Danny Ainge admitted back in January the Boston Celtics considered trading for James Harden, only to decide against it once the Houston Rockets stuck to their “really high” asking price.
Fair enough. Although a new report from The Athletic’s Sam Amick suggests the Celtics president of basketball operations might be downplaying Boston’s pursuit of the 2018 NBA MVP, who ultimately landed with the Brooklyn Nets.
Sources told Amick, who explored the Celtics’ potential trade deadline plans in a piece published Wednesday, that Boston’s “level of interest and involvement” in the Harden sweepstakes “far surpassed what Ainge was willing to admit to when he addressed it publicly.”
This doesn’t mean the Celtics were on the cusp of acquiring Harden, 31, who’s now teaming with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin, among others, in Brooklyn. Amick added a trade likely would have required Boston to part ways with Jaylen Brown, a scenario that’s hard to envision as the Celtics look to build around Brown, 24, and Jayson Tatum, 23.
But it’s a notable nugget with Brad Stevens’ team stumbling through the 2020-21 NBA campaign. The Celtics closed out the first half on a high note, winning their final four games before the All-Star break, but they still sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 19-17 record. The Nets (24-13), meanwhile, trail only the Philadelphia 76ers and look like legitimate NBA Finals contenders.
“We had numerous talks, but the price really wasn’t changing. The price was really high for us. It was just something we didn’t want to do,” Ainge said in January during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub?s “Toucher & Rich” after the Rockets traded Harden to the Nets in a four-team blockbuster. ” ? Even the people within our organization that respected him and wanted him more — I think unanimously we decided it wasn’t the time for us and it wasn’t the price.”
It’s been reported that Houston’s asking price in talks with Boston included Brown, Marcus Smart and draft compensation, making it easy to see why Ainge balked at the possibility of adding one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history.
But if Amick’s report Wednesday is accurate, and the Celtics had genuine interest in trading for Harden, it’s fair to wonder what kind of package Ainge would have been willing to part with in a deal for the nine-time All-Star.