I’m going to be very up-front about this. GM and resident methodical madman Danny Ainge might just be one of the most confusing people in sports. Just when you think you have him, or the direction he’s taking the Boston Celtics figured out, he assembles the “Big 3.” Or he trades away a healthy center to make room for a 40-year-old Shaquille O’Neal. Or he trades the core of the team to the Brooklyn Nets for less than ideal players.
If you know anything about the Celtics, by now you have some idea of Ainge. However odd and seemingly heartless much of his activity is, you can’t deny his track record. He kept Paul Pierce in town as long as possible, resisted the urge to trade Rajon Rondo and was directly responsible for the Big Three Era and all that followed. It could be argued Ainge financially-finagled his way into Banner 17.
But what, as fans, do we make of his most recent transaction? Trading Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for everyone’s least favorite part of the team? Is Ainge out of his mind? Maybe not. It doesn’t take an analyst to tell you this isn’t a Boston team built for winning right now. But the way I see it, Ainge is planning for tomorrow on a very large scale. This “plan for tomorrow” is twofold.
First, the Celtics have acquired and are currently developing young talent. While Rondo is the first player to come to mind, the best example is a player like Avery Bradley. The young guard is only 22 years old and has steadily improved for the Celtics ever since getting more minutes. It’s only a matter of time before he is recognized as the elite defender he is primed to be. Jeff Green also comes to mind, and although he is 27, he has had to spend his career behind the likes of Pierce as well as Kevin Durant. Now that he can start games, there’s no telling what he’ll do.
The one part of the first step that stands out to me is the acquisition of MarShon Brooks in the trade. Brooks was originally drafted by the Celtics in 2011, and after being sent to the Nets later that season, Brooks had an impressive rookie year, leaving Boston fans in remorse at the deal. Clearly, Ainge saw something in Brooks leading him to draft him in the first place. When he got the chance to get him back, he jumped on it.
Also, let’s not forget the down-the-road first-round picks Boston managed to secure from the loss of Doc Rivers and as part of the Nets trade. It is obvious, rather than simply building a core of good players regardless of age as fast as possible, a strategy used in 2007, Ainge is at least creating a core that should be good for quite some time.
Part two of what I believe Ainge’s strategy might be revolves around the entire 2014 free agency period. I know, I know, the Celtics are not getting LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Kobe Bryant is staying in L.A., and I don’t foresee Dwyane Wade taking off either. However, just look at some of the free agents Boston can have to work with: Vince Carter, Andrew Bogut, Paul George, Danny Granger, Zach Randolph, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay are all entirely feasible options for Boston. (A certain 35-year-old former Celtic forward happens to be unrestricted too.) If none of the aforementioned players happen to be appealing to Ainge, the 2015 free agency market is going to be a doozy as well.
Pick just about any one or two of those players, add them to the current Celtics roster minus a few Brooklyn forwards and tack on another year of experience, and suddenly the Celtics are playoff bound once again. Randolph and Jared Sullinger in the paint together? Just Imagine George and Green in crunch time. And I personally can’t get the image of Rondo lobbing one to Carter out of my mind.
With an already solid core of youth, at this point, Ainge is only playing a waiting game. Are the Celtics going to be good this season? Heck no. But if we’ve learned anything about Ainge, we know that there is typically a method to his madness.
Building up a historic team like the Celtics as the next big thing in the league with great coaching and young talent in hopes of drawing free agents to a team with the salary for them?
That might just be crazy enough to work.