|Celtics stand pat, but real work already done||03.16.12 at 10:51 am ET|
SACRAMENTO — Someone asked Danny Ainge if the Celtics were sellers or buyers at the deadline, and the answer was basically both, but the question missed the essential element of the position Ainge believes he is in with the franchise.
This has never been about this year. That was evident in December when Ainge loaded up on players with one-year contracts, and it’s been evident for the last several years when he refused to extend commitments beyond the summer of 2012. Ainge wasn’t going to deal his first-round draft picks in an attempt to put a Band-Aid on this year’s squad, and at the same time he was engaged in talks involving some of his core stars, but only if they yielded picks and players. So while he wasn’t looking to buy, he also wasn’t trying to conduct an everything-must-go fire sale.
“I was looking at both opportunities,” Ainge said. “To strengthen our team for the playoff run this year and for building up some chips and grabbing some assets for the future. We actually had a lot of conversations on both sides of that.”
The Celtics did nothing at the deadline, although they were active in talks right up until Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline. They will be active in the search for a big man to replace Chris Wilcox and possibly Jermaine O’Neal, but that will take at least a week. The deadline for players to be bought out of their contracts and waived and still be eligible for the postseason is March 23, and Ainge said the team will be patient while that process plays out.
This year’s team stays intact and will be allowed to take one final shot at pulling off some kind of a miracle run. You can call it misplaced optimism if you like, but the players and coaches truly believe they can be dangerous in the playoffs, as long as Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and especially Kevin Garnett are healthy in May.
“We have a lot of games and not very many days. So I anticipate us looking really good some nights and looking bad some nights,” Ainge said. “I have a lot of faith in our guys. They know the time and the score and they know when the lights are on. They rise to the occasion at big moments. They have a great deal of pride and experience and know-how. I’m hoping that we can get to the playoffs healthy. And add a little bit of beef between now and the playoffs and we’ll take our chances there.”
This summer Ainge will have cap room and draft picks and a handful of young players along with Pierce and Rondo to work with. No one is ever safe on the Celtics as long as Ainge is in charge, and while that may yield an uncomfortable working environment on occasion, he will never let his team get caught in a mess like the one Orlando is going through with Dwight Howard.
At the same time, he won’t let the Celtics fall down the same path as a team like the Nets, who put all their eggs in Howard’s basket only to see him scuttle their plans by letting emotion get in the way of business.
This is only the first step in Ainge’s rebuilding plan and there are only guesses as to where he goes from here. The real effort begins this summer, but the legwork already has been done.