Danny Ainge is not known to make many mid-season trades, he's usually a busy many in the summer. But as of Monday night, his Celtics have the third-best record in the NBA at 17-5, behind only the Lakers and Bucks. It's safe to say that most shouldn't expect any major moves prior to the February 7 deadline.
NBA TV's Kevin McHale recently praised Boston's current squad but added he felt they still needed another quality big man. Ainge will only trade for a big prior to the deadline if he can do so without giving up any member of his five-man core of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart.
The careers of Brown and Tatum are exploding at the same time after the first 22 games. In previous seasons, they were looked at as mostly scorers, with Brown credited with ample defensive credentials. That has changed this season, as they have evolved into serious rebounding wings, while Tatum has developed into a reliable assist guy and a tough defender.
Let's use Boston's win over the Nuggets last Friday night as a barometer, for it was my first trip of the season to TD Garden and the game ended up being a thriller. The Celtics beat Denver by a solid margin (108-95) against a tough opponent and what got my attention in person was the fact that the team had great body language out there, while everything flowed smoothly. And this happened without Gordon Hayward being back yet.
Hayward is a versatile, mature and seasoned veteran that can be added to any lineup and bring whatever is needed to the mix. That is exactly what he did Monday in the Celtics 110-88 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He had a solid return as a starter and came away with 14 points on 7-of-10 from the field to go along with five rebounds, four assists and a steal - the type of stat line you usually can expect from him so far this season.
The Celtics shot a season-high 57.7% from the field tonight. Hayward played a big part in that, shooting 7-10 from the field.— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) December 10, 2019
How about the play of Brown and Tatum? Or as I like to call them, the "Jay Team" (I will be using the moniker more now since I came up with it more than two years ago), as they combined for 39 points, 18 rebounds and four assists. These two are truly a team within a team. They don't compete with each other - they work in unison. And with Hayward's re-entry to the starting-five, that went seamlessly. And of course Kemba Walker and his usual stat line - 22 points, seven assists, all while hitting 62-percent of his field goals, including 56-percent from 3-point range.
Don't bank on a Kevin Love-for-Gordon Hayward type of deal in the next two months or so. As for the free agent signing this off-season of Enes Kanter, he'll be eligible to be traded as of December 15, but how do you replace his playoff energy and toughness, not to mention his inside scoring and board work.
Daniel Theis has been the Celtics best answer at the five-spot thus far this year. It will take the trade-bargain-of-the-decade to prompt Ainge to make a deal for another big man. But don't discount the possibility of a less-than-major deal totally. We are talking Danny Ainge here, folks.
Photos used are courtesy of Boston Herald