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Why the Celtics’ Lack of Action at the Deadline Made Sense

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The NBA’s trade deadline has come and passed and in typical Danny Ainge fashion, the Celtics didn’t make any moves. It probably shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise, but it’s understandable that people got their hopes up given the fact that we’ve been talking about the “holes” that the Celtics need to fill in their roster ever since they failed to grab a formidable center in the wake of Al Horford’s departure this past summer.

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While the Celtics decided to stand pat at the deadline, two other top teams in the Eastern Conference — Miami and Philadelphia — each made minor moves to try to prep their rosters for a strong close to the regular season and a deep playoff run. For the people who were let down by Ainge’s reluctance to make a move (or are envious of the moves that Miami and Philadelphia made) I’m here to try to make you feel better. ​​

While there were multiple more nuanced reasons for why Boston didn’t make a move, the simplest way to explain it is that they didn’t necessarily need to. 

Since I tweeted the above tweet, some of those numbers have changed, as the Celtics are now 2nd in point differential and net rating rather than 3rd. By all accounts, they’ve been an elite team so far this season and have done it despite not having their full starting lineup healthy at the same time for more than 15 games, and with having their players miss a combined 130 games due to injury this season. If you add up the games missed due to injury for their starters — Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Daniel Theis — plus Marcus Smart, the total is 55 games missed due to injury. And yet, the Celtics just keep winning, and doing so in a variety of fashions whether it’s blowing out teams or gritting out wins in close games like they did on the road in OKC this past weekend.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Celtics season, along with their ability to persevere through injuries, is how they’ve played against the top competition in the league. Check out this graphic posted the other day by Krishna Narsu of Nylon Calculus, which shows the Celtics having the 6th best win percentage against the top-13 teams in the league and the best net rating against said teams by a decent margin. Even more impressive is how the Celtics have played these teams at home –where they should be playing a majority of their games come playoff time if they can keep winning at the rate they are now. No other team comes close to the Celtics nearly +11 net rating at home in these games.

So, I’ve established that the Celtics are really, really good even though they haven’t been at full strength, but that could actually be used to support the argument that they should have made a deadline move, couldn’t it? After all, if they are that good and have the chance to make a Finals run this season, shouldn’t they have gone all in and gotten someone to bolster their bench scoring and solidify their rotation?  

Well, Danny Ainge rebutted that idea himself pretty darn well himself today when joining Toucher and Rich for his weekly radio appearance:

Danny makes an important point here that not many people are thinking about. Come playoff time, the Celtics rotation is going to shrink to 8 players, maybe 9 on some nights. In fact, we’ve already seen it happen in some of their bigger games this season including vs. the Lakers, Heat, Sixers and Thunder in the last few weeks. With their top five guys getting 35+ minutes a night, Theis getting around 25, and Grant — who is slowly but surely becoming a key player on this team — getting around 20 minutes, there’s only about 20-25 minutes leftover for whoever the 8th and 9th guys in the rotation are. Presumably, that would be Enes Kanter and Semi Ojeleye at the moment. 

So with that being laid out, the question becomes: is it worth giving up multiple first round picks and perhaps a young player with lots of potential in Romeo Langford, to upgrade the 8th or 9th guy in the playoff rotation? Even if that upgrade would possibly be heading out the door 4 months from now? It’s pretty hard to justify that it would be worth it when you really break it down like that and think about it. 

While it’s easy to be envious of Miami and Philadelphia for making moves, those teams did it because they NEEDED to. By net rating, there’s a pretty significant gap between teams 1-3 and teams 4-6 in the Eastern Conference. The top 3 teams all kept their current rosters intact, while Miami and Philadelphia decided to make moves and Indiana made an internal deadline addition, if you will, by getting their star player Victor Oladipo back from injury at the start of the month.

As we move on from the trade deadline towards the All-Star break, the Celtics are 20 games above .500 and on a 58 win pace. Instead of calling for the head of the GM who put us in this spot after the miserable season we sat through last year, let’s enjoy the team we have in front of us and all cross our fingers that everyone can get healthy and stay healthy for once by the time April rolls around. 

(Photo: Mary Schwalm/AP Photo)

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