The events of Thursday were going to define the rest of the season for the Boston Celtics.
Were Danny Ainge & Co. going to enter full fire sale mode, trading off veterans for draft picks and doing anything possible to assure a lottery pick? Or were they going to go for it, bringing in established players who could help the team not only down the road, but over the next few months, as well?
For a while, it looked like neither.
Barely a peep was heard from the Celtics throughout Thursday morning, and there were several suggestions that Ainge, unable to find a trade that fancied him, would push ahead with his current roster and save the dealing for the offseason.
That wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world for these Celtics. Though Boston still was hoping to move Brandon Bass, Marcus Thornton and Tayshaun Prince for the right price, the Celtics already had made nine separate trades since the league year began in July — a full season’s worth for some teams.
But around 2:30 p.m., the NBA trademobile careened right off its metaphorical tracks. Reports of deals began flying in by the second: Reggie Jackson to Detroit, Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City, Kevin Garnett to Minnesota(!), Brandon Knight to Phoenix, Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee.
“All hell broke loose,” a source told the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett. “Teams started making moves, and I think that shook things free for what Boston wanted to do.”
Amid this blizzard of trade activity came the report that the Celtics, believed to be done for the day, had in fact acquired a player they had pined for over the summer: Phoenix Suns point guard Isaiah Thomas. They reportedly agreed to part ways with Thornton and a top-10 protected 2016 draft pick (originally owned by the Cleveland Cavaliers) to do so, and soon after agreed to deal Prince back to the team that drafted him, the Detroit Pistons, in exchange for two expiring contracts.
Ainge said Thursday morning in an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich” that he wants more scoring from his guards (four Boston’s top five scorers are frontcourt players). He gets it with Thomas, who has a higher scoring average (15.2 points per game) and player efficiency rating (19.7) than any Celtics player this season. Plus, the 26-year-old is locked up for another three years, making any free-agency uncertainty a concern for another offseason.
The reported deals also should free up some minutes for James Young — another desire of Ainge’s — as the rookie had been trapped behind Thornton and Prince in Boston’s wing rotation.
But what Thursday’s events most clearly prove is this: The tank is dead. Long live the tank.
With the addition of Thomas and minimal change to the current core, the Celtics put themselves in a favorable position in the battle for the final few playoff spots in the Eastern Conference — a race that now looks much different than it did before the All-Star break.
Ainge might still prefer another lottery finish to the first-round stomping that almost certainly would accompany a postseason berth, but the Celtics now clearly are fighting for the latter, not the former.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images