Oh boy, this could get ugly.
With Boston Celtics fans already in an uproar over the team’s downward spiral following a strong 8-3 start, Danny Ainge may have just thrown gasoline on the situation.
During his weekly morning call with “98.5’s Toucher & Rich,” Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, gave a brief but brutally honest answer to the question of whether he thinks this team can win a championship as things currently stand:
“I do not,” said Ainge, surely souring the coffee of Boston diehards. But it may have been his response to another question that ultimately sent mugs flying. Asked if he thinks this team needs more to contend, Ainge replied:
“Yes. Yeah I do.” Cue the sound of porcelain shattering.
To the outside observer, Ainge’s responses could be perceived as properly self-aware — a general manager who knows his team needs to add pieces to better compete. But to many fans and analysts, Ainge’s talk doesn’t seem to square with his walk, and they can’t understand why, if he truly believes the team needs more help, he’s been so reluctant to pull the trigger on trades.
Pragmatic, Not Gun Shy
Indeed, Ainge readily admits to being hesitant on making a move now, but says it has nothing to do with gun shyness:
“Some people think they can make a grocery list and go to the grocery store and pick it up. We are not playing fantasy league, we are dealing with other teams. There’s a lot of good players that you can’t acquire. I hear as I walk down the street from people and friends of mine, ‘Hey, why don’t you try to get so-and-so?’ Uh, well, because they don’t want to give him away. Or because I would have to give up Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and two first-round picks to get him. You know, there’s reasons for every one of the comedy of ideas that people have.”
And while Ainge is certainly justified in wanting to protect some of the pieces already in place, it’s not difficult to understand the frustrations of Celtics fans these days.
Following their impressive start to the season, Boston has gone limp, losing 12 of their last 18 games. Defeats to playoff outsiders Washington, Detroit and, most recently, Atlanta have been particularly galling. At 14-14, the Celtics have dropped to fifth place in the East and are at risk of being passed by surging division rival New York.
All of which makes the Celtics massive $28.5 traded player exception — produced by Gordon Hayward’s sign-and-trade deal to Charlotte this past offseason — that much more of a sticking point. As the Celtics have continued to falter, the din to utilize that weapon sooner than later has risen steadily. (Boston has till the end of November before the TPE expires.)
Let the Smoke Clear
Ainge, of course, is not blind to the team’s slide. “I have this frustration that we are not playing as well as we are, I am not running from anything,” said Ainge. But he doesn’t think it’s time to hit the panic button just yet, preferring instead to get a clearer view before making a decision.
“It is not as simple as we need to make a change, we need to add a center or we need to get a point guard,” said Ainge. “I mean, those things would help us in our objective to win playoff games. But we don’t know exactly who we are yet. We know right now we are 14-14 and we haven’t played very well and we haven’t played consistent.”
Additionally, Ainge pointed to the playoff aspirations of other teams in the league as a reason to hold off on potential trades. Presumably, as the season ages and the smoke clears, the buyers and the sellers will become more evident, adding to the pool of players available.
“I think there is a lot of that going on all around the league,” Ainge said. “I think everybody is still saying, ‘We’re still in it, we’re still in it, we’re still in it.’’
If he does opt to wait, Ainge better hope the right players come available. Otherwise, there’s no telling how broken things could get.