In an Insider-protected trade deadline review column, Chad Ford calls the Celtics the biggest losers of all the 14 teams that didn’t make a deal. He writes:
Ainge sounds like he worked the phones hard but just couldn’t seal a deal. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett hit free agency this summer. What exactly is the Celtics’ plan for rebuilding this franchise? Celtics fans could be in for another long, painful rebuilding phase.
The fan reaction to Danny Ainge sitting on his hands at the deadline has been net positive, probably in reaction to how badly things went when Danny tried to be proactive last year. But let’s try to lay out Chad’s thought process here, as an oppositional view:
Danny had the opportunity yesterday to make a choice about this Boston team: is this the last year they have a chance at the title, or is it the last year to get value for his older assets and start rebuilding? If he decided they had a chance at the title, Danny could have dealt his expiring contracts, his younger players, or one or both of his draft picks and given them some help. (For example: he couldn’t have beat an offer of Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet, and a second-rounder for Marcus Camby?) But if he thought they didn’t have a chance, then he could have dealt some of his older players so they wouldn’t just depreciate to zero.
Instead, Danny did nothing. And because it might have been the last year to make either of those choices, the Celtics are now stuck in a weird netherzone where they didn’t improve their odds for this season and might have simultaneously set themselves up for irrelevance down the line.
Yesterday wasn’t a complete disaster by any means: a truly stupid move would have set the team back more than doing nothing at all did. But it was still an opportunity to give the team some actual direction, and Danny passed.
He passed because his instinct is to start rebuilding, but the ownership was pushing him to keep the core of stars intact to maintain fan interest. The Celtics bandwagon has expanded over the last four years such that a lot of fans are really more devoted to the players than the franchise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These fans love the Big Three and want to see them buried in their uniforms. And because fans like that compose the majority of the base now, Danny and the ownership are beholden to their wishes.
But after the Big Three retire and the team is two years behind in its rebuilding phase, will those fans stick around?