Danny Ainge was on Toucher & Rich yesterday talking about the new Celtics season. After denying he was the source in the recent piece Jeff Goodman wrote for ESPN The Magazine quoting an anonymous NBA GM on the virtues of tanking, Ainge pivoted to some stock “win now!” banter:
“We want to win, we want our guys to learn. We want our coach, who is a young new coach, to experience winning. At a certain time in the year your goals may change, but right now we’re trying to win every game.”
Read this quote Ian Thomsen extracted from Ainge a month ago:
“If all of a sudden Rondo’s out for the year and a couple other key guys, and maybe goals change over the course of the year,” said Ainge, and then he stopped the dark thoughts there. “But starting the season out,” he carried on brightly, “we’re starting out full blazes. And see what we can do.”
The problem with this particular bit of evasion is that Danny Ainge already knows what the Celtics can do. It’s his job to know that. On paper, in metrics and, as we’re going to find out quickly, on the court, there’s no chance the Celtics have the offensive pieces to score efficiently. Or the defensive stalwarts to protect the rim. Even a returning Rajon Rondo can only move the needle so much (at least I think so… there’s a counterargument to that I’ll get into another time).
None of this is to criticize Ainge. This is what he has to say. Just like all players claim they want to stay with their current team as they approach free agency. Just like Rondo can’t conceive of a time when he might want to leave the Celtics. They say it. We blog it. You read it. Nobody really believes it.
Instead, note that in both of the above quotes Ainge leaves open the door for a future shift in strategy. That is noteworthy. It’s an admission that there is — potentially — a strategy that doesn’t involve winning that could be appealing. That’s as close as he’ll probably ever get to admitting to tanking.
At a certain point this season, once the C’s drop enough games, the notion that they’re going to start winning and make a run for the playoffs will become intellectually indefensible, and Ainge can simply shift to language about “giving the young guys a chance to demonstrate their value” and about how the older players “take pride in competing” or some such obscurantism. And you’ll know we’ve past the point of no return.