By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Each of the previous five NBA Trade Deadlines have come and gone without Danny Ainge making a move. That cannot happen this year.READ MORE: Boston Bullies: Celtics' 31-3 Run Ends Nuggets' Win Streak
The Celtics are at a crossroads right now, sitting at 21-23 on the season and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They’ve underachieved in just about every way possible as they’ve stumbled to that sub-.500 record, and are staring the NBA’s new play-in round in the face.
Yet, because of the garbage heap that is the East, Boston is also just 1.5 games back of fourth in the conference. The Celtics could be just one solid stretch away from hosting a playoff round. Wild.
But there is no reason to believe that this group can go on such a run. There’s no reason to believe that something will just click at some point over the last 28 games and Boston will rev its engines to the top half of the conference.
The Celtics need help, and Ainge needs to give it to them at the deadline. At least that’s what he has to do if he believes in this team.
Ainge has likely come to his decision already, but this deadline boils down to whether or not the Celtics are buyers or sellers. If Ainge is a buyer, the very least he has to do is add some depth to this team. Consolidate bottom parts or low picks for something that will help. If Ainge goes the seller route, turns some pieces into picks — future assets to use in future moves.READ MORE: J.D. Martinez Comes Off COVID list, Hits 3 HRs As Red Sox Top O's
The one thing Ainge cannot do is do nothing. This cannot be a repeat of the last five deadlines. Danny has to do something.
If Ainge has faith in this squad, he needs to go out and add a big wing. Maybe even a depth point guard, someone who can start when Kemba Walker can’t go on back-to-backs. He’s got that giant TPE and some decent assets to potentially snag Aaron Gordon or Harrison Barnes, both of whom would be an ideal add to take some pressure off Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers are both in on Gordon as well, and could offer a lot more than Boston, while the Kings have been reluctant to deal Barnes. Adding Marcus Smart to potential deals may be the only way to get to the finish line. Dealing Smart has long been considered a giant no-no that would lead to riots on Causeway Street, but for a team in need of an DNA shakeup, dealing Smart would certainly send shockwaves throughout the Boston locker room.
Adding to the team may devolve into into adding good but not great contributors, something along the lines of Detroit sharpshooter Wayne Ellington. It won’t move the needle, it won’t turn the team into overnight contenders, but it could help enough to make them competitive again.
If Ainge has no faith, like the growing majority, then it’s time to sell some pieces before losing them for nothing. Far too many players have left Boston the last four years and the Celtics have gotten nothing in return because of Ainge’s reluctance to do any deals. Tatum and Brown aren’t going anywhere, but just about everyone else should be on the table. (That holds true whether the Celtics are buyers or sellers.) With Robert Williams emerging as an impact player and earning more playing time, one of Daniel Theis or Tristan Thompson should be moved before 3 p.m., whether it’s to add help or subtract a road block for Williams.
What is clear from this season is the Celtics are nowhere near good enough. They have excuses at every turn, but these excuses are the same issues that all teams in the NBA are dealing with. The Celtics have lost too many games to bad teams to blame it all on this unique and unprecedented season. There is an effort and a heart issue on this team, and that is why they are sitting in the hole they’re currently in.
Wednesday night’s near comeback against the Bucks was a perfect summation of the team; they put their backs against the wall and start fighting when it’s too late. It seems like that is how the rest of the season could play out. Maybe Boston goes on a run within the next month to get back to respectability, but in the end, they don’t have enough to compete with the Bucks, Nets or 76ers.MORE NEWS: Red Sox Extend Win Streak To 5, Beat Orioles 6-4 in 10
It’s a terrible middle ground to be in, and Danny Ainge has some tough decisions to make, both Thursday and in the offseason. But no matter which way you cut it, there is no excuse for Ainge doing nothing at this year’s deadline.