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NBA deadline passes, Celtics stand pat, and it's time to get real about their chances

by: John Tomase on Thu, 02/23/2017 - 4:46pm

Jimmy Butler (left) or Paul George (right)? Try neither. (Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports)Another NBA trade deadline, another quiet day for the Celtics.

Thursday's deadline came and went at 3 p.m. and the Celtics did nothing. Though they were linked to Pacers star Paul George early in the day -- and were even reportedly willing to surrender the potential No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft to get him -- nothing came of the rumors.

But they also, surprisingly, failed to address a massive deficiency in the rebounding department with even a secondary move. They instead watched one of their reported targets, Phoenix forward P.J. Tucker, go to the rival Raptors for the low, low price of Jared Sullinger and two second-round picks.

The Celtics seem content with the team they have. Are you? Because as well as they've played recently to vault themselves into contention for the No. 1 overall seed in the East, some tough love is in order.

As things stand now, I'd place the Celtics no better than fourth in the East, behind the Cavs, Wizards, and Raptors.

Not much needs to be said about Cleveland. Any team with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will be favored over the Celtics, as currently constituted, in a seven-game series, with or without Kevin Love. The Cavs may be vulnerable, but they're still the class of the conference.

As great as the Celtics have looked over the last month, the Wizards have played even better. Washington has won 18 of 21, with one loss coming to the Cavs in overtime and the other on a buzzer-beater in Detroit (their other loss at least came to the Celtics). The Wizards boast a dynamic backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, a center who aggravates the Celtics in Marcin Gortat, and solid wing players in Otto Porter and Markieff Morris.

They also improved at the trade deadline, acquiring Bojan Bogdanovich from the Nets to fortify their bench with another 3-point shooter.

The Raptors, meanwhile, represent a rough matchup for the C's, thanks to their backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They struck early to acquire Serge Ibaka from Orlando to fortify their interior, and then took another step in that direction with Tucker. Center Jonas Valanciunas is a load for the C's to contend with inside -- he's averaging 12 rebounds a game against them this year -- and Toronto is more than physical enough to take a page from the Atlanta playbook and hound Celtics star Isaiah Thomas all over the court in a playoff series.

So where does this leave the Celtics? In possession of the potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, so no complaints there. Blowing up the entire roster for Jimmy Butler never made sense to me. George I could've been talked into, depending on what Indiana would be receiving in return, but if it was going to take one or two Nets picks, as well as Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, then no thank you.

What's disappointing is watching the team's obvious need -- rebounding -- go unaddressed, unless the C's are confident that guard Avery Bradley (averaging a career-high 6.9 boards a game) can fix that problem on his bad Achilles.

With so many future picks non-Brooklyn picks on the books, the C's possessed the ammo to do something. Instead, they watched their rivals in the East improve and Cleveland remain tantalizingly beyond their grasp.

Forget about Butler or George or Blake Griffin. The Celtics didn't need to hit a grand slam. They failed simply to slap one through the hole for a clean single to keep pace with the Raptors and Wizards, and that's the real disappointment.