We wrap up our 14-part Celtics Summer Forecast series by asking our panel the question they probably hear most: Will the Celtics make a big move during the 2015-16 season?
There's simmering excitement in these parts about the Boston Celtics and the strides already made in the Brad Stevens Era. But, as has been stressed throughout this series, the ultimate goal for a team that plays beneath 17 championship banners is always going to be to add to that collection of ceiling decorations.
The 2014-15 Celtics were a lovable batch of overachievers. Observers marveled that, still in the thick of a rebuilding process that saw the team carry 41 different roster players while making 11 trades, the Celtics were one of the most successful teams in the Eastern Conference during the second half of the year.
But now most Celtics fans want more. They want this team to take the next step in its progression and return to legitimate contender status. In order to do that, it likely needs more top-level talent on the roster. Celtics fans hope the team can develop those sort of impact players in the likes of Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas, but they also recognize that the next true star is more likely to arrive via trade.
After a relatively quiet offseason in which the team made small upgrades to improve its versatility and depth, will that big splash happen in-season?
Watching our panel return their ballots, we were surprised to see the first eight respondents all voted "Yes" to this question. It balanced out a bit when the next four checked in with a "No" vote. Still, 64.3 percent of our panel believes the Celtics will make a big in-season move.
This writer isn't sold that a big deal is likely, if only because of how difficult it is to find a trade partner (and then you add in the additional obstacles with any in-season deal given roster clutter and cap constraints).
And yet we can't shake what Ainge has repeated so often: That Boston wants to "stay in the game" and be ready to pounce should a superstar talent become available. What works in Boston's favor is it's ability to immediately offer a seller an enticing package of draft picks, young talent and expiring contracts should an opportunity arise.
Back in May, Ainge noted: "An example of [staying in the game] would be, when [Kevin Garnett] and Ray [Allen] became available to us, we were in the game, and we had an opportunity to do something quick and something special. When James Harden became available, we weren't. We didn't have the assets, we didn't have the opportunity to get in that game. So just because we have assets, just because we have young players, just because we have draft picks and we have cap space, it means that if there's one of those situations that becomes available, it just means that we have an opportunity. It doesn't mean that there's any guarantee that something like that will happen. So we want to stay in the game until we can do something significant."
If no deal ultimately materializes this summer, it won't be for a lack of effort or desire. Ainge has been relentless in his pursuit of the team's next star, but he's pledged to also be patient and diligent. The rising cap and the fact that many other teams will have copious cap space next season to attract any available stars might make Ainge a bit more eager this season, but he can't lose his poise. Teams are going to demand a ransom knowing the size of Boston's wallet and Ainge must find the right deal at the right price.
And that might ultimately mean remaining as patient as he's been to this point.
Jay King, MassLive.com (No)
I lean toward no because, as the Celtics have learned the last couple of years, it's easier to dream about big moves than to execute them. If this year is different, it could be because Ainge has bigger chips -- Brooklyn's unprotected 2016 pick could be great, and the Dallas pick (which Boston owns as long as it falls outside of the top seven this year) might also land in the lottery. That's some powerful ammunition for Ainge, who should at least monitor situations like that of DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento.
Brian Robb CelticsHub (No)
With a skyrocketing salary cap number waiting for teams in the summer of 2016, I think it will make those squads less inclined to make "big" moves, especially for the assets Boston has to offer. Ainge will do his due diligence -- as always -- but the expiring contracts he has loaded won't be worth as much when most franchises already have cap space coming next summer. I believe it's more probable that Ainge pulls off a big deal around the 2016 NBA Draft, using a combination of draft picks and the team's unique non-guaranteed deals for next season.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Yes)
Ainge’s asset stockpile is hitting its peak value this year. The biggest needle-mover for a big trade will be the Nets’ start to the season. If teams like Sacramento smell blood in the water flowing out of the East River, they may see the Nets pick as a centerpiece for a fresh start with Cousins going the other way. But unless the Celtics’ young prospects -- especially Jared Sullinger -- make notable progress, Ainge won’t sniff a deal for a franchise cornerstone. As much as everyone loves a good player on a reasonable contract, the Celtics need to offer premier young talent and high picks to draw trade interest ahead of the cap explosion.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Yes)
You can't convince me that the Celtics will not make a big trade. Obviously, it takes two to tango and I was convinced at the draft this year that they'd make a deal and it didn't happen. So what do I know? But I think that Ainge has the motivation and ammunition to make a big move. All he needs is a dance partner. Once the season starts and teams find out that their best laid plans have gone askew, we'll see some teams more willing to make a move ... I hope.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (No)
With the salary cap increasing next summer, I don’t see a lot of GMs making seismic changes in-season. They’ll wait instead until the 2016 shopping spree. Ainge will be primed to make another Isaiah Thomas-sized move at the deadline (think DeMar DeRozan or Chandler Parsons), but don’t expect Kevin Durant or Cousins to walk through that door. Middling teams in the East will turn into buyers in an effort to keep up with Cleveland while teams just outside of the West playoff picture will start to sell.
Ben Mark, Red's Army (Yes)
Let's call it a medium-sized trade to improve the roster for a playoff push. If Brooklyn and/or Dallas are floundering and the Celtics are in the thick of a playoff race, then Boston will be positioned well as buyers at the trade deadline with flexibility to dangle one of three potential first-round picks as bait. I don't know if it will be a "big" move because it really depends on who is made available, but nothing can be counted out with Trader Danny at the controls.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Yes)
I'm going against the odds here. There is no rational reason why a deal would happen. Few star players want out of their current situations, and no team is cash strapped with a $90 million salary cap around the corner. However, after years of teams tanking, not everyone will be able to turn it around. Some teams will be forced to hit the reset button and Ainge will be there -- waiting with draft picks and young players in hand -- and ready to pounce.
John Karalis, Red's Army (Yes)
Will the sun rise during the 2015-16 season? Man, I hope so. Then we'll see the crazy ways Ainge has adjusted this roster. I don't know what it will be, but there's now way this Celtics team doesn't make noise this season.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (No)
There are three reasons why I don't envision a major trade mid-season: First, I expect the Celtics to be pretty good, with team chemistry being a significant factor. Ainge won't be afraid to break it up to play for the future, but he won't be intent on doing so either. Which leads to my second point: The Celtics appear to be putting all of their eggs in the tons-of-cap-room-next-summer basket. Boston is only committed to five players beyond this season and Ainge will want to hang on to that flexibility. Finally, big in-season trades just don't happen that often.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Yes)
Ainge has a history of making recent big in-season moves (Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green; Rajon Rondo for Jae Crowder; spare parts for Isaiah Thomas), so there’s no reason to think he won’t this year. That’s especially true since: a) Danny still has plenty of assets and flexibility, and b) He learned the hard way how reluctant some team execs are to trade on draft night (see also: Jordan, Michael). If the Celtics seem ready to make noise in the postseason, Ainge should be extra motivated to upgrade the roster.
Paul Colahan, CelticsLife (Yes)
The Celtics' biggest asset going forward is its stash of draft picks. We think. Ainge has to be thoroughly confused after offering a rumored six draft picks to the Hornets only to have them hang up the phone and draft Frank Kaminsky. That's a pretty clear message that future picks dilute in value on draft night. Look for the Celtics to again be active in December and January when teams haven't given their hearts to any prospective draft candidates and have a more realistic idea of their team needs than they do over the summer.
Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (Yes)
Ainge is on a mission to capitalize on all the assets he’s collected. The Nets' picks are looking more enticing than ever now and could be a trade chip that puts a big move over the top. The move will be close to or after Christmas. Lately, trades have been happening earlier in the season rather than at the deadline, so look for the Celtics to make a big move right around Christmas.
Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (Yes)
Ainge will continue to push the envelope as far as potential deals go. But with an exploding salary cap and teams unwilling to trade elite talent, Ainge will struggle to complete a blockbuster deal. He will, however, continue to scour the NBA for bargains, completing a number of solid trades throughout the season. Brad Stevens will also be seeking more stability from his roster after last season’s roster overhaul. The Celtics will be primed and ready to go next summer with an overabundant amount of salary cap space, too. Expect a big deal then.