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Remember: There Was Another Way

 

As soon as I saw Chad Ford had given the C’s a relatively middling B- for their off-season moves, I knew it was coming—a deluge of comments saying Ford had gotten it wrong, that he just didn’t understand what Danny Ainge was doing, that he was biased against a team most fans love to hate. 

Meanwhile, I read the B- grade and thought: That’s about right. Did you ever have a teacher who threatened to dock you a letter grade for every day your paper was late? You could turn in the greatest paper ever written, but if you were a few days late, you could do no better than a B. That was Ainge this off-season. He couldn’t get an “A” under a grading scale that put him in competition Pat Riley and Gar Forman. The C’s salary cap situation made that impossible. 

To me, a B- stands for something just a bit better than maintaining the status quo—for doing your best to plug roster holes without the benefit of fail-sale solutions. That’s exactly what Ainge did, and he did it (basically) with Bird rights and the bare minimum of cap exceptions afforded teams over the cap. 

That’s a B- off-season, and that’s fine. But in the rush to defend the front office, some folks are overlooking a fundamental truth: This wasn’t the only path open to Ainge this off-season.

And that was Ford’s point: 

Did Ainge do the right thing? If the Celtics can make another deep run or two, he probably chose wisely. But if we saw the last gasp of the Celtics this past spring or if the Heat just steamroll everyone this season, then Ainge and the Celtics missed a critical chance to rebuild while they had the cap space to do it.

The option was there. Paul Pierce handed it to the Celtics by opting out of the final year of his contract. Had the Celtics then renounced their rights to Pierce, Ray Allen and the rest of their free agents (and convinced Rasheed Wallace to retire in the most cap-friendly way possible), they could have set themselves up with about $17.5 million in cap room—enough to sign one max player or two pretty good players. 

Of course, this scenario would have left the Celtics with just five players under contract:

Kevin Garnett

Rajon Rondo

Glen Davis

Kendrick Perkins (now injured, of course)

Avery Bradley

That nucleus is not going to attract one of the Wade/James/Bosh trio—especially since they may have planned their little Miami slumber party years in advance. Dirk Nowitzki? He’s aging and was going to stay in Dallas anyway. Carlos Boozer or Amare Stoudemire? Maybe, but that five-man roster needs a star swing man more than another front line ingredient. 

Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson? Their teams took them off the market with unmatchable deals. 

That would have left Boston to pick over the mid-tier free agents—the Josh Childress-J.J. Redick-Brendan Haywood types. Sign a couple of those guys, and you’re right at the cap, left with only the veteran’s minimum exception to fill out the roster. The C’s could have also preserved some cap space, hoping to fleece some team looking to get rid of an unwanted contract during the season. 

Barring a free agent miracle or a sign-and-trade involving Paul Pierce or Ray Allen, the path outlined above—the rebuilding path—would have represented a significant step back in 2011. But it could have netted them a good young asset to pair with Rondo and/or another round of major cap space after the 2011 season. 

Ainge chose instead to wait at least one more season. And I like that decision, for several reasons:

• No radical rebuilding plan would have made Boston a better team in 2011 than they will be with the current roster;

• The popular narrative is that the Celtics have signed on for a two-year run with this veteran group, and that any real rebuilding will have to wait until after the 2012 season. That’s not necessarily true, for two reasons:

1) The likelihood that a lockout will wipe out at least a portion of the 2012 season. If it wipes out the entire thing—a doomsday scenario I don’t think the league will let happen—that hefty 2012 salary bill disappears. If the lockout results in a shortened season, a veteran team gets to rest and the Celtics ownership gets to pay pro-rated salaries;

2) The Celtics will have expiring contracts of all shapes and sizes to play with during the 2012 season, and expiring contracts will be desirable commodities no matter what the new collective bargaining agreement looks like. If things are going badly midway through the 2012 season, the Celtics will have assets to deal. Those assets might not bring back star players, but they could bring back draft picks and useful young-ish players on longer deals.

Take all this into account, and Ainge probably made the right choice. But remember: He had a choice.

  • Emmandlc

    Fair comments.. If you put it that way then the grade is fair. But I think Danny did the best he could with what he got no questions asked. Anyone they could have gotten for both PP and ray ray would not have been enough to contend, but now the Cs are contenders. More importantly, cap flex is there to rebuild on the fly. Comparing that to what other franchises have/ have had for decades (ehem the Knicks), I’d take this 5 year run and beyond any day ü

  • 2p2d

    FORGET CHAD FORD!!!!!!!

    I feel good about Boston’s chances. The Celtics can beat the heat psychologically (Delonte pulling a Doohan on LeBron) and then beat the Lakers physically(too much size up front).

  • JP

    I still think the Celtics did better than maintain the status quo. They went from a team last year that had little depth, to one of the deepest in the league with Delonte, Shaq and Jermaine. Wafer and Daniels are somewhat of gambles (even if Daniels was out of necessity), and signing your own players (Allen, Pierce) is what you should do anyway.

  • mike

    agree jp…they left themselves an out with von…they can go big, they can go small, if bradley and luke play like some of ainge’s other picks they could go 12 deep….they could still swing a deal for a guy like posey if they so wish…danny has them in good shape….

  • steve

    I think B- is all right, because of the loss of TA. He shut down D-Wade and Kobe for at least a game in the playoffs. I think we’ll miss him come playoff time.

  • Berkcelt

    I don’t really have an idea of what Ford’s grading scale is like but if Riley is an A, then sure Danny didn’t get an A. I think a lot of Celtics fans look at it in the context of what the Celtics were working with.

    I don’t know about Danny’s “choice” though. He missed a “critical chance to rebuild”? Is that true? What’s so critical about it? Even if we’re not a contender next year, the following season is the weird lockout year. And only Pierce and Rondo have any salary of significance beyond that. I think it was pretty smart, Danny still left himself with a good amount of flexibility following next season which barring a major, major upset will be a playoff season at the very least. I just don’t see the point of diving into rebuilding without the young players to form the nucleus of a new team. We’ve got Rondo, Perk is hurt, and Bradley doesn’t count.

  • Jeff

    I think the points made here are fair, however grading is skewed.

    I’m not saying the Grade for the Celtic’s is wrong by the standards you have layed out, what I want to know is how WAS earned an A. For what?! What’s the criteria? Stumbling into the #1 pick and making the obvious choice? Wow! That’s deserving of an offseason A right?!

    I want to know what exaclty would constitute an A because clearly there is nothing at work other than oppinion.

    If you told me that the criteria was bringing in fresh “YOUNG” talent, then okay getting Wall does that. Or getting Bosh and Wade does that. But if the grading is based on how it will help you in winning a title, then the Heat and Celtic’s had by far the best offseason.

    If the grading is based off of how well the teams are building for the “Future” then yeah Washington, OKC, Miami, and Memphis probably did the best job, and I’d probably throw Sac in there too.

    But this was based solely off of OPPINION. If that’s the case, and you don’t give full understanding to your criteria, then expect your oppinion to be refuted by those who don’t agree.

  • Rangatiratanga

    @Jeff BINGO.That’s the crux right there i’nit.How in Martha Stewart’s name does Wash get an A……..trying to justify that, you’ll just be spinning a web.

  • Perry

    If we’re debating good grades Danny Ainge deserves extra credit for having the foresight to lock up Rondo in 2009. In terms of economics he should be considered at the top of the GM class. Boston ranks in the top 5 of highest payroll, but are poised to be well under the cap in two years pending the new CBA. Here’s the punch line … Boston is not Oklahoma CIty, a small market team that cannot sustain a massive payroll and expect to make a long term profit. We’ve already watched this anomaly take place in New Orleans, and they have CP3.

    There wasn’t a chance Danny would blow up the team with two years left in the KG era. It would have been financial suicide for ownership not to keep the core intact. You don’t sell out your fan base after a demoralizing game 7 loss in the finals — especially when the franchise has reached the finals two of the past three years.

    Are they better than the Heat? We’ ll have to wait and see, but they certainly are a title contender and will win the Atlantic baring catastrophic injuries. If any other GM had signed Pierce and Allen, and free agents like Jermaine O’Neal, Shaq, and Delonte West at value prices, chances are he would grade out right below Riles. Let’s not forget if were not for Boston taking out Cleveland in the semis LBJ would have likely stayed a Cavalier, and Wade might not be in South Beach after his team’s demise in round one. Maybe Danny should get some credit and a higher grade for those set of circumstances too.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2uWYWYeajc Jerome Wallace

    Official Rajon Rondo SOng

  • Will

    if the criteria for grading was how much better a team got, we should get a B- because compared to other teams, we didn’t add as much. if the criteria is for how efficient we were with our money and how smart our decisions were barring our cap restrictions, we got an A/A-. but Ford’s comment on how we could’ve broken up our roster and potentially make it better is BS cuz this is the best team we could have gotten

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    agree with your points but disagree on the conclusion. so are you saying ainge should have blown it up or not?

    if you think he should have blown it up and this season will be a veteran disaster, danny gets an F. if you think they should stick with the core for another run and plug holes while maintaining long-term flexibility, he gets an A+.

    its one or the other…..time will tell….

  • Kevin

    The only true way to grade what Ainge did is when we return to the Finals. Barring any injuries if this team goes to finals then he gets an A

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