Danny Ainge has one option as the trade deadline is only three days away. He must hold onto the Big 4, and it’s not because these guys will lead the Celtics to an NBA championship. Ainge has made several mistakes that leave him no choice but to finish out the season with the Big 3 plus Rondo.
Signing Paul Pierce to a four year, $61 million dollar contract in the Summer of 2010 was the first mistake. Danny should have instructed ownership to negotiate a buyout of Pierce’s $21.5 million player option and then go after a younger free agent. Tyson Chandler and Rudy Gay were free agents at the time, and one of them would have looked great in a Celtics uniform. Danny also could have negotiated a partial buyout of Pierce’s player option (say ten million dollars), sign him to a contract, and then trade him. Instead, Ainge worked out a deal with Pierce that if he gave up his player option and took less money, he would get the security that comes with a multi-year deal. Ainge then used the money saved on the Pierce contract to resign Ray Allen to a two year, $20 million deal.
The problem was that Danny committed to two players past their prime. The Celtics needed to get younger and more athletic after their game 7 loss to the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals. Instead Danny committed four years to a 32-year-old small forward and two years to 34-year-old shooting guard. Then he went out and signed two calcified Bigs that no one wanted in Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal, because he didn’t have the cap space to sign someone better after the Pierce/Allen deals. That’s not going to get it done if your goal is to move in the direction of winning an NBA championship.
Danny’s second mistake was that he traded the wrong guy at the 2011 trade deadline. It should have been Rajon Rondo, not Kendrick Perkins. There were some realistic options at the time. How about Rondo for Utah’s Deron Williams with some players/picks/cash thrown in by both sides to make it happen? Or what about Rondo to the Rockets for Aaron Brooks and a first round pick. Anyone who says these deals couldn’t happen doesn’t understand the possibilities of creative accounting.
Ainge should have traded Rondo for top market value while he had the chance, but it’s too late now. Some say why trade a guy who has 17 triple doubles in his career? It’s very simple. Rondo can’t shoot! Check out his career numbers. After 6 years in the league, Rondo shoots a respectable 48% from the field. But then there’s the appalling 61% from the line and abysmal 24% from the three-point arc. For a starting point guard in the NBA, those last two numbers are downright embarrassing. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski knew you couldn’t give a Team USA roster spot to someone who can’t shoot. That’s why he went with Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry over Rondo. Don’t let Rondo’s withdrawal from Team USA just before the final roster was announced fool you. He saw the writing on the wall. Want a more recent example of Rondo’s shooting woes? In Sunday’s loss to the Lakers, Rondo bricked a late three that would have tied it.
So instead of saying “sayonara” to Rondo, Danny traded Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green. He did it because the Celtics were over the salary cap and couldn’t come close to offering a deal that Perk would accept. Why were the C’s over the salary cap? Oh, let’s see. Maybe it had something to do with committing $81 million to Pierce and Allen.
Ainge’s next mistake is his overall record in the draft, especially since 2004. That year’s top pick was Al Jefferson, who three years later Danny brilliantly traded to Minnesota for K.G. That same draft brought positive contributors in Tony Allen and Delonte West. But chew on this for a minute. In the last seven years, only Rondo and Ray Allen represent draft night moves that have significantly helped the Celtics compete for a championship. Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Gabe Pruitt, J.R. Giddens, Semih Erden, Lester Hudson, Luke Hrangody, Avery Bradley, MarShon Brooks (traded to Nets for #27 pick, who turned out to be JaJuan Johnson), and E’Twaun Moore represent the rest of Danny’s draft magic since 2004. OK, to be fair the jury is still out on Bradley, Moore, and Johnson. However, my eyeball test says only Johnson may have a shot to stick with the C’s for any lasting period of time.
I’ve laid out the major mistakes Danny made that force him to ride out the 2011-2012 season with the Big 4. But maybe Danny’s biggest blunder is none of the above. Maybe he just didn’t have the courage to trust his instincts. Danny has admitted the late Red Auerbach told him that he had the chance to break up the original Big 3, but didn’t pull the trigger. Danny said he didn’t want to make the same mistake Red made and watch this second version of the Big 3 become old and irrelevant under his watch. But that is exactly what has happened.
In a weird way maybe the Chris Wilcox heart situation will force Danny to trade one of the Big 4 on Thursday night for a quality post player, but don’t bet the house on it. A move will be made for sure on draft night, but don’t expect anything earth shattering. I give Danny credit for the K.G. and Ray-Ray trades that brought brought the Celtics a seventeenth world championship. But it didn’t have to come to this. Danny, you should have trusted your instincts and moved a piece or two of the Big 4 for quality talent while you had the leverage.