Commentary

At deadline, Celtics in a bind

Danny Ainge may have to sacrifice the future for this championship run

Updated: February 23, 2011, 5:48 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

The Celtics need additional bodies. Their roster is maxed out at 15 players. Something has to give.

But the question as the clock ticks toward Thursday's 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline is what is Boston willing to give up? Is it worth cutting ties with a young player with potential in order to land a much-needed backup? Is it better to wait until after the smoke clears and examine what remains in the rubble, then determine if it's better than what you've currently got?

There are no simple answers, but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge must operate with one simple fact in mind: Boston has a team built for a run at an NBA title and these chances, while bountiful in recent seasons, are never guaranteed. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a bit of the future to take advantage of what you currently have.

To be sure, the Celtics never quite imagined themselves in this position. After falling in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Boston learned its lesson about the necessity of depth and spent the offseason beefing up in areas it felt it needed additional support.

[+] EnlargeSemih Erden
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesSemih Erden has shown huge potential for the future, but the Celtics want to win now.

In the process, they filled their cup to max capacity. That was fine then because, as Ainge maintained straight through January, the Celtics were content to navigate the NBA season with the 15-man roster it carried out of training camp.

Yes, there were minor concerns about that, especially given the health woes of veteran big men like Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal, two of those players added for frontcourt depth. But Boston held out hope that it would be healthy when it mattered most and it would simply have to endure patches of turbulence during the regular season.

Suddenly, Shaq's Achilles isn't healing as quickly as the team envisioned; Jermaine O'Neal reversed course and settled for left knee surgery that is likely to sideline him until early April; and, most excruciating of all, Marquis Daniels endured a bruised spinal cord against the Orlando Magic in early February, leaving his entire future uncertain (and Boston's hands tied in the process).

Celtics coach Doc Rivers openly acknowledges that his team has been playing recent stretches without a backup center (rookie Semih Erden returned Tuesday after a four-game absence to rest a right adductor strain) and without a backup swingman (before his injury, Daniels had played in all but one game, masking Boston's thin depth behind Paul Pierce).

Rivers is adamant the Celtics need at least one more body, preferably a wing. Ainge acknowledges that's in the best interest of his team, but also doesn't have much in terms of flexibility.

That hasn't stopped Ainge from aggressively attacking the trade deadline, inquiring about players like Cleveland's Anthony Parker and Houston's Shane Battier despite the fact that -- on the surface -- Boston doesn't have an easy way to broker such deals.

But Ainge's strategy seems pretty clear: There's likely going to be something on the scrap heap that might qualify as a minor upgrade, so why not approach the trade deadline with the idea of hauling in something that would constitute a significant improvement?

So what can/should/will the Celtics do before Thursday? Here's a handful of options:

1. Nothing: It's an unlikely scenario, but if Boston can't find anything worthwhile on the trade market (at least given the commodities it has available), it can shrug its shoulders, resign to check the waiver wire, and press on with its current troops (and accompanying MASH unit). The potential for the Celtics to sign a player (and waive one of their own) always exists in the days that follow Thursday's deadline.

2. Trade Nate Robinson: In a way, it'd be admitting defeat. The Celtics recruited Robinson a year ago at the deadline, shaking up their team chemistry in hopes that he could provide the offensive spark that Eddie House had lost. After a brief honeymoon period, Robinson faded to the end of Rivers' rotation until the NBA Finals. Boston decided to bring Robinson back, hoping that a full offseason in Boston's system would lead to consistency. That hasn't happened.

Outside of some truly impressive play as a starter in place of Rajon Rondo, Robinson has remained inconsistent off the bench and his shot selection has grown increasingly frustrating. If the Celtics could find a team to take his contract (two years, $8.7 million) -- maybe sprinkling in their first-round draft pick next season (as low as that might be given their success) -- perhaps they'd land a quality veteran swingman (or additional frontcourt depth that might allow other moves).

The concern: Can Delonte West stay healthy and provide depth at both guard spots? Would Robinson finally flourish with West back in the lineup?

3. Trade Semih Erden or Avery Bradley: (Gasp.) Not the rookies! As Rivers loves to note, everyone loves a backup quarterback. The Celtics no doubt see the potential in the likes of Erden and Bradley, but let's bottom-line it: If these two are on the court in the postseason, Boston has issues. They might be key members of playoff teams down the road, but neither should crack Boston's eight-man rotation this May.

So if Boston can land a backup swingman who can handle Daniels' role -- should Daniels be unable to return this season -- and it comes at the cost of a young player, Boston has to do it.

Here's an awful example because it's comparing a completely different level of player/draft pick, but the Celtics must look at it this way: Ray Allen for Jeff Green. Will Boston fans wonder what could have been every time Green visits the Garden? Sure. Would they give back Banner 17 to have him, even if Allen accomplished nothing more than winning that title in Boston? Of course not.

Ainge must be protective of the future, but not at the risk of letting a potential title slip away. At the end of the day, this is what the Celtics are playing for.

4. Buy out Marquis Daniels: Ainge doesn't hide from the fact that Daniels has been a key member of Boston's team the past two seasons. And removing him from this roster because of a freak injury seems heartless. But this is a heartless league. The Celtics absolutely don't want to travel this road. If the NBA had a disabled list, it'd be much easier to stick Daniels there for the remainder of the season and let him be part of the ride from the periphery.

But 15 spots are 15 spots. And right now, Boston needs every one of them.

It's ironic to think back to last season, when the Celtics found themselves with two open roster spots on the final day of the regular season and were able to sign Tony Gaffney and Oliver Lafayette with the idea of them competing for a roster spot for the 2010-11 club. Such a luxury now would negate many of their troubles.

Regardless, the Celtics must find a way out of this bind. There is no simple solution. Something has to give soon. And Boston doesn't want it to be its championship aspirations.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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