When Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stood pat at this season’s NBA trade deadline, many (including us) scratched their heads. This is an exciting young team with a chance to make some noise in the postseason, so why not do at least something to improve its lot?
Allow LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to explain why.
The Cavs trounced the Celtics in their own building Wednesday night, cruising to a 117-104 win at TD Garden in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Cleveland never trailed in the game and, for the most part, wasn’t remotely challenged. James operated at will against the seven(!) different Celtics who tried to defend him, Tristan Thompson dominated the boards and Kevin Love added a casual 32 points.
In short: Boston didn’t stand a chance in this game. Barring any freak injuries, the C’s don’t stand a chance in this series, as Wednesday night proved just how wide a gap there is between the Cavs and their Eastern Conference competitors.
Would adding a big man like Andrew Bogut or a rebounding forward like Serge Ibaka or P.J. Tucker back in February have made the Celtics a better team? Sure. Maybe Boston would have won a few more regular season games, and maybe it would have couple contests off Cleveland to make this current series interesting. But Wednesday’s game was a loud reminder of the Celtics’ need to add more than just role players to compete with the kings of the East.
Of course, that’s not to say Ainge and Co. are in a bad spot. The C’s are the first team since the 1982 Los Angeles Lakers to own the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft as a No. 1 seed in its conference the previous season. Boston could use that pick to draft a potentially franchise-altering guard like Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, or use it as trade bait to go after a star like Jimmy Butler or Paul George. The Celtics also have ample cap room to pursue a talented free agent like Gordon Hayward this summer.
But if the rest of this Celtics-Cavs series plays out as expected and Cleveland rolls to a four-game sweep, that’s a pretty good indication Boston might be better off taking the long approach. There are no signs of James and the Cavs slowing down anytime soon, and it’s unclear if even adding an All-Star like Butler or George would be enough to put the C’s over the hump against Cleveland. That means Boston, which also owns the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick, might do well to use those draft picks to keep building a club that could be very, very good in a few years as James starts to decline.
The future still looks very bright in Boston. But James and Co. are making it abundantly clear that they still own the present.
Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images