How Danny Ainge reloaded the Boston Celtics
I’ve said some really mean things about Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge over the years. Some of the vitriol he has received from me has been deservedly so. Danny Ainge once made mid-season trades for Sam Cassel and Stephon Marbury to be the Celtics’ back-up point guard despite evidence supporting the fact that they were each washed up and would be unable to contribute. In the 2011 NBA draft, he drafted Marshon Brooks, a guy who was just coming off a season being the leading scorer in the Big East and was a 100 percent guaranteed to be an excellent bench scorer , and then flipped him for JuJuan Johnson, a skinny power-forward who would likely never see the light of day on the court. Finally, of course, he all but sank the 2010 Celtics championship hopes when he forgot that basketball is not played on paper and broke up the Celtics’ family by trading Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for the overrated Jeff Green and assuming that a 39-year-old and out of shape Shaquille O’ Neal would be able to recover from a knee injury to play in the playoffs. I would hate Danny Ainge, if not for the fact that he stole Rajon Rondo from the Phoenix Suns and brought together the Big Three 2.0 in 2007 and basically allowed me to watch basketball being played the proper way in my formative years in the same way that the kids of the 80′s watched Larry Bird and those Celtics.
That last fact aside, If I have learned one thing about Danny Ainge over all the years that he has been the Boston Celtics general manager and the man that decides who plays for the basketball team that I poor my heart and soul into is that there was a really good opportunity that Danny Ainge would completely and utterly fuck this off-season up.
Let’s get one thing straight. There was zero reason for Danny Ainge to walk into his office on the day that free-agency opened and decide that it was time to blow it up. The Boston Celtics were a team last year that was reduced to an eight man rotation featuring a guy with bone spurs in his ankles (Ray Allen) a guy with an MCL sprain that made his money on being able to get to the rim (Paul Pierce) two back-up big men who committed way too many fouls and occasionally forgot how to rebound (Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins) and two bench “scorers” who averaged 2.8 and 3.5 points per game off the bench (Keyon Dooling, Mickael Pietrus). Despite all these problems, they were one quarter away from winning the Eastern Conference. Say what you will about the health of the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat and the breaks that the Celtics got, but a below average eight man rotation, granted one that featured three future hall-of-fame players and one top ten NBA player, almost made it to the Finals.
Having said all that, there was a sense that Danny Ainge was about to blow it all up, let Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen walk and start anew around Rajon Rondo forgetting the fact that:
A.) The Boston Celtics would never be able to land the marquee free-agents without Kevin Garnett
B.) The Celtics were never going to be able to grab a franchise player in the bottom half of the NBA draft, something they needed to pair with Rondo if they wanted to rebuild.
The obvious move was to reload the current roster, come into the 2012 season behind the starting line-up that led the Celtics to their best play of the 2012 season and make another run at the NBA title with the most beloved group of Celtics since the 1980′s. Secretly, especially after the way Danny handled the Kendrick Perkins trade, every Celtics’ fan was terrified that Danny Ainge was going to do something drastic.
But today we have to all stand here and be happy. Danny Ainge played the off-season as close to perfectly as possible and has successfully reloaded the Boston Celtics to make another run at the NBA title.
It started off by Ainge smartly analyzing potential trades he had in front of him. The biggest one was the rumors swirling about Josh Smith, something that was rumored and reported by enough outlets that it can only be assumed that the talks went down. This would not have been a panic trade by any stretch of the imagination. Simply, Josh Smith would have made the Celtics a little bit more dynamic on the offensive end giving them someone who else who loved to take it to the rim. Not making the trade, however, would never be seen as a failure. Brandon Bass is still a great player on the Boston Celtics and while Josh Smith would have been an improvement, it’s not as if Brandon Bass was a sore thumb in the Celtics line-up. Ultimately, Danny Ainge didn’t make a move, but the fact that he intelligently examined his options was the first great move by Danny Ainge.
The next thing was draft night. The Celtics biggest issue last year was bench-scoring where they were pretty damn awful. The Celtics were also pretty bad at scoring in the low-post as both Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass were jump-shooting big man. The Celtics needed a guy that had the tools to score in the low post and could give the Celtics scoring off the bench. The guy that the Celtics needed fell into their laps in Jared Sullinger and Danny Ainge wisely selected him. Despite his injury risk, Sullinger is a hyper-intelligent player that simply knows how to score in the low-post and can provide a boost to the Celtics bench. While Danny Ainge’s second draft selection of the night, Fab Melo, was questioned due to the fact that the Celtics needed some athleticism and guys like Perry Jones were still on the board, the pick made sense. A true-seven footer who can learn how to play defense from Kevin Garnett and someone who was a better rebounder than his numbers shown (due to the 2-3 zone at Syracuse) is always an asset.
After that, Kevin Garnett resigned. Not really Danny shining through here, but if I didn’t mention someone would have yelled at me and said “You forgot Kevin Garnett was a free-agent!” and would charged at me with a pitch-fork or something.
Back to the story at hand. Then came time to deal with the back-court. Most Celtics fans knew that Ray Allen was leaving as early as last April. He disliked being a bench player in Boston and playing behind Avery Bradley and the Celtics wanted to play Bradley because he gave the Celtics the best chance to win. Despite Danny’s best efforts to retain Allen, he ended up heading to Miami. This was no issue to Danny Ainge as he went out and inked 6th man extraordinaire Jason Terry to the mid-level exception. The Celtics had zero back-court bench scoring last season and signed one of the best bench scorers in the game to a fair price. Perfect, absolutely perfect. He further improved the back-court by acquiring Courtney Lee, a quality 2 guard who can start until Avery Bradley returns. In two moves, Danny Ainge upgraded Keyon Dooling into Jason Terry and added in Courtney Lee just for the hell of it.
Jeff Green was the only blemish on this off-season, but that’s only because the contract was a little over-valued at four years and $36 million. Other than that, he is a great improvement over Mickael Pietrus and will help Paul Pierce remain healthy by spelling his minutes. The Celtics also brought back Chris Wilcox to be another big body for the Boston Celtics off the bench.
Literally none of my fears were realized this off-season. Danny Ainge played it as close to perfectly as possible, has expanded a three-year championship window into six years successfully and has put the Boston Celtics in position to contend in 2012-13.
Which is all we could really ask for as Celtics’ fans. As the past two seasons were coming to a close, there was real talk that the Boston Celtics run was over, that the key cogs would retire and that would be the end of it. There would be the slow fade into NBA obscurity, Rajon Rondo would probably get mad and get moved to a contender so he would have an opportunity to win more championships and that would be the end of it. The even bigger fear was that Ainge would further compound the issue by never tanking and playing for a franchise player in the NBA draft.
And yet, here we are. The Boston Celtics are all set for a run in 2013 and it’s all thanks to Danny Ainge brilliantly playing the 2012 off-season.
Somehow, he didn’t screw it up, and I’m thankful.