It looks like Red passed on the luck of the Irish to Danny; it just took a little while to surface.
Danny Ainge was an idiot. Now he’s a savant. So how did the failing protector of the shamrock elude the firing squad and become both the savior of the Celtics and the toast of Beantown?
We know the headlines: Ainge acquired Ray Allen, Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett, and signed Eddie House, Scott Pollard, and James Posey to fill out his roster. All this happened during the summer of 2007, when the Celtics and their choreographer went from cursed tankers to the Spurs of the East.
For the real answer, we look no further than the draft. This list leaves out the selection of Ryan Gomes in the second round of the 2005 draft, and the 2006 trade that sent the seventh overall selection, Randy Foye, and the contracts of Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau to Portland for Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff’s contract. This move ended up being Ainge’s masterstroke, even as most dismissed it as a terrible trade for the Celtics.
Critics said they gave away talent in the trade, gambling on the already overrated Telfair. Little attention was paid to the fact that the real crux of the deal was trading LaFrentz’s contract for Ratliff’s. Theo’s contract had only two years remaining on it, as opposed to three for Raef, giving the Celtics a chance to make a major move a full year ahead of the previous schedule.
To recap, when Ainge took over the team, the Celtics had essentially one desirable asset on their roster: Paul Pierce. Trading off several other pieces in the hopes of bringing in more valuable chips, Ainge methodically remade his roster. Within three years the Celtics had acquired Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Ryan Gomes, and Gerald Green. With the Telfair trade and a move to pick up the draft rights to Rajon Rondo (whom, in a convoluted swap, they essentially acquired for none other than Jiri Welsch), the team found itself with no fewer than eight desirable young players already on the roster, extra draft picks (Minnesota’s unprotected 2009 pick), and two large contracts to facilitate potential trades for superstars in the forms of Wally Szczerbiak and Theo Ratliff. Now that’s a transformation.
After the debacle that was the 2006-2007 season, the franchise needed to make its move. Furthering the failure of a season was the final knife twist of a draft lottery that almost loosened the grip of the many faithful Celtics fans still desperately clinging to the bandwagon. Years after the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis, the Tim Duncan lottery, and the passing of Red Auerbach just days before the start of the previous season, things looked bleak for the Green. Kevin Durant wouldn’t be walking through that door. Greg Oden wouldn’t be walking through that door.
Ainge’s selections of Gabe Pruitt and Glen Davis in the second round this past draft have spotlighted his scouting prowess. The continued success of the new-look Celtics will depend on the Boston Boss finding a few more gems in the bottom of the draft over the next few years.
As it turned out, the team had finally caught a break after a tumultuous run that started with Len Bias’s fateful decision less than 48 hours after the ’86 draft. Greg Oden, whom the Celtics might have selected had they won the lottery, would miss the entire 2007-2008 season with microfracture surgery on his knee. Meanwhile, in Seattle, Kevin Durant has shown that while he can certainly be a franchise pillar someday, that day won’t occur during this season or next.
Dealt a near-fatal blow, Ainge tirelessly worked the phones (and old friend Kevin McHale) until the rapidly rising flood waters began to recede during the days between the draft lottery and the start of the new season. Ainge turned a whopping ten assets into Ray Allen, Glen Davis, and Kevin Garnett. Like that, veterans realized the Celtics would have the best shot at the Finals of any team over the next couple seasons. Boston finally found veterans other than Brian Scalabrine willing to take its mid-level exception money.
Now the team is 40-9 heading into its match-up with the Knicks in which a New York victory would be infintely more unexpected than the Giants’ upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
None of this would have happened had Danny Ainge not worked the draft arguably as well or better than any other GM during his tenure in Boston.
As it turns out, this idiot savant may have been more savant than idiot the entire time.