Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge used the brief window following the end of the NBA lockout to feverishly prepare for one final championship run with the aging Big Three.
Three weeks into the season, murmurs are growing louder that he should blow up the roster and begin preparing for the next era after a 5-8 start.
Before the Celtics ended a five-game losing streak by beating Toronto last night, Ainge said that while he maintains hope that his four All-Star players will improve, he will have no hesitation to make deals if the Celtics are not competitive.
While Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have expiring contracts and Rajon Rondo has three more years left on his deal, there has been speculation that Paul Pierce, with two years left, is the Celtics’ most marketable player next to Rondo, and that he could be moved before his deal expires.
Ainge said he has loyalty to his roster and is willing to give his veterans more than this brief window to prove themselves, but he won’t allow them to age and decline drastically the way Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish did in the early 1990s.
“First of all, it’s a different era,’’ said Ainge. “I sat with Red [Auerbach] during a Christmas party [20 years ago]. Red was talking to Larry, Kevin, and myself, and there was a lot of trade discussion at the time, and Red actually shared some of the trade discussions. And I told Red, ‘What are you doing? Why are you waiting?’
“He had a chance to trade Larry [to Indiana] for Chuck Person and Herb Williams and [Steve] Stipanovich, and he had a chance to trade Kevin [to Dallas] for Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins. I was, like, ‘Are you kidding?’
“I mean, I feel that way now. If I were presented with those kinds of deals for our aging veterans, it’s a done deal, to continue the success.
“After those guys retired, the Celtics had a long drought. But those things aren’t presenting themselves. In today’s day and age, with 30 teams in the NBA, 15 teams know they have no chance of winning a championship. They are building with young players.
“It’s a different era that we live in. It’s easy to say conceptually but you have to always weigh what are real opportunities.’’
The Celtics began the season with a three-game losing streak, won four in a row against inferior competition, and then lost five straight against playoff-caliber teams.
“I think there’s no excuses, because every team has had the same training camp, but we weren’t prepared,’’ said Ainge. “We haven’t been prepared mentally, physically to win.
“I don’t have the answers as to why, but it obviously hurt not having Paul for training camp or the first three games. I think Paul’s been trying to find himself.
“I’m not panicked, but I think, like the players and the coaches, I think we’re better than we’re playing.’’
Pierce injured his right heel during early workouts and has taken weeks to work himself into playing shape. His struggles have been one of the season’s early disappointments.
Meanwhile, Garnett has looked slow and lacked athleticism and spring in his legs. Despite going 5 for 7 for 15 points last night, he is shooting a career-worst 47 percent.
“I think Kevin is not playing as well as he’s capable of,’’ Ainge said. “He’s been through stretches like this before, but I think he’s trying, and I think his demise has been highly exaggerated from a lot of people who ask me those questions.
“I think Kevin is still a very good player - very smart, savvy, high character. A big part of our team. Can he carry us like he’s done in the past? Hopefully for stretches he can, but we don’t expect him to be MVP Kevin Garnett anymore or even All-Star Kevin Garnett anymore. But a very good player.’’
It will be weeks before Ainge potentially pulls the trigger on deals that could end the Big Three Era, if attractive deals present themselves. Until then, the Celtics have time to gather themselves.
“I’m hoping that this team does turn it around and start playing better,’’ said Ainge. “I don’t expect a miracle that all of a sudden it’s going to get better overnight. Is it incrementally going to get better? I hope that it can.
“Sure, I think in the next few weeks I’ll have a better feel. If the pattern continues like it is now, then I think that our hopes diminish, of course.
“It still doesn’t mean we do anything, because there may not be opportunities to do anything. But I think that we’ll have a better feel rather than a 12-game sample.’’