There is a changing of the guard happening with the Boston Celtics, and Danny Ainge's number could be called sooner than you'd think. Doc Rivers appears to be on his way to the Los Angeles Clippers, and the two teams will begin working to send Kevin Garnett there as well.
After attempting to twist, spin and perhaps even bop those two deals as "not-related" for the league's approval, the team will make a decision on Paul Pierce. The captain may not be on the first Celtics roster since 1997. Pierce has a $15.3 million non-guaranteed contract that can be bought out for $5 million before July 1.
With all those changes, Ainge's future with the organization has to be up in the air as well. Should the Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C., owners of the storied franchise since 2002, be unhappy with any of these changes, a larger change could be made.
If that happens, one intriguing option is for the Celtics to bring back Larry Bird. On top of the public relations bonanza that would follow a return to Boston, where Bird won three titles and three MVP awards, he is actually quite an impressive executive.
Bird most recently won the NBA's Executive of the Year award following the 2011-12 season. He was general manager of the Indiana Pacers, owning all basketball decisions since 2007-08. After winning the award and watching his Pacers fall in the second round of the postseason, Bird called his final press conference as a member of the organization.
His retirement was said to be partly due to health concerns. With an impending shoulder surgery and recovery, Bird felt he wouldn't have enough time to devote to the organization. As we know now, despite his departure, his work building the team paid off with a trip to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
A brief look at Bird's drafting history, since assuming full control of basketball decisions with the Pacers in 2008 includes: picking up Tyler Hansbrough (No. 13) in 2009, Paul George (No. 10) and Lance Stephenson (No. 30) in 2010 and Kawhi Leonard (No. 15) in 2011. In a small, three-year window, Bird drafted two starters and the sixth man, and traded Leonard for another starter (George Hill) from last season's Eastern Conference Finals team.
In the 2008 draft, Bird was still a high-ranking executive with the organization when the team dumped Jermaine O'Neal on the Toronto Raptors for the rights to Roy Hibbert. Bird also had a hand in picking up Danny Granger, a future All-Star, with the No. 17 pick in 2005.
After he retired in 1992, the Celtics brought Bird into the front office with a special assistant position. He remained with the organization up until becoming the Pacers' head coach in 1997. Of course, Bird never stopped winning, and took home the NBA's Coach of the Year award in his first season.
There was some friction created during that one- or two-year period. Bird felt he deserved a larger role with the Celtics. Not seeing that promotion in the near future is what forced Bird back to his native Indiana. He coached for three seasons before taking a few years off.
That minor rift, however, took place while the Celtics were under the ownership of Paul Gaston. Wyc Grousbeck's group didn't purchase the franchise until 2002, while Bird was already coaching in Indiana. There has been a complete cultural change since Bird left as well. The years after he departed were particularly lean.
Now the Celtics have regained some of the moxie and league-wide status that Bird originally helped them claim. A 2008 championship and numerous other deep playoff runs qualify the Celtics as an organization that must continue to stay at the NBA's forefront.
Ainge’s recent history has started to sour his reputation in Boston. The trades that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are distant memories, especially with Allen playing for the Miami Heat and Garnett possibly leaving this summer.
Instead, fans remember trading away Kendrick Perkins, which looks better over time, but still may have cost the team a shot at that 2011 NBA title. The recent moves of signing Jason Terry and trading for Courtney Lee, which were both costly, now look like failures and must weigh on fans' minds.
Terry shot just 43.4 percent after getting off to a slow start. He produced a 12-year low in points per game as well. Lee never seemed to mesh, attempting just two threes per game. He scored just 7.8 points per game and lost his job to Terrence Williams in the playoffs.
Since winning the title and Executive of the Year in 2008, Ainge has gotten one legitimate NBA player from the draft. Apologies to Jared Sullinger, but 45 games and a back surgery does not yet qualify you as legitimate.
In a move that looks more egregious by the day, Ainge let future First Team All-Defense member Tony Allen walk in free agency, after forking over two years and $12 million to Jermaine O’Neal. Allen signed with the Memphis Grizzlies for three years and $9.45 million.
By guaranteeing so much money to middling players like Terry, Lee and Brandon Bass, Ainge has hamstrung the Celtics into asking serious questions such as whether they should disrespectfully buy out a Boston legend and future Hall of Famer in Pierce?
Honest questions remain. Could he have signed Jeff Green for less money following heart surgery? Why has he been completely inept at finding a suitable backup point guard? Did Bass really deserve to be rewarded as handsomely as three years and $19.4 million?
These things build up on you over time, and Ainge has been with the Celtics for 10 years now. Eight of those have been spent in the postseason, and his two big trades helped add five Atlantic Division titles to the franchise trophy case (Ainge has six total, 2004-05).
It takes a certain skill to be a successful executive in a place like Boston. The city is not an ideal location for top free agents, something Ainge has learned very well over his tenure. Instead, the draft and trades are your best bet.
However, Indiana isn’t a top destination either. Bird has come to realize that throughout his entire life.
Yet, two years ago David West chose Larry over Danny and Indiana over Massachusetts. A successful decision because one franchise-head built something, while the other watched something crumble.
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