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Bird, McHale or Ainge

Which ex-Celtic's current exec job would you want?

Posted: Tuesday February 13, 2007 4:39PM; Updated: Tuesday February 20, 2007 4:31PM
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What would you rather have?
SI.com's Jack McCallum analyzes which former Celtic's current front-office job he would want.
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They were teammates for seven seasons, from 1982 through 1988, the last of the glory years for the Boston Celtics. They won two championships ('84 and '86) and made it to two other Finals ('85 and '87).

But as front-office types, Larry Bird (Indiana Pacers), Kevin McHale (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Danny Ainge (Celtics) have not experienced similar success. (Insert understatement comment of own choosing.)

McHale's T'wolves are frequent visitors to the postseason but have made it out of the first round only once since he took over as the top front-office man in 1995. Ainge's Celtics had lost 18 straight as of Tuesday, which must be a tad difficult on Danny, who played on Celtics teams that in '84, '85 and '86 lost just 20, 19 and 15 games, respectively, the entire season. Bird's Pacers have qualified for the postseason in each of his three full seasons but haven't been able to get out of the Eastern Conference. They will probably make the playoffs again in the anemic East, but no one is expecting them to go far.

One might say Bird. His team has the best record of the three. He and team president Donnie Walsh (they make decisions together) have begun to remake the Pacers' image, having traded problem children Ron Artest last season and Stephen Jackson last month. He has a perennial All-Star in Jermaine O'Neal and a fan base that still considers him Larry Legend. But ...

One might say McHale. He still has a chance to make the playoffs in the tough West. His deal (with the Celts, as a matter of fact) to get improving center Mark Blount looks good. And he has a great player in Kevin Garnett, who has yet to threaten to burn down the Target Center if the proper cavalry cannot be gathered to support him. But ...

I'm going to take the unlikely pick and say AINGE. For one thing, things can't get any worse. Kobe Bryant -- a Laker! -- was cheered in Boston recently. That represents a measurable low point. The return of a healthy Paul Pierce will end the losing streak. (I'm betting on Wednesday night at home against the Milwaukee Bucks; it had better happen since Boston goes on the road for five tough Western games after the All-Star break.)

Further, Ainge has a bunch of young guys (some of whom can even play) and a real, real early pick (the Celts can finish with 44 wins, but that's only if they go on a 32-game winning streak to close the season), and that gives him the potential to make numerous deals and remake the team. So he does have options, and he's never been afraid to make a deal.

A final bit of good news for Ainge? I've yet to see cost overruns from the Big Dig blamed on him.

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Reader responses: Bosh or J. O'Neal?

Here's a sampling of your responses to last week's Choosing Sides between Toronto's Chris Bosh and Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal:

Gary Wu of Taipei, Taiwan: "I think you forgot to take O'Neal's past performance during the playoffs into account. O'Neal has proven time and time again to not be able to increase his offensive output in the playoffs. To me, this signifies that O'Neal is not someone who thrives on playoff pressure. Since Reggie Miller left the team, O'Neal has not convinced me that he is a capable leader who can lead his team past the first round. Even though Bosh has never been to the playoffs, my take on Bosh is that he is more of a leader than O'Neal, and that leadership will be more valuable come playoff time than a couple more blocks or assists. Another thing is durability. O'Neal has been injury-prone the last couple of years and since he is not getting any younger, he is just more likely to get hurt during a seven-game series than Bosh. With all that said, I will take Bosh, though both of them can play for my team any day of the week."

Lorenzo of Toronto: "You're correct. I would take O'Neal in a seven-gamer due to his experience ... for now. But Bosh will be an MVP some day."

Steven Banks of Jupiter, Fla.: "I believe you live in the past with your desire for O'Neal."

Bryan of Washington: "O'Neal is a beast defensively, and that's what I'm looking for when the games slow down in the playoffs. Though he is immensely talented, I haven't seen that same ability to be a defensive presence from Bosh quite yet."

Sam of Chapel Hill, N.C.: "Good true post players are getting rarer and rarer, which makes them more valuable. I'll take O'Neal any day."

John of Stamford, Conn.: "O'Neal is shooting only 44 percent from the field? That's not good enough for a power forward. I'll take Bosh because he's the total package, and it seems like he makes very few mistakes for a young player -- a great attribute for when each possession is so important in the playoffs."

Rob of Indianapolis: "I love J.O., but he is getting up there in age. I love him in the playoffs, but I'm going to take Bosh based on his potential to explode offensively every game."

Ricky of Eugene, Ore.: "O'Neal has had his chances to take the Pacers deep into the playoffs, and for the most part it hasn't happened. I don't think Bosh is the type of player who will freeze up in the playoff pressure. Because of that, he would be my pick despite not having any posteason experience."