The Celtics were never going to include foundational piece Jaylen Brown in any James Harden trade talks. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

When news broke earlier this week that James Harden had been dealt, suggestions were that the Boston Celtics were in on the former NBA MVP.

As information trickled in relating to the bounty the Brooklyn Nets paid to the Rockets in the four-team trade for Harden, it became clear that few teams were willing to pay that high of a price. In the end, Brooklyn ended up moving three future unprotected first-round picks, four pick swaps, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen to acquire Harden.

As for the Celtics and general manager Danny Ainge, they were going to stick to their guns the entire time. Ainge recently addressed Harden trade talks, noting that Boston was indeed in on the three-time reigning scoring champion. However, there was also a pretty big caveat.

“Yeah, we had conversations regarding James,” Ainge said in his weekly appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “Not recently, but yeah. We did have conversations. We had numerous talks, but the price really wasn’t changing. The price was really high for us. It was just something we didn’t want to do.”

Since then, reports have surfaced that Houston wanted star wing Jaylen Brown, lockdown defender Marcus Smart and multiple first-round picks for Harden. This is what Ainge meant by “the price was really high for us.”

As the Boston Celtics front office head since 2003, Ainge has been somewhat of a controversial figure. In the past, he pushed back against trading either Brown or Jayson Tatum in blockbuster deals for more-notable players in that of Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.

Ainge has had a plan this entire time. Keep draft-pick capital while building around both Brown and Tatum. While it has been controversial for Celtics fans, the plan seems to be working.

Still only 24-year-old, this former No. 3 pick from California has been on an upward trajectory throughout his career. In fact, Brown has improved each and every season he’s been in the NBA. The numbers are eye-opening.

  • 2016-17: 6.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.8 APG
  • 2017-18: 14.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.6 APG
  • 2018-19: 13.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 APG
  • 2019-20: 20.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.1 APG
  • 2020-21: 26.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.5 APG

In addition to these raw numbers, Jaylen Brown is shooting at a resounding 54% from the field thus far this season. Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, he’s also shooting at a 39% mark from three-point range.

Teaming up with one of the top-20 players in the NBA in that of Tatum, Brown has morphed into that star player Boston thought it was getting back in 2016. You don’t trade a rising 24-year-old star who has not yet hit his ceiling for pretty much anyone. Taking into account the drama we saw unfold surrounding Harden in Houston and his relatively advanced age of 31, and that’s magnified even further.

In addition to Jaylen Brown, Houston also wanted one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA in the form of Marcus Smart in a Harden trade.

Another homegrown player for the Boston Celtics, Smart and his organization have gone through thick and thin since Ainge made him the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. While Smart remains limited offensively, he’s a two-time All-Defensive Team performer. Those type of players don’t grow on trees.

We’re pretty sure Boston will make a move ahead of the March NBA trade deadline. It will likely include the team sending out a first-round pick or two. But the team played it smart by sticking to its long-term plans. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be the face of this organization for at least the next half-decade. Blowing it up for James Harden made no sense.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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