Blakely: Ainge blinked . . . but with reason


BOSTON -- The big takeaway from the much-delayed Boston-Cleveland blockbuster deal?

Danny Ainge blinked.

This deal wasn’t going to be done unless Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, did the seemingly unthinkable: Cave in to the last-minute demands of the Cavaliers.


The two sides had already agreed that Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 unprotected Brooklyn first-round pick was going to Cleveland in exchange for Irving.

The Cavs had some concerns about Thomas’ injured hip and how long he would be sidelined, so they asked for additional compensation.

Boston dug its heels in early, but eventually agreed to tack on an additional draft pick -- a 2020 second-rounder from Miami. It was a compromise of sorts because Cleveland wanted another first-rounder from Boston to seal the deal.

But since when does Ainge compromise?

His track record for being a tough negotiator while pulling lopsided deals is impressive.
He got Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix for Marcus Thornton and a draft pick.

He shipped Rajon Rondo to Dallas for three players, one of whom was a throw-in named Jae Crowder.

He landed the No. 1 pick in last June’s NBA draft, only to trade down two spots to select Jayson Tatum (the player he would have taken with the top overall pick) and get a protected first-round pick via the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.

So it’s understandable how many in Celtics Nation felt the deal Ainge put on the table for the Cavs, the one that was originally agreed upon, was more than enough compensation for Irving.

But Irving is a different kind of player from the others Boston has been wheeling and dealing for in recent years. That type of player comes at a steep price, even if he was the one who demanded the trade and, theoretically, took some bargaining power away from Cleveland.

While his talent is special, what really sets Irving apart is that he’s so accomplished in this league at such a young age. Only 25 years old, he's an NBA champion who's been to the Finals three times, an Olympic Gold medalist, and a four-time All-Star.
Ainge was right in trying to take advantage of the circumstances by which Irving became available, even if it meant trading away two-time All-Star and fan favorite Isaiah Thomas.
But acquiring a player of Irving's stature requires going above and beyond the normal when it comes to negotiating.

That’s why as much as the Celtics didn’t want to give up any additional assets, adding a second-round pick to the deal was a small price to pay for securing the services of Irving for at least the next two seasons.

Isn’t that the point of having all those draft picks, to use them in a way to significantly bolster your roster?
Boston has more star power now with the addition of Irving, who joins an All-Star cast that includes Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

Still, the cost of this deal was a lot steeper for Boston than usual.

Fans have become spoiled with trades that provide a clear and decisive victory for the C's in recent years.

This one fell well short of that. Cleveland, the Celtics' main Eastern Conference rivals, is now deeper and more versatile, particularly with the addition of Crowder.

As one league executive texted me this morning, “Danny Ainge got Danny Ainge’d on this one.”
Still, Boston got the best player in the deal and still has a roster that talent-wise, ranks among the top two or three teams in the East.

Yes, Ainge blinked in giving in to Cleveland’s last-minute demands for more compensation.

But in doing so, the Celtics are balancing the incredibly difficult challenge of being a contender now while having a roster that has the potential to be in the chase for titles for years to come.


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