BOSTON -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said his front-office staff had an idea the Cleveland Cavaliers were exploring big changes at Thursday’s trade deadline, but didn’t feel pressure to make a reactionary move.
While the Cavaliers made three deadline deals that swapped out six roster players for four new faces as part of a jarring overhaul, the Celtics quietly let the deadline pass without trade activity before signing free-agent center Greg Monroe to fill their final available roster spot.
The Celtics sit atop the Eastern Conference and entered Friday’s action with a 7½-game lead over a Cleveland team that bounced Boston from last year’s conference finals.
"We’d gotten a little bit of wind that they were making some big changes but without knowing the details of it,” Ainge said when asked about Cleveland’s deadline activity. “But, listen, we have our own problems to worry about and we’re just taking care of the Boston Celtics.
"There was an idea that we didn't need to do anything. We really liked this group of guys and, obviously, they have been having success. We have a really good core young group of guys too, along with [All-Star big man] Al [Horford]. We don't really want to make a mess out of that but, at the same time, you just never know when good players could become available. We had to kick the tires, but we didn't feel the need to do much.”
Ainge is no stranger to both deadline activity and roster overhauls. The Celtics brought back just four players from last year’s East finalist, with last summer’s makeover highlighted by the jaw-dropping trade that delivered Kyrie Irving from Cleveland in exchange for a package that featured Isaiah Thomas.
While Irving has helped Boston overcome the early loss of Gordon Hayward, Thomas struggled to find his rhythm after returning from the hip injury that forced him out of last year’s conference finals. Thomas was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday as the Cavaliers tried to right a season that often has been hijacked by drama.
Thomas had expressed some animosity toward Ainge in the aftermath of being dealt in August, but the two chatted briefly when Thomas visited with the Cavaliers in early January. Ainge was asked if he had any sympathy for Thomas after he was dealt for the second time in less than six months.
“I don’t really know what Isaiah’s wishes or dreams are right now,” Ainge said. "So I have no idea. I don’t know what to think.”
A few other nuggets from Ainge during his informal post-deadline meeting with reporters:
The Celtics had an obvious need for size and rebounding, which left Ainge pushing hard for Monroe after he negotiated a buyout from the Suns earlier this month. "Greg brings some experience, low-post play, and he's a terrific passer from the perimeter,” Ainge said. "[Coach] Brad [Stevens] likes to run his offense through bigs out on the perimeter a lot, so that could be helpful and he's been a good rebounder.” Ainge admitted Stevens will have to figure out how to balance minutes as Monroe competes for time with starting center Aron Baynes and backup big man Daniel Theis, but the presence of Monroe allowed Theis to play more on the perimeter during Monroe's Celtics debut on Thursday night in Washington, and the two could coexist on a Boston bench unit that has struggled to consistently generate points.
The Celtics will keep an eye on the buyout market should an upgrade become available. “We’ll look and see who’s bought out,” Ainge said. “I don’t think there’s a big hole for us, so we’ll look for a good player who’s better than what we have.” The end of Boston’s roster is filled with inexperienced rookies and, after electing not to spend future draft assets on a bench upgrade such as Tyreke Evans at the deadline, the Celtics might be enticed by a veteran scorer who wants a chance to join a contender after a buyout.
Some Celtics fans scoffed at the notion that Boston would be reluctant to dip into its surplus of future draft picks to add a rental such as Evans. Ainge was asked if teams are putting a higher value on picks and noted, “I know what we think of them. Teams are appreciating the value of first-round picks. It’s easy to justify their value away because if you have a pick in the 20s, it has a 10 percent chance of being a rotation player. But people are understanding the value of those players and roster building. Most of the good teams around [the league] have players from the middle of the first and second round that are contributing.”