SALT LAKE CITY -- On the eve of the NBA's trade deadline, as the Boston Celtics reconvened for practice on the University of Utah's campus, Jae Crowder was asked if the team needed another star to be a true contender.
"We just had an All-Star," said Crowder, motioning to Isaiah Thomas seated nearby. "So I don’t know what other superstar you want. But there’s a lot of talk about we need a superstar and stuff like that. But all five guys on the court are so locked in and so engaged that we’re one superstar. We all play together. It’s a scary thing when a team don’t know who to match up to, whose night it’s going to be on the offensive end. And, defensively, we all fight together and play together. It’s a scary approach."
Many Celtics fans don't think it's scary enough and believe the only way for the team to compete with the clear-cut elite of the league is to add a top-shelf talent. Even as Boston has accelerated through its rebuilding process -- sitting nine games over .500 and owning the third seed in the Eastern Conference with 29 games to play in the regular season -- a fidgety fan base wants the Celtics to turn their heaping pile of assets into the sort of player who might give Boston an honest-to-goodness chance to push the Cleveland Cavaliers in an otherwise wide-open conference.
Crowder, Thomas and Evan Turner all know what it's like to be dealt as part of an in-season trade. On Wednesday, Thomas briefly reflected on the buzzer-beating trade that delivered him to Boston last season -- and helped fuel a second-half surge to the playoffs.
And, not that you'd expect anything different from three veteran players, but the trio was adamant Wednesday that the Celtics absolutely can compete, even if the team makes no big-splash move before Thursday's deadline.
"We’ve shown we can play with anybody," Crowder said. "We’ve got to tighten up a few things here and there on the defensive end, get back to where we were. ... But if we can continue to score and we guard like we know how to guard, we can play with anybody. And we can do some damage in the playoffs. So that’s what we feel like we can do."
Turner added, "We’ll be fine [if there are no moves]. We want to battle for home-court advantage and that’s it. Basketball is about runs, and when we play the right way, we give ourselves an opportunity to win. Playoffs for sure and the biggest thing is home-court advantage."
According to ESPN's Basketball Power Index, the Celtics currently own an 85.8 percent chance at earning that home-court advantage as a top-four seed in the East. In fact, Boston projects at a 55.7 percent chance at maintaining the No. 3 spot and a 62.3 percent chance at a top-three seed.
That's a decent spot to be in, even if Danny Ainge doesn't find an agreeable deal at the deadline.
"We’ve just got to do the things we can control, try to make it as far as we can in the playoffs and go from there," Thomas said. "I can’t really put a mark on what our potential is [without making a move]. We’re just a team that goes out there and plays hard and worries about things we can control."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens knows that, with Boston's assets, the team has the ability to make a move when the right opportunity presents itself. But Stevens continues to sound like a coach who's perfectly fine with waiting until the summer to pursue a deal if nothing materializes before Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline.
"I think [stability has] been great," Stevens said.
The Celtics made 11 trades and carried 40 players on their roster last season. This year, Boston hasn't made a deal since mid-July and still has the same 15 players who were on the roster to start the season. Stevens credits that continuity with allowing the team to make strides.
"Listen, we’re in great shape from a future-flexibility standpoint, and we’ve got a team that really likes playing together and has played some good basketball," Stevens said. "My job and my focus is not on the big picture and future as much as it is working on us playing good basketball and practicing well today. But I feel good about where we are in a lot of ways and I think that continuity has helped that."
Turner, who had a disastrous stint after being dealt to Indiana at the deadline in 2014, noted that in-season additions can be hit or miss.
"Chemistry is everything, camaraderie is everything," said Turner. "It would be something special if they made a trade and someone fit in right away, but there’s an adjustment period to everything and people have to get acclimated. We’re a pretty close-knit group, and, at the end of the day, whether it’s basketball or not, you’ll be missing the person you’ve seen the whole year."