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Tim O

Tim O’Sullivan: Ainge adroitly adds more assets with trade of Crawford, Brooks

Danny Ainge is earning his money. The Celtics’ president of basketball operations completed his second three-team trade of the month yesterday, shipping Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks to Golden State and getting a pair (or more) of draft picks from Miami in return. The Heat also sent Joel Anthony to Boston, while Toney Douglas goes from Golden State to Miami.

The deal doesn’t drastically alter Boston’s future or provide a grand insight into some master plan. But it was a shrewd move. Ainge sold high on Crawford, who had little value before this season and was about to lose most of his playing time, swapping him for future assets while also

reshaping the Celtics backcourt as they prepare for the return of Rajon Rondo.

Let’s go back a year and start with Crawford’s arrival in Boston, when Ainge acquired him from Washington for Leandro Barbosa and Jason Collins. Barbosa was done for the season with an ACL injury and has only just returned to the NBA, signing a 10-day contract with Phoenix last week. The 35-year-old Collins is an inspiring pioneer because he came out as a gay man, but he’s still looking for basketball work.

So, in essence, Ainge turned two players with questionable futures into two future draft picks, one of which might be a first rounder. The Celtics are getting Miami’s 2016 second-round pick and a Philadelphia first-round pick that is lottery-protected for the next two years. If the 76ers are in the lottery for the next two years, that pick turns into two second-round selections.

There’s little chance the Sixers are making the playoffs this year, but they just might get into the postseason and out of the lottery next year. The Eastern Conference will still be terrible next season, Philadelphia has some talent (Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, the injured Nerlens Noel), and it will be adding to that mix with two first-round picks in this year’s loaded draft. If things break right for Sixers, they could be in the 2015 playoffs, which would send their first-round pick to Boston.

Even if the Celtics end up with three second-round picks, that still seems like more than adequate compensation for a wildly inconsistent guard on his third team in four years (Crawford), a player who couldn’t get off the bench (Brooks), and taking on the $3.6 million Anthony is going to be owed next season. Second rounders are gaining value in the league, which means Ainge can use them as future trade bait or to help rebuild his team. And first rounders are skyrocketing in value, so there was no way Ainge was going to land an unprotected first for Crawford.

Now, for those Boston fans who are whining that Crawford will be missed because he was the team’s third leading scorer (13.7 points per game), top assist man (5.7) and had been playing well enough to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Dec. 9, please stop.

First of all, the Celtics are better off losing games and getting the best possible pick in this year’s draft, so the best way to use Crawford’s early-season success was to parlay it into future assets, which is just what Ainge did. Second, Crawford had been reverting to the poor shot selection and ball hogging that marred his first three years in the league, so whatever worth he had gained was slipping. Third, that value was about to take an even greater hit because Rondo (expected to return tomorrow night) was about to take Crawford’s starting spot and Jerryd Bayless was about to steal the backup minutes.

Let’s start with Bayless, the first three-team target of the month for Ainge, who acquired him on Jan. 7 in a trade with Memphis and Oklahoma City. Bayless is more of a point guard than Crawford – a better playmaker and ballhandler – and is a more consistent defender. Crawford can score points in bunches better than Bayless, but that gunner mentality works against Crawford most of the time. Plus, Bayless just showed he can pile up points as needed when he scored 15 of his 17 in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game against Houston when he played all of the final frame in place of Crawford.

Bayless has only been with the Celtics for six games, but it sure seems like Coach Brad Stevens was inclined to give him many of Crawford’s minutes. And there’s no doubt Stevens will be giving Rondo as many minutes as possible when he gets back on the floor. If Crawford’s playing time was about to plummet, so was his trade value, so Ainge did the wise thing but dealing him now.

Finally, it makes sense to clear the deck for Rondo. The Celtics need every chance to see how healthy he is and how he performs as the team’s alpha dog. If he struggles, Ainge can try to deal Rondo to a team that only needs him to be a piece of the puzzle and not the whole thing. If Rondo succeeds in the lead role for Boston, Ainge can just keep him and use the horde of draft picks he’s already stockpiled to build around him.

Just what Ainge decides to do with Rondo is the real key to Boston’s future, but the Crawford deal will help with that process, no matter which direction it takes.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)

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