Celtics' Big Three in jeopardy?
Danny Ainge does not want to see another decline in the franchise like the one that happened after the Boston Celtics' original Big Three dried up, and he's willing to break up his current star trio to ensure that.
Why anyone would have a problem with that approach is a mystery to him.
The Celtics have limped to a 5-8 start behind 34-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Kevin Garnett and 36-year-old Ray Allen. Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations, told The Boston Globe that he would consider a trade if it would help the team get younger and be poised to be competitive in the next era.
Ainge saw the Celtics pass up deals when Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were aging, and the result was a steady deterioration that saw Boston not make the playoffs or advance beyond the first round from the 1992-93 to 2000-01 seasons.
"First of all, it's a different era," Ainge told The Globe. "I sat with Red (Auerbach) during a Christmas party (in the 1990s). Red was talking to Larry, Kevin, and myself and there was a lot of trade discussion at the time, and Red actually shared some of the trade discussions. And I told Red, what are you doing? Why are you waiting?
"He had a chance to trade Larry (to Indiana) for Chuck Person and Herb Williams and (Steve) Stipanovich and he had a chance to trade Kevin (to Dallas) for Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins. I was like, 'Are you kidding?' I mean, I feel that way now. If I were presented with those kind of deals for our aging veterans, it's a done deal to continue the success."
Injuries caught up to Bird, and he retired in 1992 at age 35. McHale hung on for one more year, averaging only 10.7 points per game, and also called it quits at 35. Parish played one more season in Boston after McHale retired, and at age 40 averaged 11.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He left as a free agent, and the Celtics were left with nothing to show for the superstars.
"After those guys retired, the Celtics had a long drought," Ainge said, according to The Globe. "But those (types of fruitful trades) aren't presenting themselves. In today's day and age with 30 teams in the NBA, 15 teams know they have no chance of winning a championship. They are building with young players. It's a different era that we live in. It's easy to say conceptually, but you have to always weigh what are real opportunities."
Later Thursday, when some questioned how Ainge could trade team stars, Ainge reacted strongly.
"It's almost like Mitt Romney answering the question about how much taxes he pays," Ainge explained in his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "He says 15 percent in capital gains. And it becomes a huge story when he's only stating the obvious. Some people don't know the obvious. ... "That's how I feel with this. It's obvious. They're obvious things. Of course if we get the opportunity to make a trade that will help our team, we'll do it."
The numbers are down for every member of the Big Three this season, and Pierce has been battling a heel injury. Last season's 56-win team was led by Pierce's 18.9 points per game, Allen's 16.5 and Garnett's 14.9 points and 8.9 rebounds.
This season, Allen leads the team at 15.6 points per game, with Pierce at 14.9 and Garnett at 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. Still, Ainge isn't ready to panic and do something rash.
"We haven't played as well as we're capable of playing," he said, according to The Globe. "I know we're a better team than we've shown. I've seen it in spurts, but just not in consistency. There hasn't been any consistency."
But Ainge clarified on WEEI that he's not saying his Big Three is just like the bygone Big Three.
"I think that all of them (Garnett, Pierce and Allen) have basketball left in them, without question," Ainge said. "Unlikely Larry, who had the double Achilles tendon surgery, and Kevin, who had screws in his feet, these guys have been fairly injury free. Haven't had major reconstructive surgery on their bodies."
And there's no deal on the horizon.
"We've all known that there's a window for this group," Ainge said on WEEI. "We're constantly evaluating that. But I don't have anything on the books. I don't have anything imminent. There's nothing out there that I am actively doing. "I'm being patient with this group of guys. They believe they're much better than they're playing right now. Doc (Rivers) believes they're much better than they're playing right now. I believe that too."
Asked about Ainge's comments, Rivers did stand behind his players.
"You don't ever like hearing that, but listen, Danny and I are always on the same page," Rivers said. "Danny, I don't think he meant in any way that he was trying to trade anybody. I think that was how it was looked at. I would say it's a very strong possibility that we're going to get this together, and stronger possibility that every single guy will be here."
Although they're only 13 games into the lockout-shortened 66-game regular season, the Celtics are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference, which, unlike recent history, has some of the strongest teams in the league. Boston could be faced with a first-round road playoff series against the Magic or the Hawks, and that's if they make a serious push up the standings. If they squeak in, the Celtics are looking at the young, deep Bulls or Heat in the first round.
Ainge said the fact the team only had six players under contract at the start of an abbreviated training camp probably had something to do with the slow start, as did Pierce's injury at the start of camp that has him playing games to try to get into shape. Still, he didn't let the players totally off the hook.
"I wish they would have come into this season a little more prepared mentally, spiritually, physically, but they didn't, so now we're dealing with a bad start," Ainge said to WEEI.
Ainge said he's has seen some positive signs recently.
"I do see a lot of pride in these guys, the commitment they have," he said. "And I do see a great deal of hope in what these guys can provide because I watch them work each day. I see how hard they prepare for each game and how much they want to turn this thing around. They don't like not playing well. It doesn't suit those guys. It gives me hope."
One of the younger members of the Celtics core, Rajon Rondo, who is only 25, has been on both sides of the Big Three.
"It was ugly around here when there wasn't a Big Three," Rondo said of the days before the trio was assembled in the summer of 2007. "We lost 18 straight that year, my rookie year. It was a tough year, but we had a great turnaround once the Big Three came together.
"It's a business. I was heavy in trade talks this summer, so I guess it's their turn. I don't know. It still could be me. It's just part of the business."
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg was used in this report.