Robb: Celtics Will Face Tougher Postseason Challenge After Quiet Trade Deadline

By Brian Robb, CBSBoston.com

BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics have been one of the best teams in the NBA for the past 30-plus games, but their road to challenging for a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs got quite a bit tougher after Thursday’s deadline.

Danny Ainge elected to pass on a number of potential rental pieces in deals, watching from the sidelines as the Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors all bolstered their rotations in the past few days.

The Celtics currently hold the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference by two games over the surging Washington Wizards, who added a key 3-point shooter to their bench in Bojan Bogdanovic for a late first round pick Wednesday. The Atlanta Hawks used a pair of second round picks to land Sixers stretch four Ersan Ilyasova as well, but the biggest moves of the week in the East came from the Toronto Raptors.

GM Masai Ujiri had already brought aboard Serge Ibaka in early February for a first round pick and Terrence Ross. He wasn’t done though on Thursday, adding another versatile wing to the mix in P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns for a pair of second round picks and Jared Sullinger.

The moves around the edges for Boston’s chief competitors below Cleveland changes the dynamic of the East playoff picture. Talent-wise, it’s pretty evident now that the Raptors have the edge over the Celtics from a head-to-head perspective when you add Tucker and Ibaka to a core of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas. The Celtics will surely target frontcourt help via buyouts but no one they land will have near the impact of those two players.

The Raptors had been struggling for the past two months, so they pushed their chips to the middle here a little bit in an attempt to right the ship. With Kevin Love and J.R. Smith on the shelf, they are better prepared than ever to make a run at the East crown if the Cavs wind up shorthanded in the postseason due to injuries.

Danny Ainge, rightly or wrongly, maintained the long view. Without being able to pull off a big move, the C’s elected to pass on using their assets, despite their deep collection of first and second round picks from future seasons.

Brad Stevens clearly likes roster continuity after dealing with countless trade over his first two seasons in Boston and that’s what he’ll get for the second straight season now. It’s hard to argue too much with it given the fact the C’s have won 24 of their last 31 games, but there’s still no denying this roster has holes.

With Ainge not seeing this group as a legitimate contender anyway, the lack of trades may be an afterthought anyway a few months down the line. One thing is clear though: The C’s will have a chance to evaluate the roster quite well the rest of the way and that could come in handy in the summer when the next opportunity arises to make trades.

In the meantime, the C’s odds of making a little bit of noise in the East just took a hit. Just how much remains to be seen. We’ll find out in April and May.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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