- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The NBA trade deadline is harrowing enough for players around the league, but when your general manager has a history of February roster shakeups and is playfully nicknamed "Trader Danny," it's all the more distressing.
So forgive Boston Celtics players for having mixed emotions as they embark on their annual post-All-Star trek out west. Oh sure, it's nice to get away from Boston's snow-crusted roadways and single-digit temperatures, but the start of the Celtics' five-game trip is a not-so-subtle reminder that some might not be on the flight back from Utah next Monday night.
While Kevin Garnett's insistence at All-Star weekend that he will not waive his no-trade clause appears to strengthen the odds that Boston may simply settle for less-splashy free-agent additions to fill out its injury-depleted roster, the one thing you can count on is that Danny Ainge and his staff won't be afraid to pursue a more eyebrow-raising avenue if an opportunity presents itself to improve this team -- now or in the future.
Boston's trip opens Tuesday night against the Nuggets, and minds will be racing back to 2011 as the team was in Denver when Ainge delivered maybe his most jaw-dropping deadline move, dealing Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City in exchange for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a first-round pick (Fab Melo).
Then it's off to Los Angeles, where Eddie House showed up to a practice back in 2010 well aware that he was about to be shipped to the New York Knicks in exchange for Robinson. That same year, Ray Allen and his expiring contract breathed a monster sigh of relief when the deadline passed without him changing jerseys, and Allen -- in a noticeable funk before the deadline -- erupted for a team-high 24 points that same night in a win over the Lakers that served as a preview of that year's NBA Finals.
Amid all the rumors and potential distractions of this week, the Celtics can't lose sight of the business at hand. Boston soared into All-Star Weekend a season-best four games over .500 and playing its most inspired ball of the season after winning eight of its past nine before the break.
But seven of those eight wins came inside the comforts of TD Garden. The lone road win required a rally from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit in Toronto, while wobbly legged Boston later stumbled in Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back (one night after topping the Nuggets in triple overtime).
Can the Celtics, having lost three key rotation players over the past three weeks in All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (ACL), rookie Jared Sullinger (back) and Leandro Barbosa (ACL), truly make a charge at their lofty championship goals with this current roster? The next five games might show us just how resilient this team is.
If only Ainge could file for a trade deadline extension. He'll get to look at only two of these five games before having to decide which direction his franchise will travel.
The Celtics are hoping this West Coast trip goes better than their last glance at the Pacific. Boston closed out the 2012 calendar year by getting absolutely throttled while losing three straight to the Clippers, Warriors and Kings -- by a total of 69 points -- and falling to 14-16 on the season.
A lot has changed since then -- both good and bad. Boston has lost three key rotation players, but Avery Bradley returned at the start of the new year and the Celtics are 14-8 since his defensive re-infusion into the starting lineup.
Since Rondo was lost for the season, first-half underperformers such as Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Green have been fantastic, providing Boston with a much-needed pick-me-up amid its roster depletion. But it's Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett who have put the Celtics on their shoulders lately and kept the team afloat.
The 35-year-old Pierce is doing his usual "give the game what it needs" routine while averaging 17 points, 9.4 rebonds and 7.2 assists over 36.4 minutes per contest over the past nine games. He has done his best Rondo impression, posting two triple-doubles in that span.
The 36-year-old Garnett, fresh off his 15th All-Star appearance, is averaging 17 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest over his past nine, while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Boston is limiting opponents to a mere 87.8 points per 100 possessions when Garnett is on the floor during that span.
Of course, that sort of production is exactly why the general managers of other contenders are likely buzzing Ainge to gauge their availability. Pierce and Garnett are not only playing some incredible basketball, but they've got the big-game experience and championship pedigree that could push another team over the top.
Ainge must decide if the Celtics still have enough around Pierce and Garnett this season to give Boston a chance at pushing themselves over the hump after falling minutes shy of another NBA Finals appearance last season. If the deadline passes without a whimper from Boston, it speaks volumes about what Ainge believes this group is still capable of achieving.
As trade deadline nears, Danny Ainge has huge decisions to make.