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