The Celtics are still waiting on the big one.
Boston signed Al Horford this summer, but as good as the All-Star center is, you don't sign him with an eye on winning a championship. It gets you closer, but it doesn't make you a true title contender. With so many assets -- three good-to-great guards in Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, plus the Nets' unprotected first-rounder -- Boston still had the assets to make a deal for a star player.
Problem is, none are available.
Yahoo Sports' Chris Mannix on the Toucher and Rich Show in Boston spoke on the subject of what Boston is looking for and made it clear there's no deal imminent, because no stars are on the market ... yet.
"Unless you're getting exciting for Shabazz Muhammad in Minnesota, there isn't a big name available," Mannix says. He adds that no one is looking to deal a star right now, and that the market won't heat up until closer to the trade deadline.
This is a predictable element in NBA front office mechanics. Executives that have a star player know that the minute they deal that player, their chances of being a good team diminish considerably, and by extension, their odds of retaining their job go down the drain. Very few GMs remain two years after trading the biggest star on the team. So they hold out to the last minute, hoping the market builds on itself and one team gets desperate and makes a ridiculous offer which pushes an even better one from the team that's been after him for so long, and so forth. Delay as long as possible in the hopes a windfall offer comes through.
Except, is this really the best approach?
Think back to when the Jazz traded Deron Williams. That deal came out of nowhere, and landed the Jazz Derrick Favors -- who has turned into one of their best players -- and draft picks that helped them reconfigure long-term. Meanwhile, most teams that drag it out wind up losing value until that player demands out, and you're left trying to get whatever you can back that will salvage things.
The problem with these discussions is the Knicks phenomenon. The Nuggets, with Carmelo Anthony blasting through a microphone on back channels that he wasn't going to re-sign, that he wanted out immediately, and that he wanted to go to New York, still managed to get four starters and picks from the Knicks. Why? Because it's the Knicks, and that's how James Dolan rolls.
So that sets a precedent where now every team is looking for that kind of return. And the Boston Celtics, amazingly, can offer it, because their coffers are so deep. But still, teams will hold out until the last second.
Overall, however, the bigger problem might be a scarcity of such players in toxic situations. Let's set aside Boogie Cousins. That deal has been rumored forever and remains the most likely. The Kings are going to do whatever the Kings are going to do. But John Wall in Washington? Do the Celtics need another point guard, and will Wall help them so much more than Thomas and one of the other guards, at the cost of whatever else they get? The Pelicans seem to be resolute in not trading Anthony Davis. That's out. And then the other stars across the league are on super-teams like the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs who don't need them.
Paul Millsap remains maybe the bail-out option, but he's still on Horford's tier. Boston has put together a lot of assets to make that one big move. Finding it is going to be really difficult but still urgent. Once the summer comes, that Nets pick becomes a player, a tangible personnel piece that comes with definable characteristics (role, skills, fit, attitude) that may or may not vibe with a trading partner. Contracts reduce by a year. Things change. This is a key moment for the Celtics.
For years, the idea has been that the Celtics had a good team that was getting better, and they could make the big move at any point. Now, they've been underwhelming in team performance this season, especially defensively, and time's running out on their ability to swing that deal. On the other hand, Ainge has delivered every time he's needed to, and each decision he's made has improved the team as they've rebuilt in the four years since the end of the Big Three Era.
It's going to be a tense two months until the trade deadline for the Celtics.