After a disappointing season capped off by a first-round playoff exit, there figures to be plenty of upheaval in the Boston Celtics' organization this summer. Team president Danny Ainge has the most job security of anyone, but he deserves a fair amount of criticism and blame for Boston's underwhelming performance.
Negative press will leave Ainge non-plussed for the most part: As ESPN's Bill Simmons wrote in a Grantland piece in April 2012, Ainge is "probably the most confident person currently running an NBA team." That self-assuredness didn't just result from his decorated athletic career—it's also due to the fact that he single-handedly returned the Celtics to greatness.
Ainge's two bold strokes in the summer of 2007 resulted in the arrival of both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in Boston. Long before the Miami Heat formed their "Big Three," the Celtics crafted one of their own, and the trio of Paul Pierce, Allen and Garnett served as the NBA's gold standard for several years.
Furthermore, Ainge did well to extend what was originally a three-year plan to six seasons. Since 2007, the Celtics have won five division crowns, two Eastern Conference titles and an NBA championship.
That said, many of his recent moves have been baffling, and it may be time for a new voice in the Celtics' front office.
Pierce is a future Hall of Famer who has been the keystone of the Celtics for more than a decade. Yet in each of the past few seasons, Ainge has made Pierce readily available at the trade deadline, only to pull his team captain back at the last minute.
Obviously, if Ainge thought that it was in the best interest of the Celtics to trade Pierce, he would have (and should have) done so. But constantly floating Pierce's name out there in trade rumors doesn't exactly engender a sense of stability within the organization.
It's no wonder why both Garnett and head coach Doc Rivers wrestle with the decision on whether or not to return each summer. Neither man wants to commit without some sense of certainty, but that's nearly impossible in a climate where Ainge has shown no qualms about making drastic moves at a moment's notice.
That said, blaming Ainge entirely for the Celtics' recent struggles is both short-sighted and narrow-minded at best. If Rajon Rondo didn't tear his ACL in January, and if Jared Sullinger didn't succumb to chronic back issues, Boston could very well be playing right now.
But instead they're sitting at home at the moment, primarily because of their failure to rebound effectively. It's a facet of the game that Ainge has yet to address since trading Kendrick Perkins back in February 2011, and Boston's struggle on the glass has been the team's Achilles' heel in each of the past three seasons.
Quality bigs such as Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and Carl Landry were on the market this summer, yet Ainge spent most of his efforts shoring up Boston's backcourt with the acquisitions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee.
Ainge's actions over the past few offseasons have shown that despite his boasts to the contrary, he wasn't (and still may not be) completely willing to cut ties with his core players. He tried to bring the band back together for (at least) one more run last summer, but while Garnett signed on for another tour of duty, Allen spurned a more lucrative offer from the Celtics to join the Heat in July.
That's not to say that Ainge has been dormant in recent years. Quite the contrary: Boston has undergone as much turnover as any team in the league. Only five players currently on the Celtics' roster were with the team two seasons ago.
There was a certain sense of finality that came with the team's final loss against the New York Knicks that was hard to ignore. With Pierce in the final year of his deal, Garnett considering retirement and Rivers pondering his own future, there's a good chance that the team will look vastly different next season.
Ultimately, Ainge will be the one to decide whether or not to break up Boston's core. But while he's making that call, there should be others busy evaluating his moves as well.
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