O’Sullivan: Despite Cleveland’s trading frenzy, Celtics still beast of the East

  • FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers' Isaiah Thomas drives against the Houston Rockets in the first half of an NBA basketball game, in Cleveland. A person familiar with direct knowledge of the trade says the Cavaliers are dealing guard Isaiah Thomas to the Los Angeles Lakers. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, because the teams need NBA approval before the trade can be completed. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File) Tony Dejak

  • Cavaliers star LeBron James looks down in the second half of a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday in Cleveland. The Cavs gave their roster a makeover Thursday with a flurry of trades with the hope of re-establishing themselves as favorites in the East, but the Celtics loom large in the conference. AP photos

  • Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) dunks the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm) Mary Schwalm

  • Boston rookie Jayson Tatum, shown here hanging on the rim after dunking against Atlanta during a game earlier this month, is one of many reasons the Celtics’ future looks bright. AP

Friday, February 09, 2018

Oversimplification of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline might lead to overreaction for Celtics fans. Just scanning headlines or Adrian Wojnarowski tweets could trigger this logic: Cleveland made major moves, Boston did nothing, so the Cavs have, once again, made themselves the favorites in the Eastern Conference.

Don’t go there, New England. You’re still better off rooting for the Celtics than any other team in the East, both now and in the future.

Yes, the house-cleaning Cavaliers got better, but they had to get better. They have been a dumpster fire for weeks now with angry meetings, unhappy players, nationally-televised blowouts and, most importantly, one of the worst defenses in the league. The Cavs also had to make moves to either convince LeBron James he should stay in Cleveland beyond this year, or to make one final championship push with him.

And how much better the Cavaliers really got, especially on the defensive end, remains to be seen.

Boston wasn’t surrounded by the kind of pressure Cleveland was feeling, or by any pressure at all, really.

The future is secure for the Celtics because no one on the team is threatening to leave; they are loaded with young players, good contracts and an abundance of draft picks; and they will add a star in his prime whenever Gordon Hayward returns from injury.

Boston also has plenty of reasons to feel content with the present.

The Celtics have separated themselves, along with Toronto, as one of the top-two teams in the East. They have a superstar in Kyrie Irving who gives them a chance to win every night. They will get a boost of new blood with the arrival of Greg Monroe, who can help shore up some weaknesses and didn’t cost anything (beside money). And they might get another boost if they can land another player after a buyout, like old friend Joe Johnson, who was part of the Thursday’s trading frenzy, is expected to be bought out by Sacramento and is rumored to be on Boston’s radar.

Getting Tyreke Evans on the cheap would have been nice for the Celtics, but not landing him is hardly devastating. Getting something for Marcus Smart instead of watching him walk after this year would have been good, but keeping him around has its benefits, too.

Not making trades can sometimes be the best move, and being patient has worked well for Boston basketball boss Danny Ainge over the last couple of years. By not overreacting at past trade deadlines, Ainge was able to keep the draft picks that have turned into Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and the draft pick that helped him land Irving.

Patience was not an option for the Cavs, which is why they were frantically wheeling and dealing on Thursday. Considering the pressure and lack of attractive assets, Cleveland did well to add George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and subtract Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye.

There’s no question the Cavaliers improved, but you can definitely question if they improved enough to beat Golden State, Houston, Boston or Toronto in a playoff series.

The new additions will help Cleveland’s offense. Hood is a 25-year-old scorer who was coveted by teams around the league. Clarkson is second in the NBA in bench points this year with 732. Nance is a monster in transition, and the Cavs love to get out on the break. Hill is a veteran point guard who can run an offense, is productive in pick-and-rolls and is a reliable spot-up shooter, as is Hood.

Here’s the problem – Cleveland needed help on the other end of the floor. Hill is a clear defensive upgrade at point guard over Rose, Wade and Jose Calderon, but the 31-year-old Hill has already seen his best defensive days.

Clarkson was one of the worst defensive players in the league last year, and while he’s gotten better this season, he’s still not going to help the Cavs get many stops. Hood’s defensive rating has gotten worse in each of his four NBA seasons and sits at 107.2 right now, which puts him below average.

Nance is the best defensive player in the bunch, and he could legitimately help the Cavaliers where they need it the most. But before getting too excited, or worried, about Nance, remember that he was averaging 8.6 points and 22 minutes per game, and rarely cracked the starting lineup, for the 22-31 Lakers.

Do those four – Hill, Hood, Clarkson and Nance – add more to Cleveland than Monroe adds to Boston? Sure, but the Cavs needed more and they did have to give up some assets to get it, while the Celtics needed less and didn’t have to give up anything for Monroe, who will fill some of the team’s sparse needs.

Boston needed size and scoring, and the 6-foot-11 Monroe, who has averaged 13.9 points for his career, delivered both.

The Celtics’ big-man rotation – Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis – becomes more offensively versatile with the addition of Monroe. He can be the offensive focal point for the second unit or fill in with the starting unit in Horford’s “big man as offensive facilitator” role.

So remain calm, Celtics Nation. The Cavaliers may have lit off some trade deadline fireworks, but the Celtics are still more capable of delivering a grand finale.

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