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Crucial Summer

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DannyIt occurred to me the other day that Danny Ainge may have a job right now mostly because of Greg Oden. 

Think about it.  We are in year 4 of the rip-it-up and start over process.  How long do we need to wait to see this work out?  What is the shelf life on “we are waiting for the right opportunity?”  How long of a leash is he really going to get?

I’d argue that he has until the end of the offseason to get it together.  In just about any other year, his rope might be running out right about now (injuries or not).  But the prospect of getting a shot at Greg Oden is buying him more time.

Danny has done an admirable job finding talent at the positions he’s drafted in and making trades that secure future draft picks to use to acquire even more talent.  The flip side is that he’s taken on older players as temporary solutions (Payton, Walker) and broken down contract players (Raef, Theo).  He’s also made some questionable sideways moves (Wally) and some flat-out bad ones (re-signing Blount, signing Scalabrine & Dickau).  He also re-signed O’Brien and signed Doc Rivers (make of that what you will).

Still, I’m not down on him just yet.  No GM is perfect.  I can see what his plan is.  Everyone sees what his plan is.  He wants to acquire enough young talent and tradeable assets that he can use to make a move to land a really big fish.  But how long can we wait to reel him in?  So far it has all been about “the ones that got away” like Iverson, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, and soon the list will likely include Pau Gasol.

Yet every questionable move would be forgiven if the net result becomes a talented, up-and-coming team that is positioned to contend for years. 

But do we have that yet?  No.  Could we have that by the end of the offseason?  Sure. 

Since we’ll be in the Oden sweepstakes, I don’t think Ainge is going to make a big move by the deadline.  Once those lottery balls drop, the team will finally know where they’ll be picking.  If we get a top 2 pick, Danny’s road will be much easier.  He can pick a franchise player in the draft and jettison some younger players that have duplicate roles in order to pick up a more seasoned player or two that fill team needs.  It might take giving up a popular younger player like West or Gomes or Perkins, but if we can upgrade, we can’t worry about popularity.  I’d rather not give up Gerald, but if he brings a really big fish with some quality years left, then you have to consider it.

Ainge can also use Theo’s contract (which will finally have just one year left) to bring in someone that might have a contract that other teams can’t afford.  I’m sure that Danny will also be shopping Wally.  Even if he can’t be dealt, a reasonably healthy Wally isn’t a bad option to keep around as a 6th man (and maybe an expiring contract the following summer).  The key is putting a winning team with cohesive, complimentary parts around Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson.

Even if we miss out on Oden/Durant and end up with a pick in the 5 to 9 range, there is still a chance to do some nice things.  There are plenty of good big men in the top 10 spots in the draft.  If you can’t find a right fit, then trade the pick with other assets to fill those needs.

So the opportunities are there and Ainge is the reason why we have those options.  He has the tradable assets to do something really special this offseason.  But will he be able to do it?  Or will the big fish get away again?

One thing that can’t happen is more of the same.  Enough with the sideways moves and future picks and acquiring assets.  If he doesn’t do something to drastically improve the roster this offseason, I don’t think there will be any more reason to keep waiting for Ainge.  The team just can’t keep treading water.  If this is still a “young team” that has to “work through growing pains” and wait for broken down vets to come off the books for another year while Paul Pierce wastes another season of his career, nobody is going to be happy with that.  Not the owners, not Pierce, and certainly not the fans.  That’s what makes this summer so critical.

I know some will say to be patient and wait for all the kids to grow up and become everything we hope they will be.  I think that is dreaming.  The odds dictate that some of those guys are going to be busts, some are going to continue to struggle with injuries, and some of them will be good to great.  Yet we probably won’t learn all this by the time it comes to need to re-sign each of them.  Making for some very expensive gambles with the future cap room of this franchise.  You can’t roll the dice with the whole roster.  You need some sure things.  You need some vets that have established their worth and have some good years left in them.

Danny's whole plan is based on building through the draft and picking up tradable assets.  If he can't use those assets to make this team better, what's the point?  The bottom line is that if this team doesn’t hit the ground running as contenders at the beginning of next season, then Ainge will have failed.