Don't Sit on the Fence, Danny
The NBA trade deadline is a week away and the Celtics once again sit at .500 after another dispiriting loss, this time to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team can't win on the road (despite playing in mostly empty arenas), can't win the second game of back-to-backs (and there are a lot of them), can't win on weekend afternoons (despite there being no nightlife to tire them out), keep absorbing losses to bad teams, and have yet to beat a truly good one.
I thought that a slow start to the season would transform into a promising year as a solid core of players would round into form and be augmented by a few young players taking a step forward. It looks like I was wrong about that.
What I think obviously doesn't matter, though. The question is, what does Danny Ainge think? The team is sitting on a large Traded Player Exception that, from the start of the season, looked like an obvious avenue to improve the squad. The front office has been sending strong signals (or putting up thick smoke screens) for a few weeks now that they don't intend on making a significant move at the deadline.
There are two roads available here. If Ainge believes that a rotation built around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, and (one of) Daniel Theis or Tristan Thompson is health and one or two pieces away from competing at the highest level in the playoffs, then he needs to be a buyer and get a deal across the line for a big wing (and maybe another point guard). There is no good case for sitting out the deadline if that's his position. Find the moves that spend up to the luxury tax line and bolster a rotation that desperately needs it. If that core isn't good enough this year it isn't going to be next season either, and so making that type of move in the offseason would be meaningless.
If this season has convinced him that's not the case, it's time to sell. A large part of the story of the Celtics dimming from a franchise with a megawatt bright future to a flickering bulb is the consistent talent exodus bringing back no return.
Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were never going to be traded as even the low probability of Irving re-changing his mind and bringing his friends to Boston had too high of an upside to abandon.
Gordon Hayward should have been traded, though. Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier were held onto during the last meltdown season, even though both were destined to leave either for being a bad fit in a Kyrie-centric future or as cap casualties in the scenario that played out. Aron Baynes and Enes Kanter didn't just leave for nothing; the team had to spend draft capital to move them. Shane Larkin turned into Brad Wanamaker who turned into Jeff Teague via free agency. Even Abdel Nader now looks like a small loss; in limited minutes for Phoenix he's posted a higher true shooting percentage than any Celtics guard or wing other than Javonte Green.
The focus has been on Ainge's reluctance to buy at the deadline as he seems to see it as a market that doesn't return fair value. If that's the case, take advantage of that and be a seller sometimes!
The team obviously isn't moving Tatum and it would take a superstar deal for them to seriously consider Brown. If the right deal came along for Walker they should take it, but that's not happening right now. The possibility of moving him in the offseason in a way that could expand out to a star deal is potentially valuable, particularly with time left on his contract.
However, if the team isn't buying, at least one of Daniel Theis or Tristan Thompson need to be on a new team within the week. Thompson isn't going to bring back any value but if the intention is to re-sign Theis in the offseason then any deal you can make for Thompson that returns an expiring contract is fine. Don't get caught in the Baynes/Kanter situation of having to give value to move him between seasons. If Thompson is going to spend next season as Robert Williams's backup then Theis is not going to be re-signed and so trade him now. If all you get back is a second round pick, fine. The Nuggets are looking for front-court depth and Jamal Murray is asking for rim protection. Theis would look good there.
If anyone wants Semi Ojeleye, they can have him. He won't be back in Boston next season so what difference does it make? At the very least, Ainge needs to take away Brad Stevens's crutch and force him to go forward with Aaron Nesmith and Grant Williams playing consistent minutes. Ideally, a team looking at having to go though Giannis or LeBron thinks it would be worth a second rounder to have Semi on their bench.
If any rival GM's are fans of Javonte Green or Carsen Edwards, have at it. Green shouldn't be back next year and it was a mistake to give Edwards the amount of guaranteed money that he got in the first place. I won't even pretend with Jeff Teague.
None of these players are going to bring back a big return. If the team had role playing veterans who would, they wouldn't be .500 and potentially selling to begin with. It doesn't matter. They gave up two low-value second rounders to create the Hayward TPE; try to at least recoup those.
If someone wants to talk about buying Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, Aaron Nesmith, or Romeo Langford I'd certainly be open to having those discussions. The cupboard of future assets is pretty bare these days.
This franchise is not in a place where being competitive in Round 1 of the playoffs is an achievement. Who cares if they're the 5-seed or in the play-in games? It might even be better to lose out in the play-ins than in Round 1, considering the realistic avenues to adding what they need to get back into contention.
If Danny thinks there's a team worth investing in, invest. If he doesn't, divest. Sitting out the deadline should not be an option.