By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics won four straight heading into the NBA All-Star break, instilling a sense of hope that maybe — just maybe — the team was turning things around. That turned out to be false hope though, as Boston has dropped six of eight since returning from the break.

The Celtics now sit at 21-23 on the season, currently qualifying for the NBA’s postseason play-in round. It’s nowhere near where Boston was expected to be this far into the season, and the team has looked lifeless for large stretches of the season.

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No one really looks or sounds like they’re enjoying themselves this season, and their play reflects that. Defense was the name of Boston’s game for the last handful of seasons, but the Celtics are now in the bottom of the league in defensive rating. It’s all extremely disconcerting for a team that had such a bright future just one season ago.

With his team in need of a jolt, Danny Ainge went out and traded for Magic swingman Evan Fournier on Thursday. He used part of the team’s massive TPE from the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade to acquire Fournier, who will be a free agent after the season. While Ainge has intentions to bring Fournier back this summer, he had previously said that he would likely use the TPE this offseason and not on a rental player at the deadline.

So why did Ainge pull a 180 with those TPE intentions? He explained Friday that he’s felt a sense of “discouragement” with the team, and wanted to add a solid vet who can hit some shots to inspire some hope.

“This is a team I put together so I am responsible for it. I think that you talked about patience, and I think I am very, very patient. I think there’s a time to overreact, but I didn’t feel pressure to do any of these things. I feel that this is a deal I would have done at any time over the last few years, probably, with this opportunity,” he said. “But I guess the greatest pressure is just that I want our players to feel hope. I want our coach to feel hope. I sense some discouragement internally with our guys, so that was one reason why we did something now as opposed to waiting down the road.”

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Ainge has been around the team a lot more this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so he has a much better grasp of things internally on a day-to-day basis.

“I talk to Brad [Stevens] mostly every day. I talk to the players. I’m around the team, in the locker rooms, and I can just sense a feeling of discouragement and frustration, like what would happen with any team that’s playing below what it feels they can play,” he explained. “So it’s not any one incident or any one personality, but there’s a difference when things are going really well and when things aren’t.

“I know guys are trying,” he continued. “My coaching staff works relentlessly and our players are in working every day, putting in the time and going through stretches of real optimism and hope. And I can see it in their play. But when you’re not living up to your expectations, the opportunity for discouragement and frustration creeps in and I think that happens with every team. It’s happened with every team I’ve been associated with.”

Ainge’s hope is that Fournier, who knocked down 46 percent of his shots and averaged 20 points per game for Orlando, will give the team that much needed jolt. And though Fournier will hit the open market this offseason, he didn’t use a chunk of that TPE in anticipation the swingman would only be in a Celtics uniform for a few months.

“When we acquired Evan, we didn’t acquire him with the idea that he’s going to be with us for just this year,” said Ainge. “We acquired him with the idea that he potentially could be here for a long time.

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“I thought that this opportunity was unique and to add a player of his caliber; we’ve talked often about shooting with size, here’s a 6-7 kid that is a good shooter, is a good playmaker who can handle the ball. Just another creator for us,” added Ainge. “He’s a very consistent player and we’re excited to add him. I think it is a good use of our TPE.” Staff