That was the rallying cry back in 2007, right before he landed Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. We’re hearing some of the same sentiments now.
That doesn’t mean that we’re about to see him pull another Ubuntu out of his hat, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out either.
Look, I get it. Ainge is an easy target on social media for good reason. He’s got his stockpile of draft picks. His big plans get leaked out to the media and shlubs like me get really excited about them. We get our hopes up and it is a let-down to see the team come up empty handed again.
Circumstances aside, the fact remains that Ainge has been in and around blockbuster trade rumors and free agent targets for the last 3 years and he would not or could not acquire Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Boogie Cousins, Blake Griffin, or Kevin Durant. Nobody knows how likely he is to land Gordon Hayward either, but it seems like a coin flip at best right now.
The thing is, you can’t just shove those circumstances aside and judge him based on the hype. Even if it is hype that he generated. That is unless you also take into consideration that he’s “won” just about every trade that he has made since the end of the Big 3 era.
When Pierce and Garnett exited stage right, all signs pointed toward a long rebuilding process. In my head I immediately tacked on 5 years before we’d be serious playoff contenders. As it turns out they missed the playoffs only once and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in year 4.
The Celtics are ahead of schedule and stacked with assets. I have a feeling that if the Celtics had LOST 50+ games the last couple of years, Ainge would be celebrated as a master builder with a cult following that rivaled Sam Hinkie. Instead, this team has tasted success and given young players valuable reps in the playoffs.
With all of that said, Ainge himself will tell you that we can’t be satisfied with “very good.” At some point you need to make the leap to “great” and there’s a timeline associated with several of the guys on the roster right now.
Boston has this last window of opportunity to create max cap space. Next summer all that goes away (assuming Isaiah Thomas is still in the Celtics plans going forward). Star players don’t become available for trade all the time, and every missed opportunity kicks the can further down the road.
Again, nobody would be talking about those kinds of windows if the Celtics didn’t talk about them. If the stated plan was to build through the draft and develop the already promising young players on the team, that would probably be accepted and applauded. The Celtics, however, make it well known that they have big plans in free agency and with trades. In the same breath though, they stress the need for patience and the value of draft picks.
The fact that Danny is trying to straddle the line between winning now and winning later opens him up to criticism on both sides. I happen to approve of this plan because it gives us so many options, but it isn’t completely without risk. By not picking a path, Ainge may be missing on the few chances you get in this league to really compete for titles.
The latest sequencing plan hinged upon getting Hayward as a free agent and then also trading for a star. It meant passing on opportunities to trade for Butler and George on draft night, trusting that one of them would still be there a week from now. With one noggin’-scratching move, the Pacers kiboshed that plan.
That doesn’t mean that the summer is a failure. They can still add Gordon Hayward to a 53 win team and they still have assets to use if other options become available over the next year. Or they can continue to draft and develop high upside players on cost controlled rookie contracts. Hey, there’s always another star player that will want a change of scenery next year (Anthony Davis?).
The Celtics aren’t fundamentally worse than they were at the end of the season. They are still in position to get better, either by increments or large steps forward. They have also missed out on another chance to take a huge leap ahead. Both things are true.