Standing pat at trade deadline has come back to haunt Celtics


The Boston Celtics came into these NBA playoffs with grandiose dreams. Having earned a No. 1 seed for the first time in nine years, the Celtics expected to make a deep postseason run, potentially even challenging LeBron James, their old nemesis, in the Eastern Conference finals. 

Instead, through two games of their best-of-seven, first-round series against the Chicago Bulls, the Celtics look like a paper tiger, incapable of advancing at all. 

As the trade deadline came and went in February, Boston's competition at the top of the Eastern Conference all made moves to improve. The Toronto Raptors traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, adding toughness, defensive versatility and depth. The Washington Wizards traded for Bojan Bogdanovic and signed Brandon Jennings on the buyout market to fortify a bench that had been lacking. The Cleveland Cavaliers snagged Deron Williams.

Boston, on the other hand, stood pat. It watched DeMarcus Cousins get traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for what was roundly considered a below market offer, but didn't make a move for him. The Celtics dabbled in talks with the Indiana Pacers for Paul George and, ironically, the Bulls on Jimmy Butler, but opted not to make a deal for either. 

The Celtics weren't limited to shopping at the top of the market, though. They could've gotten Ibaka or Taj Gibson, two forwards that would've been massive upgrades on Amir Johnson and helped solve Boston's rebounding issues. They didn't pay up to get a player such as Lou Williams, a proven bench scorer that would've helped Boston survive when Isaiah Thomas isn't on the floor. 

No, the Celtics chose to be content with having two of Brooklyn's upcoming first round picks - including a guaranteed top four pick in this year's draft - as well as future picks from the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers in 2019, a combined total of five first rounders over the next three seasons along with plenty of cap space to chase more help this summer. 

Not moving any of their picks or young players at the deadline was a reasonable decision, and at the time a defensible one. But Thomas himself told The Post after the deadline he'd expected his front office to improve the team. 

"I don't know what they're doing, but I trust them," Thomas said. "I thought we would make a move, be it a big one or a small one. 

"But when we didn't I wasn't upset. I wasn't upset at all. I know what's at stake, I know we have a lot of things we can move around and things like that, but I wasn't really paying too much attention to it. 

"That's their job, and I know they're really good at it." 

Boston either believing its roster was better than it was, or accepted that a move wasn't going to make enough of a difference. 

Whatever the reason, it's become abundantly clear that the Celtics' current makeup isn't good enough to make any kind of impact in the Eastern Conference - let alone being a legitimate challenger to represent the East in the NBA Finals. 

Boston lacks a second scorer behind Thomas, a problem that has reared its head in both Games 1 and 2. Thomas - playing through the devastating loss of his sister, Chyna, in a tragic car accident over the weekend - was terrific in Game 1, scoring 33 points, but scored only 20 points in Game 2. But no other Celtic scored 20 points in either of the first two games.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have turned Bulls center Robin Lopez into the second coming of Wilt Chamberlain; Lopez has 13 offensive rebounds through the first two games to spearhead a dominant Bulls effort inside. Boston has struggled to control the boards all season, and it's one of the reasons the Celtics may go home for the summer earlier than anyone expected. 

If Boston gets some lottery luck, would Thomas be placed on the trading block with a year to go before free agency and the prospect of a contract of nearly $200 million? Will the Celtics re-sign Kelly Olynyk, or extend Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley? Will there be a pivot to a youth movement, or a pushing of the chips in for the kind of game-changing talent this series has proven the Celtics don't have at their disposal? 

These were always going to be questions, but the Celtics didn't anticipate having to answer them so soon.


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