In the end, Danny Ainge had too much working against him to accomplish either of his two objectives: build up this year’s team for a playoff run or get a jumpstart on a rebuild. Boston’s sole deadline move — acquiring Jordan Crawford for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa — has to be considered a failure in the way its timidity strands this year’s team in that mid-level purgatory that’s doomed franchises like Atlanta and Milwaukee to irrelevance and early round playoff exits in recent years.
Still, the problems are only partly of Ainge’s making. Bad luck has played as much of a role as bad decision-making.
Most applauded last offseason’s signings as expensive but reasonable risks for a Celtics core that deserved reinforcements after another deep playoff run. Early-season underperformers Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee have played better in recent weeks but on the precipice of a restrictive new fiscal environment in the league, they still had minimal value given the cost for their production.
The real problem this season, as has been the case over the last few, is the injuries. Had Rajon Rondo not been injured the Celtics very well might have moved him before the deadline for a star-level reinforcement at one of the big spots. That’s the kind of move that would have made the C’s dangerous against a Miami team that struggles against interior size. As it is, the C’s will head down the stretch as dark a horse as they’ve been since Kevin Garnett arrived in town. They are no threat to Miami and may only go a round deep come playoff time.
As many of you have pointed out in strongly-worded comments, that’s not all bad. The Celtics have played well enough lately to cast doubt on the need to change the core of the team right now. Save for the last few games, they’ve been winning. Save for a couple of slugfests, it’s been with tough defense and pretty ball movement. Who doesn’t want to watch that?
Ultimately, I don’t think it’s sustainable success. The league and the minutes will catch up with the Celtics. As a result, I’ve been in favor of transitioning to the next era. I wanted that Clippers trade but have to admit that I’m not feeling the crisis of Ainge’s inaction yesterday because what happened was in no way definitive.
Ainge’s vigor in pursuit of trades this week suggests he was ready to do something big and game-changing and his inability to pull it off really amounts to nothing more than a sequester-style delay of the major questions facing this franchise. We’ll be revisiting those questions — Is it time to move on from Pierce and Garnett? What should the Celtics do with Rondo? Can any of the expensive roleplayers be offloaded? How do the C’s procure the next franchise-changing talent? — as we approach the draft. That’s only a few months away.
In our deadline chat yesterday, Brian suggested the C’s may fire up one final run in 2013-14 behind the same cast of characters we’ll see tonight against Phoenix and, presumably, a healthier Rondo and Jared Sullinger. I would still bet on the alternative (the C’s finally cut the cord on Pierce, Garnett and, once healthy, Rondo) but that’s a viable option if the Celtics again outperform expectations between now and whenever they play their final game of the 2012-13 season. Over the last few years, they’ve made their doubters look bad time and again, no matter how banged up they’ve been.
As we enter the final third of the regular season, Pierce and Garnett are where they’ve been each of the last few seasons: fighting to keep a title window open that most assume closed when Perk tore his ACL, when Shaq was lost for the season, when LeBron finally put it all together, when Rondo went down with his injury and, now, when Ainge couldn’t acquire reinforcements.
So — and I say this to myself as much as anyone — whether or not we’re happy with the roster stasis this week, it’s again worth taking the time to appreciate Pierce and Garnett’s efforts with the notion that we’re closer and closer to the end of their tenure here. And as Rick Pitino so famously reminded us, legends don’t come walking through that door very often.