit rich for their blood, because Allen's still wearing kelly green.
It makes sense that other teams' executives would be frustrated by Ainge's high sticker prices, but it wouldn't have made much sense for the Celtics to make anything but a no-brainer deal given the kind of weird situation in which they now find themselves — very evidently at the end of an era, waiting for the odometer to roll over onto a new set of zeroes, but still a playoff team just 1.5 games off the division lead and a top-four seed in the postseason.
If standing pat means continuing to win somewhere around 55 percent of your games and getting into the postseason to take one last crack at a ring — especially if doing so doesn't hamstring you for the future — then why not do it? That's the landscape Ainge is looking at, because as the Boston Globe's Gary Dzen points out, he can do nothing and still have boatloads of flexibility in charting the organization's new course this summer.
The Celtics are slated to shed $21 million in contracts from their balance sheet when Allen and Garnett come off the books after the season. They also hold two first-round picks (including the Los Angeles Clippers' first-rounder, which they received from the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year's Kendrick Perkins trade) and two second-round picks (including the one they received from the Milwaukee Bucks when they brought aboard Keyon Dooling in December) in what's expected to be a deep 2012 NBA draft.
Brandon Bass and Greg Stiemsma have player and team options, respectively, for 2012-13. E'Twaun Moore's contract isn't guaranteed for next year. Only Pierce, Rondo, Avery Bradley and JaJuan Johnson are on the books past the end of next season, according to the ShamSports.com salary database. That leaves, in Dzen's words, "a big blank slate" for Ainge to use any way he sees fit; all he had to do to keep it that way is say, "Thanks, but no thanks." So he did.
For his part, Jeff Clark of standard-bearing C's site CelticsBlog is "perfectly comfortable" with Ainge playing hard-to-get on what worked out to be "the perfect storm situation for a no-deal deadline":
One one hand, [Ainge] didn't have the urgency of "going for it" with this group because the odds are just a little too long on this group getting to the Finals even with an added piece or two. On the other hand, there's no urgency to "blow it up" when the team is set to reset in the offseason. Finally, there's the sentimentality factor [...] Nobody would want to trade Paul Pierce or any of the stars unless it was a slam dunk win for now and for the future.
Like most C's fans, though, Clark would've liked to see Ainge import a big man at the deadline to give Boston some frontcourt depth, with ineffective center Jermaine O'Neal expected to be gone and power forward/center Chris Wilcox out for the season due to an enlarged aorta, but Ainge found nothing that moved him on the trade market. He'll now have to look elsewhere for help; WEEI.com's Paul Flannery suggests he might not like what he finds.
Whether Ainge's decision to hold fast was a wise one will depend largely on his ability to turn cap space, picks, young players and flexibility into tangible assets that can make the Celtics a force going forward. He should probably get the benefit of the doubt on that, because he has done it before. If he can't repeat the trick, though, at least we know one NBA GM will have a pretty satisfied smile on his face.