Ever since August of 2007 when Danny emptied the cupboard to acquire Kevin Garnett, Ainge has been patching holes in the roster with bandaids, tape, spit, and baling wire. He had managed to hold on to Rondo and Perkins while adding two stars to combine with Paul Pierce, creating an imposing starting five. On the bench he had, well, almost nothing.
This was the beginning of a half decade of Aces and Spaces. Every year he added free agents (usually the MLE and a variety pack of vet-min role players) along with his draft picks (always among the bottom 40 as success insured picking near the bottom of each round). His shots at premium players were recycling former stars nearing (too often “just past”) the end of their careers. He often tried for a quality reserve coming off injury only to find their rehab failed to recapture the “quality” part and the Celtics were left with just a reserve.
With a trio of aging stars rapidly their expiration dates, he drafted for production since the window would close before a development project came online. As one would expect NBA-near-ready players picked late in the draft came with significant warts and none really produced. Frequently they were soon gone as Danny attempted to shore up the crumbling bench in mid-season trades or signings to fill spots opened by waiving earlier attempts that disappointed. Doc was accused of relegating rookies to the bench without regard to their play but the truth is that he gave each their chances and none seized the bit and made a run.
That first season was charmed–Danny added productive role players Posey and House after the Garnett mega-deal, the New Big Three remained healthy all season, the second round picks Powe and Davis played and produced, and the mid-season acquisitions of P. J. Brown and Sam Cassell. The resulting Championship was not repeated the next four years as injuries mounted and acquisitions fizzles. Danny Ainge’s next bold move was a calculated risk breaking up his “starting five who had never lost a championship series.” In the spring of 2010 he moved the still recuperating Kendrick Perkins and streaky and oft-undisciplined Nate Robinson to Oklahoma for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Green struggled to find his place among the Celtics’ stars and Krstic, after a fast start, became ineffective due to injury. Krstic fled to Russia during the lockout and Green never played the next season undergoing cardiac surgery. It appeared Danny’s gamble had failed and the Celtics were left with nothing to show for losing their starting center.
The lockout-delayed start and the new CBA may have hindered Ainge’s attempts (and I remain convinced he kicked the tires on numerous options trying) to kick-start a rebuild by moving some or all of the aging Big Three. Then Danny found his groove once again. The draft pick added in the Perkins’ trade allowed Ainge to grab the back-injury-red-flagged slider Jared Sully as well as a project center in Fab Melo. The deep draft offered a mid-second-round pick in Kris Joseph that some had thought would be a first round pick in a leaner draft. Then Garnett returned—suddenly it’s a reload, not a rebuild! Jason Terry, spurned by Mark Cuban in Dallas, joyfully joined the Celtics.
Ray Allen’s departure affirmed the old adage about it’s an ill wind that blows no good. A Celtics’ offense that had increasingly stagnated as Ray wove back and forth across the court around pick after pick trying to shake his defender long enough to receive a pass and get off his jumper—was no more!
Early on Ainge picked up Jason Collins as a solid although limited backup for Garnett. Jeff Green agreed to resign although the formalities were not completed until after the protracted acquisition of Courtney Lee.
The wooing of Lee began almost accidently with Doc running into him out on the street near their homes. By the time Danny was inquiring in late July, Lee’s qualifying offer in Houston had been rescinded and he was an unrestricted free agent. Once Lee knew the Celtics were trying to arrange for a sign and trade (the Celtics’ MLE already used on Jason Terry), he waited patiently putting off other suitors. It is still amazing just how Danny managed to pull off swapping four relatively insignificant players (Sasha Pavlovic to Portland and three others waived by Houston before the season) and three second round picks for a sometimes starter entering his physical prime. This seemed to be a tipping point as subsequent additions (Darko and Barbosa) took vet min deals from Celtics even though offered more from other teams. While the Lee negotiations dragged on Danny resigned Brandon Bass. After Lee was acquired and Bass re-signed, the Green contract was finally formalized. Two weeks later Wilcox returned for the vet min.
So the spaces are now filled by players of some substance; but the Aces are no longer stars in their primes. In keeping with the poker analogy, the Aces and Spaces has become Kings over Jacks (or perhaps Jacks over Kings). What remains to be seen is if that is a full house or just two pair.
Boston, and all points beyond