Close your eyes, and move yourself back in time. It's December 29, 2011. What are you thinking? If you are not sure, let me help out. According to one of the local fish wraps:
The Boston Celtics are 0-3, and looked uninterested and exhausted in Wednesday's stunning 97-78 loss to the rebuilding Hornets in New Orleans. The defeat exposed several critical differences between the old Celtics of three years ago and these old Celtics now. Opponents are hardly intimidated by the green jerseys or the All-Stars who wear them. The Hornets viewed Wednesday not as an opportunity to upset the mighty Celtics but as simply a chance to win their home opener in front of fans apprehensive about the post-Chris Paul era.
What was I thinking?
I'll let Bob Ryan do all the talking for me:
A starting lineup that includes a 33-year-old, a 34-year-old, a 35-year-old, and a 36-year-old? A point guard who commands scant respect as a face-the-basket scoring threat and who is a subpar free throw shooter? A bench that does not have a single player whose job description on his income tax form reads "Drop-dead jump shooter"? In the abstract, such a team would be given little chance of being so much as a .500 team, let alone a championship contender.
Now with your eyes closed and in a somewhat agitated state, ask yourself, what are the chances of the Celtics rescuing themselves from this mess without going through another 10 years of futility like they did after Bird retired? If you're being honest, "not great" doesn't quite capture the odds facing Danny Ainge's effort to keep the Celtics in championship contention for the next three to five years.
Garnett's value had to have been at an all-time low. Ray Allen couldn't guard a chair. Paul Pierce was well past his prime. Exactly who were we going to trade and for what? Mired in draft spots 18-25, infusing the roster with talented youth also seemed like a pipe dream. Speaking of dreams, the Garnett Era was thought to be all but O-V-A-H.
Now open your eyes and look at the above chart.
What do you see?
There really is only one appropriate response.
What the f*ck?
If you asked me what outcome would have been desired if Ainge had his druthers over the summer, my answer would have gone something like this.
(A) I'd want a team centered on talented players in their mid to late 20s, the closer to 28 the better, as that is the age typically associated with the first year of your athletic prime; (B) We need an MVP candidate, someone dynamic, a leader. Larry Bird is asking too much. How about a Magic Johnson type?; (C) We need to keep a couple of the Old Fogies, ideally Pierce and Garnett, to play a Hondo-like role circa '74 and '76; (D) We need a freakin' bench. I'm not talking about the makeshift kind of piecing together Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, and Greg Steimsma. I want a bona fide, identifiable group of players who enjoy playing together, with a bona fide, proven leader who challenges the second unit to kick ass every night; (E) I want a center. It's OK if we stick KG in the post most of the time. But when push comes to shove, I want someone intimidating coming off the bench, someone who can lay a body on Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, and Tim Duncan and make it clear that if they want to get a shot off against the Celtics, it's gonna be a struggle. (F) Last, but certainly not least, I want the young core locked up for at least three years. I want this group to be good right off the bat, but when I'm bored, I want to imagine how good they might be in three years.
That's not much to ask, now is it?
OK. It is. It's a ridiculous, drug-induced fantasy that I would never have dreamed up even back when I drank green kool-aid 24/7.
But somehow Danny Ainge pulled it off. I'm not going to analyze this move-by-move. What's the point? He pretty much nailed every one of them. Danny Ainge has put us in a position to be in contention for this year and at least two more after that. No one knows how it will turn out. All you can ask for is a realistic opportunity to win.
Which brings me back to my original question.
Is Danny Ainge lucky or is it something more?
When 85-year-old Red Auerbach introduced Ainge as his new GM in May 2003, the Celtic Patriarch gave us his answer.
"Forget about his work ethic and intelligence," Auerbach said, waving his cigar. "The main thing about Danny Ainge is that he's lucky. With all of his assets and attributes, there's also his luck. "Whether he's playing backgammon or golf, he always seems to win at it, so like I said, you gotta be lucky," he said. "I was lucky. One year, and it was either Sam Jones or (Don) Nelson, we were in the seventh game, and he shoots, and the ball hits the rim, the backboard, rolls all around, and then goes in and we win the game. It made me a helluva coach."