Danny Ainge said a couple weeks back that the Celtics would not “punt” on the next few seasons just because the Warriors and Cavs are on an entirely different level. It’s true. So far this offseason, Ainge and the Celtics haven’t punted. They’ve taken a knee on fourth-and-10.
A whole hell of a lot can and will change as soon as the end of this week (free agency begins on July 1), and Ainge could come out of it looking like a genius. But as of this moment, the members of the Celtics front office look like big-talking fools.
We’ve been promised “fireworks” since Kris Humphries, Phil Pressey and Vitor Faverani were key members of the Boston roster, and while Ainge has swung terrific trades for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder since that time – the cashing in of all these assets he raves about simply has not happened.
It is now entirely conceivable that the Celtics will whiff on major free agents like Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin in the coming days, and their big offseason acquisition will be 19-year-old Jayson Tatum. The Celtics already came up empty-handed in the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes as Minnesota gave up Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick in exchange for Butler and the 16th pick. Ainge could have easily come up with a better package than that for Butler.
Now, the only game-changer left on the trade market is Paul George, who has just one year left on his contract. The cost for a glorified “rental” will be low, and it’s actually a gamble I think the Celtics should roll the dice on. But it just feels like the Celtics have lost their leverage with every team in the league right now.
When the C’s secured the No. 1 pick in the lottery in May, we were told that Ainge “controlled the draft,” “controlled free agency,” and “controlled the trade market.”
Celtics fans are hitching their wagon to a 19-year-old kid who makes Isaiah Thomas look like Joe Dumars on the defensive end.
There are also some whispers around the league that the Phoenix Suns punked Ainge and the Celtics at the draft. Two days prior to the Sixers – Celtics trade, ESPN’s Chad Ford reported that the Celtics were locked in on Josh Jackson, thinking he was the best player in the draft. Jackson kept cancelling workout with the Celtics – reportedly at the urging of the Suns. The Celtics passed on Jackson at No. 3, and the Suns grabbed him at No. 4.
Maybe the Ford report was wrong and the Celtics had their eyes on Tatum the whole time, but nonetheless these Jackson rumors are troubling. The Celtics may have given up the No. 1 overall pick in a draft, bypassing Markelle Fultz AND Jackson – who both could emerge as generational talents.
Ainge usually comes out on top when it comes to “pulling the wool” over other teams’ eyes. He did it to the Suns in the Thomas trade actually. But it just feels like the Celtics were suckers before and during the draft.
Only time will tell, of course, and Ainge’s track record suggests that he’ll have the last laugh. The skepticism in Boston right now is growing though.