The standards are simply ridiculous in this town.
The Celtics have gone nearly nine years without a championship, the longest pro sports title drought in Boston right now.
But make no mistake. What Danny Ainge has already done in rebuilding this franchise twice now is a basketball miracle. In fact, if it wasn’t for Bill Belichick – Ainge would be the one hailed as Boston’s resident sports genius.
The Celtics are currently second in the Eastern Conference. They lured their first big free agent name to Boston last summer. They currently own draft picks from the Brooklyn Nets that could land in the top three this year and next. Even if Ainge does not make a blockbuster trade this week, the Celtics are set up to be among the top five teams in the NBA for the next six or seven years.
Rebuilding in the NBA is a tricky deal. Rarely do those two quarters and five dimes for one dollar deals work out for the non-paper currency teams (shhhh ... don't tell Chicago and Indiana execs that this week). The Timberwolves never got over trading Kevin Garnett to the Celtics in 2007, as they haven’t made the playoffs since.
Completely tanking in this league rarely works.
Four out of the five best teams in the NBA right now record-wise (Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, and Celtics) are where they are because of smart drafting, key free agent signings and shrewd trading. The Cavs are the only top team that “tanked” to get their superstar in LeBron James and that was 14 years ago. Golden State selected Stephen Curry No. 7 overall in 2009. San Antonio selected Kawhi Leonard 15th overall in 2011. The Rockets traded for James Harden in 2012, and the Celtics traded for Isaiah Thomas two years ago.
Yes, it feels like Isaiah has been with the Celtics forever, but really – that was only 735 days ago (a couple weeks after the Patriots beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49, for reference). And that franchise-abducting trade with the Nets that set all of this up? That wasn’t even four years ago, as Ainge traded Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn on June 28, 2013.
Ainge gutted the franchise that day, and typically when you do that – it takes six or seven years to even get back to relevancy. But the Celtics missed the playoffs just once after that deal (in 2014). They were back in the dance in 2015, and they took another step forward last year – grabbing the five seed in the East with 48 wins.
Will they take another step forward? Of course, they will.
It is a complete joke when the basketball illiterate people that host radio shows in this town (and there are many) say that Ainge holds on to his assets too long. That type of stuff was said in 2005 and 2006 too, just prior to the Garnett and Ray Allen trades. These dummies also complained that Ainge was waiting too long to deal away Garnett and Paul Pierce when they were getting long in the tooth. I recall bitching as far back as 2009-10 - a season in which the Celtics eventually took the Lakers to Game 7 of the NBA Finals - that outlined how Ainge was a hypocrite for holding on to Garnett and Pierce too long. (Ainge once joked with Red Auerbach that he should trade a 32-year-old Larry Bird).
Most don't remember this, but the Celtics nearly traded Garnett to the Clippers in February 2013 in exchange for DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe, and nearly traded Paul Pierce to Atlanta in exchange for Josh Smith. That would have been the “quick fix” route.
Instead, Ainge held on to his assets until he found a team that would panic. The Nets panicked, and are the Minnesota Vikings in the NBA’s Herschel Walker deal. In 2007, the Timberwolves also panicked and traded Garnett to the Celtics.
Maybe Ainge finds a team that panics today, or maybe he doesn’t. Just know that he eventually will find that team.