- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers contends that trade speculation never rattled him as a player. "But maybe I was too dumb to figure out I was about to be traded," joked Rivers, who endured two career swaps but never an in-season one.
Now as a coach, it weighs on him a whole lot more, particularly as Rivers tries to calm his players, who are far more aware of all the whispers -- regardless of validity -- that swirl about them this time of year.
But after enduring nearly three full months of rampant speculation about how the Celtics might blow up their roster or trade away a key member of their core, the trade deadline passed without so much as a whimper from Boston on Thursday.
So Rivers and the rest of the Celtics can exhale. Sorta.
"I'm happy it's done so that we can just get on and keep playing," Rivers said. "At least the talk part of it is gone. I hope nobody exhales and stops playing. Because we've been playing well."
It's that solid play -- Boston is 8-2 since the All-Star break -- that might have encouraged Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to tread extra carefully at the deadline. Ainge admitted he entered Thursday's typically frenetic deadline open to all possibilities but said he ultimately didn't find anything that made sense for this team.
"I was looking at both opportunities, to strengthen our team for the playoff run this year and/or build some chips and some assets for [the] future," Ainge said. "We actually had a lot of conversation on both sides, but nothing seemed good enough to do."
So now the Big Three get what might be their last rodeo, while the Celtics maintain the financial flexibility necessary to start a potential rebuilding process this summer.
With the playoffs looming 45 days away, the focus finally shifts from whether the Celtics will still be together in mid-March to whether this team can come together by late April.
While Rivers tried to suggest his players were not as affected by rumors this season as in years past, he couldn't help but admit the whispers were awfully persistent and had to be a distraction at times.
Now the Celtics can cement their focus on the court, continuing the process of becoming a more consistent basketball team before the playoffs arrive.
Oh sure, there's still roster tweaking to take care of. Rivers and Ainge confirmed the Celtics remain in the market for a big man, but said they are content to allow the buyout process to play itself out before deciding (1) which big man (men?) they will pursue to bolster the frontcourt and (2) which of their own players the Celtics might buy out.
Ainge said he has a meeting with Jermaine O'Neal on Friday to determine the next step for the veteran center, who has sat out the past 11 games while contemplating options for his ailing left wrist. In San Francisco, Rivers said he hasn't had any contact with O'Neal and doesn't expect him to be back with the team.
With Chris Wilcox out for the remainder of the year as he preps for aortic surgery later this month, the Celtics potentially could free two roster spots if they buy out both players. That would afford them the opportunity to add some depth -- likely up front -- that could aid the team in grinding through the final 20 games of the regular season.
Despite being short-handed at the start of this season-long eight-game road trip, the Celtics have played some inspired basketball out west, more than holding their own while splitting a pair of games in Los Angeles against two of the league's most daunting froncourts, then winning ugly Wednesday night in a shootout against Golden State.
While Boston is still searching for consistency -- and might never achieve it during this condensed regular season -- Ainge likes what he sees from these Celtics, including an ability to elevate their play in big-game situations. That tells Ainge a little something about how the team will respond when the playoffs arrive.
"I think the pattern so far has shown that we get up for big games, and nights when we get rest, we play better than nights we don't get rest," Ainge said. "I anticipate having some good nights and some bad nights [during the rest of the regular season]. I have faith that the players know the time and the score, and, when the lights are on, they rise to the occasion in big moments. There's a great deal of pride and experience and know-how. I'm hoping we can get to the playoffs healthy, add a little bit of [size] before the playoffs, and we'll take our chances there."
And that's the mentality around this team at the moment: Get to the playoffs and see what happens. Rivers has often stolen from Garnett while noting that, with a veteran core that's been to the NBA Finals in two of the past four seasons, "Anything is possible."
The Celtics will enter Friday's action only 1.5 games back of the 76ers in the Atlantic Division (winning the division guarantees a spot in the top four seeds in the East) and just a half-game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the sixth seed.
There's a lot for this team to be optimistic about. Not the least of which is having the deadline in the rearview mirror.
"I do like our group," Rivers said. "Let's see if we can get on a run here, move up in the standings, and see if we can get in the playoffs healthy, then let's see what happens."
Nothing happened Thursday. The Celtics are hoping to save their noise-making for the postseason.
The C's stay the same for the stretch run -- until they get bigger via buyout.