Like I said, there’s little need to evaluate one trade without looking at the overall effect on the team. In fact, it is not really fair to judge a general manager without looking at their entire body of work. GM’s are not concert pianists; they are conductors of symphonies. Everything has to blend together just right to create beautiful work of art.
A GM’s work is never really done. Ainge isn’t done dealing and I don’t know that he’ll ever really be "done." He’s said as much himself. He may not continue to make roster-overhauling trades every 6 months, but he’s never going to stop tinkering.
That in itself is not much of a compliment. You could say the same for Rick Pitino and Isaiah Thomas. Here is what I think sets Ainge apart so far: he makes every trade with a mind toward the future options that it gives him. The Walker deal had less to do with Raef than it did Jiri, Chris Mills’ expiring contract and the pick. Davis is a movable asset. Rick Fox is this year’s Chris Mills. You could argue that Danny’s work is a moving target. You can never pin down just how good a job he’s doing because you never know what he’ll do with the assets he’s acquired. This trade will be a huge waste of time if the cap space and pick aren’t used properly.
So where does this latest move put us? What now? I’m not terribly sure, but I can take some guesses based on the info we’ve been given.
For one thing, Danny has been after Shareef Abdur-Rahim since the middle of last season (if not before). He was quite ticked that he didn’t get him at the trade deadline. I tend to think we could get him about 2 months from now, if not before. 60 days after the trade is official, we can flip Fox’s contract in a package deal. If all they want is expiring contracts, we can give that to them. Fox and Yogi count for $10M alone. Throw in a player to make the salaries work (and to add some incentive to make the deal) and it could be done. If they really need players, we’ve got some of those too. I’m sure Raef is available, but they’d have to accept the long-term deal he’s got. I’m sure Ricky Davis is available, but I’m still not sure Portland is ready to bring in another player with a bad rep. Regardless, bringing in Shareef would be ideal because (as someone mentioned in the comments) it’s a no-risk situation. If he works out, we can resign him for whatever his true value is. If he doesn’t, he’s an expiring contract that we can trade or let walk after the season.
If we can’t get Abdur-Rahim, then we’ve still got enough movable commodities to use now or at the trade deadline. Options are key. Its not like we are looking for that one last piece of the puzzle for a championship. We are looking to build that championship contending team.
In the meantime, we can field a starting five of veterans who have more skill than we’ve seen on a Celtic team in many years. Payton, Pierce, Davis, Raef, and Blount is already a solid lineup.
We are also developing young players that could be the core of that future title run. As Simmons pointed out, this year’s draft is already considered a coup. Al Jefferson, West, Allen, join Jiri and Kendrick to form our very own JV squad. All of whom will be pushing the vets for playing time and possibly even starting positions. (I tend to think Jiri will back up Davis, but I could be wrong)
One note of caution, Gary does hold a lot of our fate in his hands. If he is working out with Pierce and bent on reclaiming his reputation, then he could be valuable to us for the rest of his career (however long he wants that to be). Don’t forget though, that he was best buds with Vin Baker in Seattle and Vin didn’t exactly leave under ideal circumstances. I suppose a nightmare situation could occur where Gary and Ricky destroy the locker room and drive our young impressionable players to bad behavior (or like Vin, to drink). I don’t buy that though. I think the worst that could see happening is Gary demanding a trade to a contender so he can continue throwing rocks at the trophy’s bedroom window.
All in all I believe we are a better team than we were a week ago. We are still in good position to make future moves. We are over the salary cap, and will be even if we let all our expiring contracts run out. But we are under the luxury tax threshold, which is really the key to the owners. We still have the option of using the mid-level exception too. Not to mention the fact that Danny is always stockpiling draft picks.
I like the direction this team is headed and I think we will surprise a number of pundits with our play this year. Ainge will never be "done" making changes, but what he’s done so far has me hopeful for the near and distant future, and that’s music to my ears.