Back in 1988, when he was one of the Celtics' backcourt starters, Danny Ainge was seated at a table with Larry Bird, forward Kevin McHale and team president Red Auerbach during the organization's Christmas party. At the time Boston was reportedly considering trades that would have sent Bird and McHale to the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. "Look at these two guys," Ainge told Auerbach, over the surrounding conversations of other players and their families. "Larry's got casts on his feet [from surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels], Kevin's got a screw in his foot [to repair a stress fracture]—you've got to trade these guys." Everyone laughed at Ainge's typical audacity, but he wasn't joking. "I would have traded Larry Bird," he insists today.
Ah. I remember it well.
The Celtics started the month with an 8-8 record and finished it with 13 wins and 14 losses. Larry Bird was out for the season after having surgery to remove bone spurs from both heels. Kevin McHale, who had broken his foot during the 1986-87 season, had begun the downward slide toward the end of his career. Same for Robert Parish and more so for DJ. That left Danny Ainge as the only healthy starter.
Not surprisingly, Red chose to capitalize on Danny's good health. Instead of trading Larry Bird or Kevin McHale, Auerbach traded Ainge for two wide bodies, Joe Kleine and Ed Pinkney. This didn't stop the Celtics inexorable slide into oblivion (though, as you'll see here, a couple of years later the Green did start out the season 29-5).
Which brings us to the latest rumor in Celticland, namely Ray Allen for Monta Ellis. Ellis is younger than Ray and a better defender. But notwithstanding Ray's recent shooting slump, Ellis is shooting only .007 better than Ray from the field, and .038 worse from three. Monta also doesn't know the Celtics' system, and Ellis is unlikely to be anywhere near the clutch performer Ray has been over the last two years.
Most importantly, Monta lacks the professional cachet Ray brings to the Celtics' locker room. With hotheads Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, and Kendrick Perkins making Team Green loud, unpredictable, and annoying to those people who call the fouls during games, the Celtics need someone of great stature to offset those personalities with his own steely coolness. Ray Allen is that guy.
It's an interesting deal, and it's not the last one Danny will be offered before the trade deadline. If he pulls the trigger on the deal, it won't be now. He'll let it simmer at least until after the next three games. If we lose all three, Danny will cite those losses as a reason he feels he needed to "shake things up."
For the record, I don't buy the criticism that Monta Ellis is necessarily a bad fit. The fact that he needs the ball in his hands to be effective might be good. What the Celtics are missing right now is an Alpha Dog. Rondo's as close as we have, and he isn't a guy that's shown the ability to turn very many Ls into Ws by taking games over down the stretch. I don't know if Monta Ellis could assume this role, either. But I bet at least he would try.
If the deal goes down, let's hope Danny isn't forced to take Vladimir Radmonowhatsit, as I disliked him as much as any Laker since Byron Scott.