The best trade for Boston may be a small one or no trade at all

When it comes to trade discussions lately, Boston seems to always be in the mix and for good reason.

Danny Ainge knows this team isn't ready to compete for titles and has more than enough assets to make a trade that would put the Celtics into the "elite" category. So when names like Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony pop up in trade rumors, Boston gets a mention as a possible dancing partner.

There's also this notion that Boston has to make a deal fairly soon if it wants to get a shot at the promised land. Ainge went out last summer and signed Al Horford to a four-year deal, pairing him with fellow All-Star Isaiah Thomas. Horford is 30 years old and Thomas is about to turn 28. When a team's two best players are already in their prime, it makes sense to try and build around them to maximize the team's title chances.

Even before Horford arrived, there's been this sense of urgency regarding the assets Ainge has at his disposal. When a playoff team has a metric ton of future draft picks in the war chest and is openly looking to improve quickly, that typically means a trade's on the way.

But there's also an argument to be made against making a major deal. Outside of Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio, the team with the brightest future may very well be the Celtics. It's not often that a team within arms reach of being the No. 2 seed in its conference also has a very real shot at landing the No. 1 overall pick. Any team looking to unload a star will want that pick, and more, in return.

The problem is there doesn't seem to be any players available that would push Boston into title contender status. The Anthony rumor was quickly squashed. He'll be 33 in May and would wipe out the team's cap space this summer.

Butler seems like a star to target as the Bulls continue to implode on themselves, but a Horford/Thomas/Butler core does not appear to be good enough to win a ring. The same could also be said about Gordon Hayward, despite his connections to coach Brad Stevens. Ainge would have to make another trade or signing to really move the needle.

Unless Anthony Davis becomes available all of a sudden or the Kings finally pull the trigger and trade DeMarcus Cousins, the market for "franchise changing" players is pretty much non-existent. And you know what? That's not the worst thing.

A good chunk of this roster is young, developing and oozing potential. Marcus Smart is starting to show real improvement as a playmaker to go along with his bulldog defense and intangibles. Rookie Jaylen Brown is getting more comfortable playing in the NBA every day and is showing flashes of why he deserved to be the No. 3 overall pick. Terry Rozier continues to show off his athleticism and knack for getting to the rim while also hitting a big shot or two along the way. Kelly Olynyk has turned himself into a capable defender while shooting above league average from deep.

Even the team's veterans are improving. Avery Bradley, when healthy, has become the team's best rebounder. That's mostly by necessity as rebounding is one of the team's biggest weaknesses. But the fact that he found a way to step up and average nearly seven rebounds per game as a six-foot two-inch guard is impressive. Jae Crowder has quietly become one of the most efficient scorers in the league. Thomas is tied with James Harden at 29.1 ppg, second best in the league.

The smart play could be to let this team continue to develop, add a top prospect from the upcoming draft and go from there. A smaller trade for someone like Andrew Bogut to help with rebounding and rim protection might be all this team needs to advance deep in the playoffs.

Things can change quickly in this league. Teams could be more open to parting with stars as they turn their attention to rebuilding near the trade deadline. If that's the case then by all means dump out the war chest and grab one. But it would be a shame if Ainge sent out multiple assets for a guy who keeps the Celtics right where they are: fighting for the No. 2 seed with no real shot at beating Cleveland.

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