In a span of 33 days this summer Celtics G.M. Danny Ainge pulled off two megadeals that reversed the course of his stumbling franchise, bringing together three All-Stars who have Boston thinking championship again. Here's how he did it
Posted: Tuesday October 23, 2007 8:58AM; Updated: Tuesday October 23, 2007 9:07AM
Paul Pierce slowly walked into the Celtics' locker room after another loss last March, head down, wondering how his career had taken such a wrong turn. The 29-year-old small forward was the lone All-Star on a roster of novices, five of whom were young enough to be in college; he was 10 pounds too heavy; and, worst of all, he feared that he would never accomplish anything of lasting value in the NBA, at least with Boston. "I had pretty strong thoughts that I wouldn't even be here this year," Pierce says now. "I was wondering what the plan was, and I was wondering if I was in the plan."
A new ownership group, which had taken control in September 2002, hired former Celtics guard Danny Ainge as executive director of basketball operations the following May, and over the next four years Ainge shrewdly drafted Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes and Rajon Rondo without benefit of a lottery pick -- only to undermine that strategy with questionable trades for Raef LaFrentz, Ricky Davis, Wally Szczerbiak and Sebastian Telfair. As Pierce was maturing into one of the NBA's finest all-around players (with career averages of 23.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.66 steals), his supporting cast was growing progressively younger and becoming less supportive with each passing year.
The Celtics' 24-58 record last season was their worst in 10 years and included a franchise-record 18-game losing streak while a demoralized Pierce watched from the bench with a left foot injury. "We're going through 10, 11, 12 games in a row lost, 13," recalls Pierce, who missed the first 16 of those losses. "I was thinking, This team really has a future?"
Yet Ainge was not discouraged. Despite taking heat in Boston for his regular overhauls of the team, he felt he had accumulated enough assets to pull off a blockbuster trade. But even Ainge didn't imagine last March that he would swing two significant deals that have dramatically revived the championship hopes of a franchise that had won only three playoff series since Larry Bird's retirement in 1992.
By acquiring shooting guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics and power forward Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves without relinquishing Pierce -- forming an unparalleled trio of still-in-its prime NBA talent, with a cumulative 21 All-Star appearances and career scoring average of 65.6 points -- Ainge made the Celtics relevant again.
As both a Boston player and executive, Ainge has not been afraid of the risks involved in acting boldly. Back in 1988, when he was one of the Celtics' backcourt starters, he was seated at a table with Bird, forward Kevin McHale and team president Red Auerbach during the organization's Christmas party. At the time Boston was reportedly considering trades that would have sent Bird and McHale to the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. "Look at these two guys," Ainge told Auerbach, over the surrounding conversations of other players and their families. "Larry's got casts on his feet [from surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels], Kevin's got a screw in his foot [to repair a stress fracture] -- you've got to trade these guys." Everyone laughed at Ainge's typical audacity, but he wasn't joking. "I would have traded Larry Bird," he insists today.