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Ian Thomsen
March 05, 2007
Forever Young The Celtics are not without talent, but until their G.M. gets serious about acquiring an experienced hand or two, they won't win
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March 05, 2007

The Nba

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Forever Young
The Celtics are not without talent, but until their G.M. gets serious about acquiring an experienced hand or two, they won't win

UNDER DANNY AINGE'S leadership the Celtics have become laughingstocks. Since he took over as executive director of basketball operations in 2003, inheriting a contender that won 93 games and three playoff series over two seasons, Boston has gone 127--174 (.422); this year the team has the worst record in the league (13--42 through Sunday) and recently endured a franchise-record 18-game losing streak. The Celtics have hit rock bottom because Ainge is unwilling—or unable—to acquire veteran players who would help win games today.

Does that make Ainge the equivalent of the Detroit Lions' Matt Millen? Hardly. For one thing, Ainge has drafted exceedingly well: All nine of his picks over the last three years—none in the lottery—have turned into legitimate pros, including starters Al Jefferson (No. 15 in 2004), Delonte West (No. 24 in '04) and Ryan Gomes (No. 50 in '05).

The problem: Ainge has grown far too dependent on the draft. Boston has a half-dozen players who could be in college this year, but Ainge has made a mess of acquiring productive veterans to balance out the roster. In 2003 he recklessly sent All-Star forward Antoine Walker—when Walker's value had bottomed out—to the Mavericks in a deal for Raef LaFrentz, an overpaid big man with a bum knee. Last June, Ainge finally unloaded LaFrentz's contract in a draft-day blunder that netted third-string point guard Sebastian Telfair, while the Trail Blazers ended up with Rookie of the Year favorite Brandon Roy. And let's not forget Ricky Davis.

Majority owner Wyc Grousbeck refuses to hold Ainge accountable for making the team younger in each of the past three years. "Every team has 'tradeable' players and 'untradeable' players," Grousbeck says, in a specious attempt at rationalizing Ainge's big blind spot. "Why should we want somebody's 'tradeable' players?"

In truth, the league is full of players labeled as underperformers who have become productive, and usually inexpensive, contributors elsewhere: Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, Mavericks center DeSagana Diop and Heat forward Jason Kapono are onetime flops who have prospered in new environments. Boston overlooks these players because, unlike most franchises, the Celtics don't have anyone in their front office who makes a priority of assessing current NBA talent. Pro personnel scouts travel the league in search of bargain veterans and spend hundreds of thankless hours determining whether young talents who have fizzled in one situation could thrive in another.

The Celtics' failure to outsmart their rivals prevents them from acquiring buried treasure like guard Dennis Johnson, who died last week of a heart attack at age 52. In 1983 Red Auerbach was able to move center Rick Robey to the Suns for Johnson, who was available because of his reputation as a locker room cancer—a rep so grossly wrong that Ainge would jokingly refer to his new Boston teammate as Chemo. Johnson was one of those "tradeable" players, and he helped the Celtics win their last two titles.

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