SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- When the Boston Celtics reconvened in Phoenix in advance of last year's trade deadline, coach Brad Stevens seemed particularly firm in his belief that the team's roster would remain intact. And it did.
So, as the Celtics huddled in Sacramento on Wednesday evening after an extended All-Star break, the question was put to Stevens again: Do you expect changes at the trade deadline?
"I’ve only talked to [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] once in the last week or so, and I talked to [assistant general manager Mike] Zarren once or twice," said Stevens. "Obviously, I was gone and Danny was out [of the country scouting] last week. We’ll see how that all shakes itself out, but that’s what those guys work on. I work on trying to figure out how the heck to play against a team with a new coach [George Karl] and as good of players as [the Kings] have, because I think this is a really talented basketball team."
Stevens' dancing around the question doesn't suggest that a deal is any more likely than one was last season. In fact, we've maintained in the crawl to Thursday's 3 p.m. trade buzzer that Boston is most likely to let the deadline pass without any activity.
But what Stevens' response hammered home to us is the notion that Boston, with its gymnast-like flexibility to be a buyer, seller or facilitator at the deadline, has the very real potential to be involved in any activity that arises on Thursday.
How exactly that manifests itself -- a big splash like landing a big name like Goran Dragic, or a little whimper by taking on salary in exchange for more draft picks -- remains to be seen. But you get the sense that Stevens is content to let his front office do the heavy lifting in that process, and he'll simply be ready to coach the players who are still on the roster when the team hits the practice floor again on Thursday for its first post-deadline session.
Stevens said before the break that he would be in favor of minimal changes, particularly as Boston has played some of its better basketball while surging within 1.5 games of the final playoff berth in the lowly Eastern Conference. Did he stress that desire to Boston's front office in recent days?
"I think the biggest thing about it is you trust [the front office] to do their jobs, and that’s No. 1," said Stevens. "The thing that I think is really important is that we continue to have a culture that is growing day by day and provides that opportunity for growth. It’s really good for young, old, [and] in between to know where they stand, to be able to work towards something and be able to show that growth and be able to make strides. Regardless, that’s my hope. And I think that that’s shared.
"At the end of the day, change is inevitable in professional sports, that’s for sure, but we’ll see how the next 24 hours shakes itself out. We’ve already had quite a bit of change this season."
Indeed, the Celtics have made nine trades since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, including sending out stars Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. Now armed with a treasure trove of draft picks and the ability to take on salary, Boston's front office has preached an opportunistic approach to the deadline, willing to do whatever best aids the team moving forward.
Essentially, Stevens and his players -- many of whom are well aware that their own names have popped up in rumors -- are resigned that whatever happens is largely out of their control.
Stevens heard his players chatting about the rumors before Wednesday's practice at Sleep Train Arena but said it was more likely that he'll wait until Thursday morning to address the rumors with his squad.
"You know what, [the deadline is] so far away from my mind right now that I wouldn’t even talk [to the team] about it [Wednesday]," said Stevens. "And I might approach it [Thursday] morning, if Twitter feeds start exploding and everything else. Somebody is going to have to tell me that’s happening because I’m not really paying attention to it.
"[The players] are on it, they know what’s going on from the standpoint of rumors. They talk about the rumors just like everybody else talks about the rumors. I think we’ve all been through enough -- I haven’t been through a lot of these, but I’ve been through enough to know that a lot of that stuff that’s talked about is just talk."
Boston's veteran players, particularly content after a six-day vacation, were loose when reporters surged their way before the start of practice.
Tayshaun Prince, acquired last month in the swap that sent Green to Memphis, laughed as reporters swarmed. (Prince hadn't even secured his sneakers from the equipment staff when he started being peppered with questions.)
Prince acknowledged that all options about his future remain on the table but noted that he hadn't engaged in any talks with Ainge about either the possibility of a trade or a buyout after the deadline passes.
"I know the buyout rumors have been out there since I’ve been in a Celtics uniform," said Prince. "I think the most important thing is talking [with Ainge] about the plans the rest of the year, and we will go from there."
Prince raved about the extended in-season vacation the All-Star break offered, including the chance to rest a bothersome hip and spend time at home with his family.
"To be honest with you, I haven't paid attention to anything -- as far as what's going on [with his future] because I'm not too concerned with it," said Prince. "I haven't talked about anything at all. Obviously, like I said before, me and Danny and [Prince's agent] will continue to talk. ... But we haven't had any discussions at this point."
A few seats away, Marcus Thornton brushed off speculation about his future, which could also include a trade to a contender or a potential buyout. "Like I said, I live for today," said Thornton, who stressed before the break that he'd be content to play out the season with Boston.
Brandon Bass, who knows a horde of cameras approaching is rarely good news for him, playfully needled reporters about surrounding him in advance of the deadline. While acknowledging that he has often breathed a sigh of relief when the trade deadline has passed in recent seasons, he understands his place in the rumors, especially as a player with a modest expiring deal who could help a contender.
"It comes with the game; I ain’t mad about [the rumors and speculation]," said Bass. "It's tough. I can't front and say it's not tough. It is what it is."