The Celtics didn’t make a bigger move for Vucevic (a good center) or Aaron Gordon. Instead, they made a smaller move for good-shooting small forward/guard Evan Fournier, trading two 2d-round picks (they gave up nothing, other than using up some of their trade exception from the Hayward move).
Lots of people are complaining that Ainge didn’t make a bigger move with the trade exception of $27M that expires before next season. The team is stuck in a glut of .500 teams fighting for a low playoff seed. This move isn’t going to make the Celtics a championship team, but no move could do that this year. And yet I think this move makes sense to make a middling move, rather than nothing.
Maybe Ainge understands that this Celtics team needs to make the playoffs and compete, but doesn’t think it’s good enough to go all in. This team missed one opportunity last year, but it still has a 4-year window. Save draft picks and some trade exception money as capital for this winter, while competing for the playoffs now.
If the Celtics get just a bit better, they can grab the 4th seed. And this move does make them better. They were missing a big and a wing-shooter, but the price for good bigs was too high. Fournier allows them to decrease the playing time of their fragile and inconsistent point guards Kemba and Teague or their rookie Pritchard, and they can roll with this line-up:
PG/defensive stud Marcus Smart, wing shooter Fournier, Brown, Tatum, and a big (more time for Time Lord Robert Williams!!!). If Kemba keeps improving, then Fournier can mix in as a scorer when Brown and Smart come out.
They can win in the 1st round, and they can knock off any of the top-3 seeds if their chemistry improves – and if the other top teams don’t get better chemistry. Strange things can happen in the playoffs. It is not obvious that the Nets can stay healthy and can play defense. It is not clear that the Bucks or Sixers are so great or healthy. No one in the West is scary. So make sure to be in the mix this year, but don’t overpay for any of these players who would not have been a big difference maker.
I still think Ainge made a lot of mistakes over the past year. Not making the Hayward-for-Myles-Turner deal this fall was a big mistake, because they needed a legit big. But if Ainge is thinking about saving capital for next year, I’m fine with it. Don’t give up a ton for Vucevic now. And I think there are legit concerns that Aaron Gordon is an underachieving chemistry problem.
Last point: It was crucial to improve this year. Missing the playoffs this year would be a disaster for team growth and confidence. They need to be in position for a 4 seed, but most fundamentally, Ainge needed to make a move, to improve the team, and give a vote of confidence that this team is worth some investment. But the key is making a bigger at the end of this summer by trading the picks Ainge didn’t trade now.