In the rafters above the parquet floor at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, 16 green and white banners commemorate the Boston Celtics' championship seasons.
Since the last title in 1986, Beantown has watched its boys stumble repeatedly. The Celtics have made the postseason in just 11 of the last 20 years, and escaped the first round only five times.
With that sort of track record, it's hard to call Boston a basketball town these days.
The 2006-07 campaign was especially disappointing. With Paul Pierce sidelined in the middle of the winter, the Celtics suffered 18 straight defeats. Attendance at the Garden fell to 20th in the NBA.
The Celtics ultimately finished with the second-worst record in the league, giving them a 19.9 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the Draft Lottery, and an 18.8 percent chance at No. 2.
As it played out, they had the hard luck to fall all the way to five.
And that's when things started to turn for the better.
Shortly after drafting Georgetown's Jeff Green, Danny Ainge engineered a trade that sent Green, Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak to the Seattle Supersonics for Ray Allen and LSU's Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
Boston fans suddenly had a bit of energy—even as some critics wondered why the Celtics would mortgage their future for the 32-year-old Allen.
Ainge shrugged off those concerns, though, and immediately set to work on a second blockbuster deal.
On July 31, Boston acquired Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first seven-for-one trade in league history. The Celtics dissembled virtually their entire roster to obtain the Big Ticket—and to create the most feared Big Three in the NBA.
The combination of Pierce, Allen, and Garnett has Vegas bookies giving 5-to-1 odds on a Boston championship. On November 2nd, the new-look Celtics open the season at home against Washington.
And, as it stands, the Celtics are the team to beat in the East. That’s right—the team to beat.
Forget what KG told the Boston Globe’s Gary Dzen—“I wouldn’t go that far and say we’re the team to beat. We have things to prove. We have to work on chemistry.”
Ainge didn’t structure his new-look franchise to come in second, and anything less than Boston's first title since the Larry Bird Era should be considered a failure. This team isn’t built for the future—they're built for today.
The people of Boston have waited long enough for an inept front office to return the Celtics to glory. Ainge looks to have finally done just that.
There's still room in the rafters at the Garden for a few more title banners. Boston’s moment is now. The players know it, the media knows it, and the fans know it.
Ainge better know it as well—or his blockbuster deals will be remembered as nothing more than busts.