Every February, NBA teams face the same dilemma: buy, sell, or stand pat at the trade deadline. There are no right or wrong answers; each situation is unique, and there aren’t many precedents that favor a specific decision.

Fan bases across the country might want their team to make a big splash at the deadline in an attempt to gear up for a championship run, but more often than not, those moves don’t pan out.

Did you think Channing Frye was the first deadline acquisition by a championship team to play more than 10 minutes in a NBA Finals game the same year he was traded? Frye scored a grand total of two points in last year’s Finals, in case you were wondering.

Can you name the player to do that before Frye?

(jeopardy theme song)

Shannon Brown in 2009 for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The last deadline deal that pushed a contender over the top was in 2004, when the Detroit Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace from the Atlanta Hawks and went on to upset the Lakers’ “superteam” in five games.

This year, the Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards were the only three contenders (I use the word “contenders” lightly) to make any sort of splash.

The Rockets swapped Corey Brewer and a first-round pick for Lou Williams, a deadly bench scorer. The Raptors acquired veterans Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker in a series of deals to add a level of toughness and defensive grit upfront.

Meanwhile, the Wizards sent a first-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Bojan Bogdanovic, who should fit in nicely on the wing as a shooter alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Other contenders like the Boston Celtics and Cavaliers let the Thursday deadline pass without wheeling and dealing, despite a plethora of assets in Boston and public pressure from LeBron James.

Boston was rumored to be interested in superstars Paul George and Jimmy Butler, but weren’t able to work out a deal that would preserve their future while also improving their current on-court product.

This is the second consecutive deadline Boston has passed on a potential deal to bring in a superstar, and thy may be biding their time until LeBron gets too old to carry the Cavs to the Finals every year.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge hasn’t explicitly said this is his reasoning for not pulling the trigger, but the road to the Finals in the Eastern Conference runs through whatever city LeBron calls home, and there’s no sign of him slowing down yet.

On the other hand, Ainge could be patiently waiting for a better time to strike. After the NBA Draft Lottery, he’ll know exactly how valuable his best asset, the Nets first-round pick in the upcoming draft, actually is.

Right now, that pick could fall anywhere between 1 and 4, which is enticing, but not as enticing as shopping around the No. 1 overall pick. If the Nets (Celtics) do end up winning the lottery, it’ll give Ainge more leverage to negotiate a deal this offseason.

Maybe the Nets pick, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart wasn’t enough for George or Butler, but maybe Crowder, Smart and the No. 1 pick in a loaded class will be.

Maybe Ainge believes the Celtics as currently constructed, with the addition of an elite prospect, will be enough to push the team over the LeBron hump in the next few years.

If that’s the case, the organization is banking on Ainge to hit a home run with the Nets pick by adding an immediate contributor who can also develop into a building block. In theory, it makes sense, especially considering this year’s draft class is considered one of the strongest in recent memory.

But Ainge’s draft history has to cause some concerns. Since becoming the team’s general manager in 2007, Ainge has made 27 draft picks: 14 first-rounders and 13 second-rounders (including ones he later traded).

Those 27 have made a combined ZERO All-Star appearances. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are the only two who play any semblance of an important role in the league today, and Jeff Green is the only other pick who played an important role in the past.

Another issue is that the Celtics have too many players due for contract extensions at the same time. The team’s catalyst, Isaiah Thomas, is currently the best bargain in the league. The C’s 30-point scorer is under contract through next season, and makes just more than $6 million dollars a year.

Avery Bradley is also signed to an extremely friendly team contract, but his deal expires next offseason as well. Kelly Olynyk is a restricted free agent after this season, and Marcus Smart is due for a massive pay raise following the 2019 season.

Ainge has done an unparalleled job getting free agents to sign team-friendly contracts, but eventually all of these players are going to get paid. Even with the new salary cap, the Celtics won’t have enough money for everyone.

So now the question is: if the Celtics aren’t going to trade assets for George or Butler, who or what are they waiting for? The argument against making the trade for those two because “they’re not championship players” is absurd.

Players of that quality don’t grow on trees, and the Celtics have signed a grand total of one marquee free agent in the last decade.

The argument of waiting until LeBron falls off is also far-fetched if the end goal is a Larry O’Brien Trophy, because the Warriors superteam is led by Stephen Curry (28 years old), Kevin Durant (28), Klay Thompson (27), and Draymond Green (26).

The Celtics stood their ground at the trade deadline, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

In fact, it may turn out to be the right move if they’re able to pull off a deal for a star this offseason for less than what it would have cost at the deadline (or if they keep the pick, it turns into a star and they're able to sign another max free agent this summer).

But it’s also fair to question what the Celtics are waiting for, because if George and Butler aren’t good enough to swap for some assets, who is?

-- Mike Lucas (@mlukes14)


Low price, available in multiple styles and colors!