The Celtics did not play a single game from June 9th when they came up a quarter short against the Heat in Game 7, until they traveled to Europe last week, but make no mistake, Danny Ainge won the off-season.
Let’s flashback to late February for a moment, the C’s were floundering a few games below .500 and the trade deadline was quickly approaching. The Green looked old, slow and were in a fight with the Bucksand Cavs for the 8 seed. Things were ugly around here and many Celts fans were declaring the “New Big 3″ era over, and begging Danny to re-build. When the deadline passed and the team was still intact, talk radio declared that Ainge was repeating Red’s mistake of keeping a once great team together past their expiration date.
Talk radio was wrong. Fans were wrong. Ainge was right.
Last season’s run was sparked by Jermaine O’Neal’s injury and KG taking over at center. The Celts finished the regular season on a 24-10 hot streak, before outlasting the Hawks and Sixers to make the Conference Finals. Of course the ride came to a devastating end at the hands of the (this hurts to say) eventual world champs, but keeping the Celtics together ending up being the right choice. While Ainge was validated for not blowing the entire organization up, he still faced an uphill battle this off-season in trying to extend the C’s window, and boy did he win that battle.
Step 1: Bringing back KG
After the final buzzer sounded against the Heat it was anyone’s guess on what KG would do. Would he retire? Would he come back on a one year deal? Would he look to break the bank one last time in his career? Answer: None of the above. Garnett ended re-upping on an incredibly team friendly 3 year, $36 million dollar deal. KG could’ve gotten $15 mill a year (or more) elsewhere but Ainge made Garnett his number one priority, and KG took that to heart. Hell, even Garnett doesn’t know exactly how Ainge convinced him to come back for three years, as he said in his season opening press conference,
“I don’t know how Danny talked me into three years, but I’m enjoying my journey here”
Step 2: Re-Signing Bass and Green
The NBA is a super star league, we all know this. But you can’t win without good, quality depth and that’s exactly what Brandon Bass and Jeff Green are. Bass is an undersized four who plays hard and puts up 14 points and 7 boards per 36 minutes. Quality numbers for a guy the C’s were able to re-sign for 3 years and $20 million. And it’s worth noting that while it was Garnett shifting to center that garnered all of the attention, that coincided with Bass entering the starting line-up.
We all know Green’s story: high draft pick, disappointing stint with the C’s in 2010-11, heart surgery, tons of talent. When the Celts decided to give him 4 years, $36 million this off-season Ainge was crucified, but it was the right deal. I’ll have an entire article on why this dude is underpaid, but the quick and dirty is that above average defensive players that can guard 3′s and 4′s and create their own shot do not grow on trees. Throw in the fact that the C’s were up against the cap and couldn’t spend the money on players from outside the organization, and this was a no brainer.
Step 3: Bench Scoring, Bench Scoring, and Bench Scoring
The Celtics bench last year was absolutely awful at scoring points. Ditto for 2010-11. And 2009-10. And 2008-09. Some of this is absolutely due to injuries (Green/Wilcox last year for example), but in general one major flaw on Danny’s resume has been his ability to acquire/develop bench scoring. That will not be a problem this season. Of course Ray Allen is gone, he will be shooting wide open three’s and playing golf 6 days a week in Miami this season. But in the end Ray-Ray’s decision to take his talents to South Beach was a blessing in disguise because Ainge was able to acquire two players, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, who combined, will make a much bigger impact than the return of Allen would have. Terry knows his role as 6th man and embraces it, something Allen would never have done. And while JET may not be quite on Ray’s level from distance, he’s damn close (Allen is #1 on the 3 PT list, JET is #3). While a player with Lee’s skill set is just not something we’ve seen around these parts in recent years. A guy who can shoot (40% from three in 3 of 4 NBA seasons), slash to the basket, create his own shot, and defend two positions? And we acquired him for Jujuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore? Are you kidding me, Danny? Add in Green and the top three off the bench might be the best in the NBA. Which considering the cap restrictions Ainge was facing, is nothing short of remarkable.
Step 4: Depth Baby!
If there’s one thing recent Celtics teams have taught us, it’s that injuries will happen, and the guys on the end of the bench will be pressed into action. And for the first time in years, the Green are prepared for that, thanks to their GM making a flurry of moves, lets recap:
- Jared Sullinger is a legitimate factor in the post as a rookie, and a fantastic value pick at 21. There’s even buzz he may start at PF in his rookie season, that’s just not something that happens to late first round picks in the NBA.
- Chris Wilcox was just settling in to a rhythm throwing down oops from Rondo when his heart ailment was discovered (he was averaging 8 pts/6 rebs off the bench over his last 10 games), he’s a great fit for the bench on a one year deal.
- Darko Milicic and Jason Collins will excite no one, and for good reason. They are atrocious on offense. But make no bones about it, these dudes can guard opposing centers, and that’s a valuable skill to have at the end of the bench.
- Just when you thought Danny was done, he brings in yet another bench option. Enter Leandro Barbosa, a 9 year veteran who can do one thing and one thing only on the basketball court: fill it up. Yes the Brazlian Blur is a sieve on defense, a fact that may not allow him entrance into Doc Rivers circle of trust. But damn can the dude score. 18.3 pts/36 minutes in his career, 18.4 per 36 last season. Getting this guy for short money on a one year deal was a fantastic depth move, especially until Avery Bradley comes back.
In the end, despite cap restrictions and 10 players hitting free agency Danny Ainge was able to turn this:
PF: Bass/Johnson/Sean Williams
SF: Pierce/Green/Kris Joseph
C: Garnett/Milicic/Collins/Fab Melo
For those keeping score at home exactly 0 members of the Celts bench from last year’s playoff run are back, and that is a beautiful thing. This team is younger, deeper, and more versatile. Last year when the Heat went small the C’s were absolutely defenseless. This year they will be able to throw out the small ball line-up of Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, Green, Garnett that will be able to run with them. And that’s just one match-up, there are dozens more.
So a hat tip to Ainge for turning the team’s weakness, into it’s strength. A feat unmatched in the NBA this summer, and the reason that Danny won the off-season.
First article for Celtics 24/7, follow me at Mike_Dyer13 if you like hearing about awesome things.