The Boston sports scene and the NBA are both cruel worlds.
Danny Ainge shipped out Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for the Nets’ draft picks just three years ago this week, but all the talk around town and in basketball circles right now is centered around the fact that Ainge and Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck are the boys who cry wolf.
Kevin Love was coming here two years ago, and then he wasn’t. The Celtics were ready to make a franchise-altering trade last summer, then they weren’t. They were slated to make a monster deal at this past February’s trade deadline, but didn’t.
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Nevermind the fact that their current best player – Isaiah Thomas – came via trade in 2015 and nevermind the fact that Ainge shipped out Rajon Rondo in December of 2014. It’s a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” world, and Ainge has been a bore for the past 16 months.
For the record, I’m something of an Ainge honk. In fact, the headline “Danny Ainge is the best GM in pro sports” appeared in this space just a few weeks back. My belief that Ainge is the best front office mind around though centers around the idea that he will cash in these Nets picks for one or two superstar players. That simply has not happened as of 2016 NBA Draft Eve, and that’s a bit worrisome.
The Celtics, namely Grousbeck, have made errors over the past few years in routinely trotting out the phrase, “fireworks” when it comes to potential trades or free agent signings. Ainge makes his best moves when he’s patient, not when he’s rushed because of some promise. The deal that got Garnett to Boston and the deal that sent Garnett out of Boston came about because the circumstances with the Timberwolves and Nets, respectively, were tumultuous at those times. Ainge didn’t panic in 2005 or 2006, just as he didn’t panic in 2011 or 2012 when people were pushing him to “get anything” for Pierce and Garnett.
Now, there has been so much build-up regarding this particular summer with the Celtics that anything short of a trade of the No. 3 pick in direct exchange for a bona fide future Hall of Famer Thursday night will be met with a collective sigh.
Take a guy like Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton. He’s just 24-years-old and his scoring average has jumped dramatically year-to-year in the league. Rumors popped up the other night that the Celtics were willing to part with the 3-pick for Middleton. Scrolling through my Twitter feed, there were more than a few Celtics fans violently typing, “Who!?!?!”
The problem here is that Ainge is his own worst enemy now when it comes to the fans and to other GMs around the league. Because he swindled the T’Woles in 2007, and because he swindled the Nets in 2013, and because he swindled the Suns in 2015, Celtics fans expect the world at every trade deadline - and at every draft. Because of those moves the job security-less GMs around the league (and there are many) are afraid of being swindled by Ainge at every trade deadline - and at every draft.
This headline on ESPN.com Tuesday night was deflating for all Celtics fans: “Celtics rebuffed in bid to swap No. 3 pick for established vet.” The article goes on to say that the Celtics proposed deals for Bulls 2-guard Jimmy Butler, Jazz guard Gordon Hayward, Bucks forward Jabari Parker and the aforementioned Middleton. In other words, the Celtics might actually have to stay put at No.3 Thursday night and (Lord forbid) make a pick! And if Dragan Bender is standing on a podium in Waltham holding a Celtics Jersey on Friday, the collective snore from Celtics fans will be heard from here to Croatia.
Yeah, Thursday is a big day in the storied history of the Celtics for sure. I’m just not convinced it’s going to be the biggest day. In fact, it might be a flat-out boring day – with no fireworks in sight.