Celtics’ Ainge on Deadline: ‘I Live in a Different World Than the World of Twitter’

Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers

Getty Boston's Danny Ainge yuks it up with Doc Rivers

There is probably no one on Earth more aware of the approaching NBA trade deadline than Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. Ever since the Celtics reaped the largest-ever traded player exception last November, $28.5 million, the fervor and speculation surrounding how Boston would employ the bounty has been tremendous. Add to that the fact that this season’s team has thoroughly underperformed, and it’s not hard to imagine that Ainge will be pleased to see the March 25 deadline come and go.

Which is not to say Ainge will be hiding away till then. On the contrary, the former Celtics guard and longtime executive seems more than willing to stoke the flames of anxiety and frustration.

On Thursday morning’s Toucher & Rich radio show, Ainge once again asserted that, short of an ideal scenario materializing within the next two weeks, he is leaning toward holding off on utilizing the TPE before the deadline.

“The biggest factor is, will the deal make a big difference for us not just for the next two months leading up to the playoffs, but is it going to be a game-changer for us going forward,” said Ainge. “And so, like we’ve talked about before, the most likely scenario is in the offseason.” Ainge’s statement echoes those made by Celtics President Wyc Grousbeck in mid-February when he said the team could be better positioned for sustained success by waiting for the offseason when they won’t be constrained by certain salary cap restrictions. (The TPE expires in late November.)

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“I’ve always felt that,” Ainge continued. “Just because we’re hard-capped during this year. And using the full thing on one player would be less likely, but it’s not impossible.”

When host Rich Shertenlieb predicted that Ainge’s comments about waiting would make the heads of Boston fans “explode,” Ainge took the opportunity to set the record straight.

“You guys are living in a world where other teams and agents are filling people’s heads up with rumors about what’s happening — and they’re being used,” Ainge said. “Look, I live in a different world than the world of Twitter, where it’s just ‘Oh the Celtics and the Lakers and the Miami Heat and the Pacers are all trying to get player X’ and it’s not even true. So those are the things that make fans’ heads explode and they’re not even real.”

Failure to Launch

This season’s deadline anxiety is compounded by the fact that Ainge hasn’t made an in-season acquisition since Isaiah Thomas six years ago. When Shertenlieb brought up the notion that the Celtics could have perhaps defeated the Heat in last year’s Conference Finals had they added a piece, Ainge was indignant.

“Ok, so first of all, that’s ridiculous,” responded Ainge. “I didn’t know Gordon Hayward was going to get hurt in the first playoff game. I think we still beat Miami if we’re healthy. But that’s just part of the game. That had nothing to do with the trade deadline or what we were willing to do or not willing to do at the trade deadline. And so that’s not true.

“Second of all,” Ainge continued, “we will do a deal if we think that our team is gonna be better. But we are not going to do a deal that is too expensive and a Band-Aid for the here and now or will jeopardize anything to do with our young core at this moment.”

In addition to preserving Boston’s young core, Ainge seems intent on only making a big acquisition that will fit beyond this season and is therefore averse to bringing on a player with an expiring contract unless he’s certain they’ll resign — a tough call given the money many teams will have at their disposal this offseason.

“There may be more free-agent money than there’s been maybe ever,” explained Ainge. “And the free-agent list…most of the significant players have signed contract extensions leading into this summer. There’s more out there than there are quality players, so there’s probably gonna be a lot of money spent and overspent on a lot of free agents. That makes it less likely [we’ll] be able to resign players at a fair value.”

Different Ways to Get Better

Another contentious part of the interview came when Shertenlieb suggested some fans could perceive inaction as a sign Ainge has given up on the season, especially since he recently said he didn’t think this team was championship caliber.

“Like I’ve shared with you before, I didn’t believe we could win a championship in 2010,” said Ainge, clarifying that he believed they could win at the beginning of the season, but after going 27-27 in the final 54 games, he wasn’t so sure. “How many people in the media and the fans of Boston do you think, just logically, were really believing that we could win the championship [by the end of the regular season]?” The Celts lost in the Finals in seven to the Lakers.

The hosts pushed back, claiming that the losses were just a consequence of “taking their foot off the pedal” and that “everybody” still thought they could win (including Vegas). But Ainge eventually pivoted to why he thinks the team could get better even without adding a marquee name to the roster.

“I think that there are different ways to get better, too,” said Ainge. “Sometimes you make a trade to free up an opportunity for another player to play. And that player is more than anybody thought.” Who those players could be for the Celtics, though, are still up in the air.

“I’m still trying to figure out who this team this year is because we have yet to play our team [fully intact],” Ainge said. “And I’m not saying all 17 roster spots, I’m saying just our starting five for more than 20 minutes on the season. So hopefully we’ll get a better feel over the next couple weeks on who we are.”

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