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Danny Ainge Has Done It Again

Liam McKeone
Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge / Tim Bradbury/Getty Images
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When one hears the phrase, "So-and-so has done it again," the connotation is usually positive. Especially in sports. LeBron James or Tom Brady wins another title? They've done it again. Odell Beckham Jr. makes a physics-defying catch? He's done it again. Damian Lillard hits a step-back game-winner from 35 feet in a playoff series? He's done it again!

That is not what I mean by this headline. I mean it in the worst way possible, as negative a connotation you can imagine. Danny Ainge has done it again, and by "it" I mean Danny Ainge embarked upon yet another trade deadline with a laundry list of needs and assets to offer and walked away nearly empty-handed.

Ainge did solve one problem by acquiring Evan Fournier from the Orlando Magic for two-second round picks. Fournier brings shooting and scoring to a bench that desperately needs it. Two second-round picks is very little to sacrifice for the value that Fournier will bring the second unit. However, in trading only draft picks for the shooting guard, Ainge sacrificed $17 million of the $28 million trade exception the Celtics received in the Gordon Hayward trade.

That exception would have permitted Boston to trade for another player with a massive salary, and those types of players are usually rather good! There is zero guarantee the team would have had the opportunity to trade for such a player, but keeping it open gave the team options. Now that's out the window, so the Fournier addition is essentially a wash in terms of positives and negatives, especially when you remember Fournier is an unrestricted free agent after this year.

Other than that, Ainge did nothing. He had a bench full of former first-round picks to dangle. The only player off the table outside the starting lineup was Robert Williams. I will admit that Grant Williams or Semi Ojeyele or Romeo Langford or Aaron Nesmith are not particularly attractive prospects on their own. But the Celtics also had all of their first-round picks to offer in addition to the young prospects. Combining any of those assets together is not the most attractive trade package around, but it should have been enough to fix Boston's biggest issues-- another ballhandler on the wing and shooting from the bench.

And in terms of net impact, Ainge did zip with all that. Nada. Zero. I'm sure we'll hear tomorrow about how "close" he was to a trade, a line so often spoken that it's become the NBA's favorite running joke. Trading for Fournier was supposed to be the first in many moves of the day because he solves exactly one of the numerous problems on this roster and his salary brought the organization over the luxury tax. Only teams who believe they can win a championship are willing to pay the tax for going over the cap. The Warriors did it in their dynasty days, as did the Heat, and so did the Celtics back in 2008.

So, from the outside, trading for Fournier on the morning of the deadline seemed to indicate that the ownership and front office believes that, despite the immense struggles and disappointments the 2020-21 season has brought to the greater New England area, that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can lead the team to a ring this year. Which would therefore signify Ainge was going to bring in some more help, because Fournier isn't an all-encompassing problem solver. Right?

Wrong! Ainge was either unable or unwilling to convince teams that a package of Celtics' young players and draft picks was worth giving up a contributor for. No trade of any size was made in the hours after the Fournier trade. Boston wasn't in the running to acquire a fringe piece like a George Hill-type or another massive addition like the Aaron Gordon trade.

And, listen, I know that happens. I wasn't in the room for the negotiations. For all I know, Ainge threw the kitchen sink at anyone who would take his calls. I probably would have cooled off after a little while because, as frustrating as it is to see your team fail to do anything of note during the last possible chance to improve the unit in a given season, things don't always work out.

But then Ainge traded Daniel Theis to the Chicago Bulls for Moe Wagner right at the deadline buzzer. Specifically for the purpose of getting under the tax. Which the Celtics were over because they traded for an impending free agent in Fournier. Theis is not as good as Bam Adebayo, like that one anonymous scout claimed ahead of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals. But he is definitely a good defender, always in the right spot and owning a jumper just good enough that opposing defenses need to pay attention when he launches from deep. He's a replacement-level starting center at worst and important part of a great defense at best -- just as he was over the last two years in Boston! And he was traded. For Moe Wagner. He who averages 15 minutes per game as a "stretch" forward who shoots 31 percent from three.

The Celtics had to do it in order to duck the luxury tax penalty this year. That is an acceptable move if ownership does not believe this team is going anywhere, and considering they're under .500 and have looked awful more often than not lately, I wouldn't blame them. But if that was the plan, if that was the view held by everyone in charge at TD Garden, why trade for Fournier? He's an unrestricted free agent this summer and Boston will have to pony up to keep him, sending them soaring into the tax they desperately tried to avoid earlier this afternoon.

Theis was also a free agent this offseason, but he would have been easier to keep than Fournier will be. If they don't keep Fournier, they burned draft picks and (more importantly) most of the biggest trade exception in league history for a guy who will be the difference between an eight and a six seed in the playoffs. I would not define that as an optimal use of the resources available.

In the big picture, it doesn't seem like the worst day. The Celtics needed shooting and bench support far more than they needed a steady hand at center with Robert Williams finally coming into his own this year. But Fournier doesn't move the needle enough to justify using most of the trade exception and forcing the team's hand by trading Theis. It makes no sense. It sure looks like Ainge came into the day, got the guy he thought would be the first domino, realized that no other dominos were available to fall (or weren't going to fall for him) and was forced to trade a good player to keep his bosses happy.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is bad. So there you have it. Danny Ainge has done it again.

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