Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I am not often given to quoting Scripture in this space, but tonight it seems appropriate. In Proverbs Chapter 11 Verse 29, there is an eloquent bit of advice from King Solomon, it reads: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind and the fool shall be the servant of the wise at heart." Unfortunately, Danny Ainge probably didn't read that particular passage before he dealt Antoine Walker to the Mavericks in 2003.

Tonight has just provided the culmination of the Boston Celtics inheriting the wind from that bad trade. I predicted (one of the very few instances where I have been correct) that the Celtics would lose out on the Oden-Durant sweepstakes. I didn't dare hope, however, that they would fall all the way to 5th in this year's draft. This team earned this karmic suplex by making bad choice after bad choice and then compounding the affront to good taste that was this season by tanking games down the stretch.

Why did Danny Ainge deserve a chance to derail the career of Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? Because he's honestly submitted his best effort at producing a winning team in his four seasons at the helm? Because he conducted himself as a model of professional decorum? Because the two best things about his reign are the creation of a cheerleading squad and unloading Raef LaFrentz? It never ceases to amaze me that this man is still employed. I could work 2 hours a week and do a better job than he's done. Hell, the monkeys at the zoo could do a better job and still have plenty of time to fling feces at one another.

Take a look at the Celtics trades under Ainge. This list of transactions made by the team since he took over basketball operations is an appalling roster of ill-conceived decisions. Since when has it been advisable to shuffle players in and out of an organization? And yet it's the Ainge MO. So the question lingers for Celtics fans: do you want Ainge to use the pick or trade it?

They traded the rights to Randy Foye to Portland for Sebastian Telfair and the carcase of Theo Ratliff (who earned $1 million for every four minutes of basketball he played this season), Foye went on to earn a place on the NBA All Rookie Team. Portland turned around and traded Foye for the rights to Brandon Roy who won the Rookie of the Year award. Telfair is going to be cut from the team because his play was sub-par and his off-court behavior unacceptable. So that's what Ainge can do with a draft pick when it comes time to trade.

Among the veterans he has managed to acquire include Ratliff, Chris Mills and Raef LaFrentz. Ainge has managed to come out on the winning end of a trade once, when Gary Payton refused to report to Atlanta after the Cs traded him for Antoine Walker. When the Hawks cut Payton, he returned to the Celtics. So does that inspire confidence that the Celtics could somehow trade a pick that will not become Oden or Durant in a package with Pierce or one of their young players for Garnett or Gasol or Jermaine O'Neal or some mystery player who might not suck as a Celtic?

I have found myself wondering lately whether Ainge's determination to get into one-sided trades which have benefited the Trail Blazers at the expense of the Celtics have some connection to the shameful manner in which he stabbed the Blazers in the back in 1992. In case you have forgotten the story, Ainge (an Oregon native, by the way) was on the Blazers as the 1991-92 season ended and was due to be a free agent.

He promised the team and the fans he wanted to stay and would contact the team to make the necessary arrangements. And then, all of a sudden, on the very first day of the signing period, Ainge came to terms with the Phoenix Suns. I am all for clearing one's conscience and atoning for past transgressions, but I must say I hate to see the Boston Celtics serve as a vehicle to help their GM help a team he shafted 15 years ago.

Then there is the fact that some player from the Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Brandan Wright, Corey Brewer or Yi Jianlian mix will be available in the fifth spot. I have heard as many times as you have that this is a ridiculously deep draft. Maybe I'm stubborn (I'm not alone, my man in Maine emailed me tonight to complain that this draft isn't what it's been billed to be), but I'm not convinced.

Roy Hibbert is a project. He may be great, and for the sake of the league he'd better be great. Greg Oden needs a rival like I need to marry a beautiful heiress. But Hibbert's not going to come in right away and dominate. Frankly, I'm barely willing to believe that he can come in and contribute. Think Emeka Okafor with a steeper learning curve, and I think you'll have a good picture of what Hibbert's future is going to be for two, maybe three years.

I have expressed my distaste for Joakim Noah's ability to play in the NBA a number of times in this space. He's not big enough to play NBA big men. He's not quick enough to hang with a Nowitzki or a Bargniani. He's nowhere near polished enough to score from the perimeter, and he handles the rock like a wildebeast calf on ice. Joakim Noah will be the death (certainly from a career stand point, and maybe literally also) of an NBA GM. I don't want it to be Ainge, though, as the Cs would be stuck with Noah, or Acie Earl with less marketability and talent.

Horford is probably the best of this sorry lot, provided you want a player to come in and help a team win games in the near term (of course one wonders whether NBA teams really want to win based on their personnel choices). The problem here is that he seems to be a more athletic version of Al Jefferson. Al has impressed a lot of Cs fans and the reporters who cover the team, but I still believe he's at his ceiling right now. Adding another power forward named Al won't help him. Plus, as much as I like his game, I don't think he's worth half of what the number five pick in this draft will earn.

Brandan Wright is a great unknown. He has all the potential any basketball fan could dream of, but he isn't seasoned enough to be the face of a franchise. To my way of thinking that's what the Cs need more than anything right now. They have too many young players with potential trying to develop into solid pros as it is, one more guy like this isn't going to help the team, especially when they're in salary cap hell and there aren't enough minutes and shots to go around.

I don't know enough about Yi Jianlian to offer any kind of assessment of his game. Beyond hearing that he's a Chinese Dirk Nowitzki on Outside the Lines the other day, I know nothing about him. I can spell his name only because I have today's Globe sitting on the desk in front of me. I do know that Yao Ming is monstrously overrated. He's an adequate big man benefiting from the total lack of centers in today's NBA. He ought to be able to score 30 points a night when he's 7 inches taller than 95% of the guys trying to cover him. So I would be inclined to stay away from another Chinese player, considering how much money goes to a #5 pick.

Corey Brewer captured the attention of fans across the country with his defensive play in this year's NCAA tournament (and last year too, but I try not to face the fact that Florida won two consecutive championships). This instantly makes him the most NBA ready guard of his generation. It's a little knows fact, but if you can handle Aaron Afflalo and Mike Conley Jr., then you can shut down any player on any team at any time. I bet you Iverson is soiling his drawers at the prospect of facing Brewer as we speak. Give me a break, he's not ready for prime time. At least not for $50 million.

And that is why I am so happy tonight. The lottery was Danny Ainge's last shot at keeping his job beyond this season. He can't keep getting chances to ruin what little future this franchise has. Maybe Jefferson, West, Rondo, Perkins, Powe, Gomes and the rest are better than I think. Maybe they're a lot better. But with the group of them competing for minutes, touches and shots there is no way that this group of players can form a team. They need leadership, and the team has no pieces to trade to get value in return.

This situation is so very perfect for Ainge. He traded Walker and then gradually had to punt away the magic beans he got in return. And even better, he acquired Telfair in his scramble to get out from under that Walker trade and that blew up in his face. He traded for Ricky Davis only to give up on him a little over a year later. In short, he created a hell of a lot of trouble in his own house and he just inherited the wind losing this lottery.

And if you aren't miserable enough, Celtics fans, just think... Portland got Brandon Roy thanks to the Cs terrible draft day trade last year. Now they have the inside track on Oden even though they had a 5.3% chance to win the lottery. At least the Cs threw one hell of a lottery party at Clery's on Dartmouth Street. I couldn't quite make it, I still remember a time when the Celtics didn't throw parties for anything short of a title.

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