The last time I typed here about the Celtics, I said that Boston sports radio is at its worst when it talks NBA.
I would like to apologize for that. I was wrong.
It’s actually gambling sports radio that’s the worst. Celtics talk, due to many hosts’ ignorance or disingenuousness when it comes to how Danny Ainge does his job, is the second-most insufferable topic.
We don’t regret the error. Carry on.
OK, so that’s not much of an apology. It’s the best you’re going to get, pal. Gambling sports radio and the life-force draining tediousness of hosts telling you in all of their practiced high-roller jargon how they bet and why while you wonder if they keep a bankruptcy lawyer on retainer is surefire way to get me to switch my radio to the station with the hits of the ’70s, ’80s, and today.
Celtics talk is only slightly less annoying, because it perpetrates this warped perception that Ainge has somehow failed as the Celtics’ president of basketball operations since he returned to the organization in May 2003 as the — unofficial title here — primary basketball honcho and chief talent-procurer.
There is an embarrassingly large and loud contingent of alleged Celtics fans, many of whom beat the odds and actually figured out how to start social media accounts, who actually believe that he’s not good at his job.
It’s apparent that many of them, if not the majority, take their cues from the hot-takers on sports radio. Their buzzwords match the lingo — the term “green teamers” is a dead giveaway that you’re not thinking for yourself — and so do the unrealistic expectations that are parroted.
Much of the noise centers around one fact, delivered with no context: The Celtics have won one championship in Ainge’s 17 seasons. It certainly would be cool if they had added an 18th banner in 2009 or 2010 or even in more recent years. But that take disregards so much that it has to be willful, and perhaps that purposeful ignorance is impenetrable.
I’ll give it a go anyway. If it persuades one person to appreciate the calculus that goes into building an NBA team, or at least gets someone to stop using that “green teamers” term designed to dismiss those who pay attention, it’s worth it. So here’s a rough timeline of Ainge’s time in Boston:
Arrives in May 2003 as a surprising hire during the playoffs, when the Celtics lost in the second round to the Nets … Begins rebuilding, trading Antoine Walker to Dallas … Drafts the likes of Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, and Rajon Rondo during rebuild from 2003-2006 … Hires Doc Rivers as coach … Misses out on Kevin Durant in 2007 draft — yes, he would have been the pick — when the ping-pong balls refuse to cooperate …
Pivots, and trades first-rounder Jeff Green to the Sonics in a deal for star guard Ray Allen … Uses Jefferson and other accumulated assets to acquire Kevin Garnett from the Timberwolves, uniting him with Allen and Paul Pierce for a new big three … Celtics win 2008 title, have perhaps a better team in ’09 and ’10, but Garnett knee issues interfere … Keeps that beloved group together through the 2012 season, after which Allen leaves to join the Heat … Goes full rebuild on draft night 2013 when he deals franchise icon Pierce and Garnett, along with secondary pieces, to the Nets for three first-round picks, the rights to swap a fourth, and assorted players …
Stuns the basketball world when he hires Butler whiz kid Brad Stevens as coach when Rivers goes to the Clippers for a pick … Spends a 2014 first-round pick on Marcus Smart, who becomes the quintessential gritty Celtic … Steals Isaiah Thomas in a 2015 deal with the Suns … Signs Al Horford as a July 2016 free agent, the first major free agent ever to choose Boston … Uses one Nets pick to select Jaylen Brown No. 3 overall in 2016; the pick is booed by Celtics fans … Uses another Nets pick to trade out of the first spot in the 2017 draft, move to third and take Jayson Tatum … Signs coveted free agent Gordon Hayward … Acquires star guard Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers …
Reaches three of the last four Eastern Conference finals despite horrible luck that includes a brutal Hayward injury and Irving being an all-time chemistry killer who departed after wrecking a loaded 2018 Celtics team … Signs Kemba Walker after Irving bails to go kill the Nets … Gets a massive trade exception from the Hornets after Hayward takes their absurd $120 million offer … Rapidly rebuilds a contending team after one era or another comes to an end, and does it in an era in which there is an extremely high degree of difficulty in building a contender, unless LeBron James chooses your city as his next destination… Never, ever tanks.
By the way, that’s the condensed version of the Ainge timeline.
I don’t know, seems like the kind of open-minded dealmaker you’d want running your team.
Because I am not a sports radio host, I will recognize the other side of the argument, as exaggerated as it may be. Ainge has missed on some draft picks lately. I still have no clue what they saw in Guerschon Yabusele as a basketball player. He’s held on to draft capital that has lost value. He made the mistake of not recognizing that Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 15th pick in the 2013 draft, would grow at least two inches and possessed untapped superpowers.
What else am I missing? Oh, right: The Hayward situation. The story is current enough that it’s not necessary for a deep synopsis here. Hayward opted out of the final year of his contract, at $34.8 million. He reportedly wanted to go the Pacers. The Celtics tried to work a sign and trade with the Pacers. Colleague Gary Washburn reported that Ainge’s ask was steep, including T.J. Warren and Myles Turner, as well as a first-round pick. The Pacers passed. Michael Jordan dropped a vault of cash at Hayward’s feet. Hayward took the cash and became a Hornet. We don’t know how much Indiana offered, or whether Hayward would have taken it.
Ainge salvaged the departure, getting a valuable trade exception worth $28.5 million in a sign-and-trade with the Hornets. He added Tristan Thompson — whom I believe wholeheartedly Ainge prefers to Turner — as a free agent. It stinks losing Hayward, a good player dealt a bad hand here.
But he was also absent during the first two rounds of the Celtics playoff run. It’s possible this year’s team is better than the one we saw for much of the postseason, when they won those two rounds without him.
Once again, Ainge pivoted when something didn’t go the Celtics way. He’s done that remarkably well in his 17 years and the various incarnations of compelling and successful Celtics teams.
Yes, there’s been just one banner on his watch. The quest doesn’t end. If you don’t think he’s the right person to lead it, start paying attention, and stop parroting those who don’t.