In 1990 the Celtics 'Big 3' of Bird, McHale, and Parish were on the downside of their careers--none of the three were going to be get any better. Detroit has passed the Green for supremacy in the Eastern Conference (the Pistons lost to the Lakers in '88 only to win back-to-back titles in '89 and '90). Michael Jordan and his Bulls dynasty were in their infancy although Chicago was assembling the pieces to win three championships in a row beginning in 1991-- and in 1990 the Celtics had fell back in the pack of Eastern Conference contenders..
Something that always struck me as "nice" (although maybe not always the right basketball decision) about the Celtics was that Red Auerbach developed the unwritten code of allowing long time Celtics who played the good soldier to retire in Green. And so, after the 1990 season when the opportunity to trade Kevin McHale to Dallas for Sam Perkins and Detlef Schrempf was presented, Auerbach turned down the trade and Boston fans never saw McHale wear another uniform. Whether Schrempf and Perkins would have pushed Boston back into the conversation with Detroit (and Chicago) is a question that will never be answered. We all know what happened--Bird's balky back forced retirement, McHale hobbled through a couple of more seasons, and Parish held on playing out his career in Charlotte and Chicago.
Now, Celtics GM Danny Ainge faces a similar conundrum. Ainge is on the record having saying that if he had been in Auerbach's shoes in 1990 he would have broken up the 'Big 3' and sent McHale to Dallas. In 2011-2012 Ainge has two of his 'Big 3'--Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett under contract for a final season. What will he do?
Ainge put himself in position to give this group another chance to win (something that the 1990 'Big 3' weren't going to do given Detroit's grasp on the Conference and Chicago's rising power). The much discussed Chris Paul deal and the close-but-no-cigar acquisition of David West would have thrust Boston right back into the Miami, Chicago, and New York discussions for supremacy in the East. But, with those two deals having fallen through, the Celtics face the daunting task of offering an aging team with an accelerated schedule to try to raise Banner 18. Most Celtics fans accept that while the 2011-2012 team can be good (and even quite good if the bench develops as hoped, the key components maintain their health, and a little of the Shamrock luck comes Boston's way) it is highly unlikely that the Celtics win the Eastern Conference--let alone the NBA Championship.
So, here we are--a good (perhaps quite good) aging team with little (to no) chance of winning a Championship.
Ainge tried to assemble pieces to surround his 2011-2012 'Big 3' with enough weapons to win. It didn't work. And now we must wonder and will soon find out--will Ainge recognize that this 'Big 3' (like the 1990 'Big 3') can't seriously contend for a title and "break up the band" pawning off Allen and Garnett to teams willing to pay the price for a 1/2 season rental--in what might be a final piece for another team's championship quest?
It will be interesting to see if Ainge does what Auerbach didn't--and if the potential payoff in making such a trade would better arrange the franchise to compete in the coming years.