Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge said the idea behind the team’s moves before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, namely acquiring Evan Fournier in a deal with the Orlando Magic, was to give a team in need of confidence a reason to be a little optimistic.
I talk to [coach Brad Stevens] almost every day. I’ll talk to the players. I’m around the team, in the locker room, and I can just feel a sense of frustration and disappointment, like any team that feels like they’re playing below their ability, AJ said Friday morning. So it’s not about one incident or one personality, but there’s a difference when things go really well and when they don’t.
But if you don’t meet expectations, there’s a chance for disappointment and frustration, and I think that happens on every team. It’s happened to every team I’ve worked with. So there’s optimism, and we get our team together, we have crew meetings and shoot meetings, and we rotate a little bit, but we’re not able to keep up.
I just hope that the addition of another experienced player, who is a versatile shooter with size and versatility, will give us a boost.
The Celtics, who play the Bucks on Friday night in Milwaukee, are certainly a team that needs to be rebuilt. Boston is just 21-23 this season and eighth in the Eastern Conference standings – well below the standard set by Boston the past two seasons, when it consistently finished fourth and reached the Eastern Conference finals in three of the past four years.
This year, however, the group is not as tight-knit after losing Gordon Hayward in free agency, a move that came after Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Marcus Morris went for nothing in the preseason. However, Heyward’s departure left Boston with a $28 million trade exception, which the Celtics used to get Fournier from the Magic in exchange for Jeff Teague and a pair of reps.
Fornier, 28, is averaging 19.7 points per game this season and brings another long, versatile offensive player to the Celtics who should fit well into Stevens’ system. And although Fournier’s contract is expiring, Ainge said he hopes the shooter stays with the Celtics for a long time.
Asked if the Celtics can now compete with the top teams in the conference – like Milwaukee, the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers – Ainge said he wasn’t sure. But he said that was not the only reason for such a decision.
I also feel called to do more than that, Ains said. We’re dealing with people. And I feel like we’re constantly trying to improve – every trade deadline, every off-season. And I felt there was a chance. And we felt like there was more than one option, but some of them didn’t work.
But with Evan in particular, I thought this opportunity was unique. And if you add a player of his caliber, we’ve talked a lot about the size of the shooter, here’s a 6-7 year old who shoots well, knows how to play, knows how to handle the ball. Another creator for us. And a very regular player. And we’d like to add it. I think it’s a good application of our [trade exception].
Boston, which also avoided the luxury tax by sending center Daniel Theis to the Chicago Bulls in a separate trade, has underperformed on both fronts this season, and Ainge cited the team’s drop from fourth in defensive rating last season to 24th this season as a particular source of frustration. And with the Celtics on the brink of the Eastern playoffs, Ainge decided it was time to shake up the team in hopes of getting Boston back to the level they were used to.
This is the team I’ve assembled. I’m responsible for that. I think you were talking about patience; I think I’m very, very patient. I’ve been doing this a long time. I think there is a time for overreaction, but I felt no pressure to do so. I feel like I would have closed this deal at any time in the last few years, probably with this opportunity. But the biggest pressure is probably that our players and our coach have hope, but I sense some internal frustration in our guys. So that’s one of the reasons we acted now rather than waiting.
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