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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Danny Ainge’s inactivity at trade deadline might be costly

02.22.14 at 10:58 am ET

In somewhat of a surprise, Danny Ainge watched Thursday’€™s trade deadline come and go without shipping any of the current Celtics out of town. Although there were no deals that will take over the headlines, there certainly were moves made that will affect the NBA draft.

Typically, the focus of this post is college basketball‘€™s top stars and their draft stock — with the possibility that they may end up in Boston.  But with a quiet week for the prospects, this week’€™s focus will be on why Ainge’€™s lack of a move can only hurt Boston’€™s lottery odds.

While the Pacers are getting attention for adding Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, it should not go unnoticed that the 76ers are subtracting those players from a 15-win team. In addition, Philly sent its starting center, Spencer Hawes, to the Cavaliers. These moves leave the 76ers roster without two of its top four scorers this season.

Although Philly landed a multitude of second-round-picks (crazy stat: the 76ers now have nine second-rounders in this year’s draft — 30 percent of the picks in the round), they have essentially guaranteed themselves to finish in the bottom three of the league. Although the Sixers became the biggest ‘€œtankers’€ of the deadline, other teams made splashes, too.

The 10-win Bucks dumped Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour on the playoff-hopeful Bobcats. The Lakers shipped Steve Blake away to give the Warriors backcourt depth, despite Kobe Bryant tweeting that he’€™s ‘€œnot cool’€ with the move. And the Magic, who couldn’€™t find a trade to make, decided to simply buy out the contract of Glen ‘€œBig Baby’€ Davis.

So what’€™s the significance of all these seemingly insignificant moves? All of those teams that rid themselves of contributors sit below the Celtics in the standings.

Although Ainge was active earlier in the season, it appears he now has limited Boston’€™s odds at an elite draft pick simply by doing nothing. The idea of tanking rests solely on the GM’€™s ability to take key pieces away from the team; coaches and players are going to give it their all every night.

On the positive side of the spectrum, all the teams above the Celtics in the standings, aside from the Jazz, feel they have what it takes to make a playoff push. This still means in all likelihood that Boston can finish with the seventh-highest lottery odds at worst. But at the same time it makes it very difficult to see the Celtics landing inside the top five picks without a little help from the ping pong balls.

On Friday night the Celtics and Lakers faced off and wrote another chapter of their storied history — sort of. In this battle the loser (Boston) was rewarded, however, with the fifth-highest lottery odds for the time being.

We’€™ve hit the home stretch now that the All-Star break and trade deadline have passed. Teams have shown with their actions that they have no shame in tanking the back end of the season even more obviously than the earlier stages. Let’€™s catch up with some of the reasons why GMs felt so comfortable parting with players who could help win them games.

Joel Embiid, Kansas, freshman — After sitting out a game with multiple lingering injuries, Embiid not only returned to the lineup against Texas Tech but matched a season high by playing 32 minutes. The minutes came as somewhat of a surprise considering Embiid’€™s status, but that wasn’€™t the only high mark he set. Embiid also dropped 18 points (tying another season high) on an incredibly efficient 6-for-7 performance while also going 6-for-8 from the line.

Embiid pulled down eight rebounds as well, but the real stat scouts wanted to see was his three fouls while playing serious minutes. After not practicing for the week, Embiid said after the game, ‘€œI think I was about 90, 90 percent.’€ Kansas coach Bill Self said he was ‘€œshocked’€ that his young center was able to go so many minutes without practicing.

‘€œHe was great this game,’€ a happy Andrew Wiggins proclaimed. ‘€œHis mobility and everything was back. If he doesn’€™t get double-teamed, he scores or he gets fouled, so it was good to have him back.’€

Embiid remains atop most NBA draft boards.

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, freshman — Wiggins did well for himself against Texas Tech as well, dominating much of the game and finishing it off with the game- winner. Wiggins posted 19 points, six boards, two assists, two blocks and two steals while playing the role of hero. He was solid in the absence of his big man, too, putting up a 17-4-4 stat line when Embiid sat against TCU.

Wiggins seemed to be all about the team victory after the game. ‘€œDefense, hustle plays, rebounding — good players make good plays down the stretch,” he said. “That’€™s what we did.’€

That’s a message that was echoed by Self. ‘€œPlayers make plays with the game on the line,’€ the coach said. ‘€œThat’€™s what I’€™ve always told my guys. [Tuesday] we had some guys step up and make plays.’€

Wiggins has been on a roller coaster ride this season. He was originally thought of as a no-brainer to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but in the eyes of many he played himself behind the other top prospects. Now we are at the point that Wiggins is almost underrated, as he is starting to scratch the potential we expected to see this season.

Embiid still is the more favorable prospect on the Kansas roster, but that doesn’€™t mean Wiggins can’€™t reclaim the No. 1 spot. But for now, they will continue to dominate as teammates.

Julius Randle, Kentucky, freshman ‘€“ Despite remaining highly productive, Randle’€™s numbers had been slipping until Kentucky traveled to Ole Miss on Tuesday night. In 29 minutes Randle physically dominated the game like he is known to do, dropping 25 points (his most since Dec. 21) and ripping down 13 boards. The efficiency with which he did it with was what jumped off the stat sheet, though. Randle shot 6-for-7 from the field (yes, 25 points on seven shot attempts), while going 13-for-14 from the charity stripe.

These types of games are exactly how Randle has to finish off the season if he wants to be a lock for a top-five pick. Randle has the ability to separate himself from comparable players like Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, but he needs to remain aggressive and efficient as he did against the Rebels.

Everything else remains pretty calm amongst the expected top picks. Jabari Parker (Duke) has been his usual beast-like self, carrying the Blue Devils in all areas of the game. Parker still is in contention for the No. 1 overall pick along with the freshman duo at Kansas. Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State remained suspended for his immature antics, and Dante Exum remains tucked away in Australia.

But the real draft news in Boston at the moment is Ainge’€™s lack of a move at the deadline. Ainge feels confident that the Celtics will be active this summer, the only problem being that may be too late.

Other draft-happy GMs got the upper hand on Ainge by weakening their rosters while Boston’€™s remains intact. When we look back on this ‘€œuneventful’€ trade deadline in five years, it could be the difference between the Celtics being in contention and just being relevant.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.

Read More: Anrew Wigging, Danny Ainge, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid
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