Why Danny Ainge Deserves All of the Blame for Boston Celtics Halfhearted Rebuild

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 17, 2013

Something tells me this picture no longer describes the relationship that Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge have.
Something tells me this picture no longer describes the relationship that Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge have.Elsa/Getty Images

Here's some breaking news for Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge: In the NBA, you either commit to rebuilding or you plan on contending for a title. There is no middle ground. 

And yet, as Ainge continues to pursue a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers that would ship off Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers, he refuses to recognize that fact. The latest on the deal comes from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski: 

Discussions over a blockbuster deal reached an impasse on Saturday when Boston general manager Danny Ainge held firm that Bledsoe had to be a part of package that included DeAndre Jordan and a first-round pick, but sources say that Boston has shown a willingness to find another asset to supplant Bledsoe and complete the complicated deal, sources said.

Ainge is correct in his decision to pursue Bledsoe or an asset of similar value, but this whole nonsensical trade serves as a microcosm for his mentality when it comes to building a team. Commit one way or the other instead of treading water. 

Acquiring DeAndre Jordan is the last thing the C's should be interested in doing right now. The big man is only 24 years old and has plenty of potential, but he's not the most valuable player at this stage of his career and is already making eight figures. 

According to Spotrac.com, Jordan is set to make $10,986,550 during the 2013-14 season and $11,440,123 in 2014-15 before becoming an unrestricted free agent. If that doesn't sound bad enough, his contract also includes a 15 percent trade kicker that pushes the salary even higher. 

This would be fine if Jordan's first name were Michael, but not when it's DeAndre. 

DeAndre can jump high and complete alley-oops, but he's an end-of-the-game liability due to his ineptitude from the charity stripe. He also has major weaknesses on both ends of the court. For all his perceived shot-blocking strengths, Jordan made the Clippers significantly worse on defense when he played.

During the 2012-13 season, L.A. allowed 6.3 more points per 100 possessions with the big man on the court, according to NBA.com's statistical databases. 

Jordan is not the type of player you want to be paying eight figures to during a rebuilding process, and acquiring both him and Bledsoe wouldn't exactly push Boston into the realm of contenders. Plus, where exactly would the dynamic floor general play? How would the rotation work with him, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley all competing for minutes at the 1? 

That said, I digress. The purpose here isn't to analyze the merits of this potential trade, but rather to shine a light on the flawed mentality of Ainge. 

In the NBA, there are few workable shortcuts. Most tend to punish you once you go down that route, forcing you further behind the competition while displaying a mirage of success. The general manager seems blissfully unaware of that, possibly because he managed to sign Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in a single offseason and then immediately watched as his team transitioned from bottom-feeders into champions. 

But there are no players like that available to him right now. The most he can do is replace his former superstars with spare parts that can keep Boston hovering around the lower seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Nothing is going to push this team over the top and past the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls for conference supremacy. 

Being right in the middle is the NBA's version of purgatory. 

You can't compete for a championship—not realistically at least—and your odds at winning the draft lottery are so bad that you can't add many major players. You're stuck trying to do so in free agency. 

The problem with Ainge's plan is that he's not leaving the C's much money to spend in free agency. That's why he must bite the bullet and accept that it's best not to trade Garnett away, but rather just buy out his contract. 

It would be different if he were receiving a cheaper player, but Jordan cripples the financial flexibility of the team and prevents it from making too many splashes. It's the prototypical halfhearted rebuild, one that attempts to skirt past the inevitability of a year or two in the NBA's basement.

Ainge is attempting to rebuild and simultaneously contend, and that's a plan that leads to a more prolonged rebuilding process.

Bringing Jordan and Bledsoe aboard means that going into the offseason before the 2014-15 season, Boston would already have around $54 million committed (assuming it brings back Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, both of whom have team options). That already limits the damage the C's can do in free agency, and just look at the players who would be on the roster: 

  • Point guard: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley (Eric Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, so retaining him would push the expenditures up even more)
  • Shooting guard: Courtney Lee, Jason Terry (unless one of the two is included in the trade)
  • Small forward: Jeff Green
  • Power forward: Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass
  • Center: DeAndre Jordan, Fab Melo

This is most assuredly not what you want your roster to look like with only a few million remaining before you hit the salary cap. That's not the ideal way to rebuild. 

Sometimes you just have to pull the plug and commit to starting over. Such is the case for this version of the Celtics. And when you pull a plug, you can't pull it out halfway or else you seriously risk electrocuting yourself. 

Ainge deserved a lot of credit a few years back when he skirted the process and completed the quick rebuild. But if he got credit then, he deserves all the blame now for refusing to commit one way or the other. 

The Celtics have the ability to tank for a season or two, stockpiling cheap assets and young players before making a splash. As historically excellent as the franchise has been, players are sure to come flowing in once Boston has the funds. This is quite the attractive destination. 

However, Ainge is preventing that from happening, so don't be surprised when the team just flounders away for the foreseeable future. After all, when you play around with pulling the plug, you may get shocked.