For six years the question was whether the Celtics would win the championship. Now Danny Ainge finds himself overseeing a far less promising environment. All of the big names who played for or coached the championship team of 2007-08 are now in Los Angeles or Miami or Brooklyn or (in the case of Rajon Rondo) on indefinite leave. Instead of trying to win should they now be trying to lose? "As I walk around town more than anything else there are those that say 'Hey don't win too many games"' said Ainge the Celtics' president of basketball operations. "There are so many fans that want us to play for the draft." Ainge's measured response is that they should be more careful what they wish for. "That's harder than people recognize" said Ainge of losing as a strategy. "It's a really easy thing to conceptualize and an easy thing to talk about and philosophize about. But it's a hard thing to live through -- for fans for coaches for owners for sponsors for our TV partners." It was the pain of losing that forced his coach of nine years Doc Rivers to relocate with great irony to the Clippers. "Right" said Ainge. "It's a really hard thing to do." Without ever mentioning the name of the consensus No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins Ainge made it clear that he does not believe the Kansas freshman carries the value of Kevin Durant with whom he is often compared. "If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out there to change your franchise forever or Tim Duncan was going to change your franchise for 15 years? That might be a different story" said Ainge. "I don't see that player out there." All of the Celtics' old experienced hope had been traded away as they opened training camp Monday with the unlikely -- but not impossible according to Ainge -- goal of reaching the playoffs. The mood was nothing like years past. One longtime Boston journalist said it was the first time in 36 years he was covering a Celtics team that didn't include a future Hall-of-Famer. The uniforms were familiar but many of the faces and names were not. "I could see our team playing better than what some people think" said Ainge. "But I could also see us having some struggles because we don't really have that star. With the exception of Rondo of course; but we don't know when he'll be back." Rondo recovering from ACL surgery on his right knee last February said Monday he was unable to predict his return. When he does come back will he be confident and comfortable enough to instantly regain his All-Star form? It would be unfair to expect so much so soon. "There [are] just so many questions to be answered with our personnel" Ainge said. "It's sort of exciting to go into a year and not really know what to expect." The Celtics' rookie coach Brad Stevens a 36-year old hired away from Butler University in his native Indiana was not at the top of Ainge's list of variables for this season of transition. "I don't think that's going to prevent us from being a good team or that he's all of a sudden going to turn us into a great team" said Ainge of Stevens' inexperience. "His biggest thing will be how many adjustments do we make? Because he'll know our opponents and their tendencies and he'll know what we do and he'll put in the work. His question will be 'Do we want to change our defense tonight and can my players pick up this difference and can we make this adjustment?' Those will be the types of things. Is he outsmarting himself by making the change or keeping it really simple because the players might not be able to make that adjustment? "I don't have any question [about] his preparation or his intelligence. But experience sure. I think his staff will be able to help him through all that." He wished he could have straightened out the roster for Stevens. The Celtics have five big men who deserve to play said Ainge but there won't be enough minutes for all of them. Shooting guard remains a mystery. There is no point guard to start in Rondo's absence. And the best Celtics players to start the season Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green are both small forwards. "I've experienced that" Ainge said of his four seasons as coach of the Suns "where you win a game but [there]'s not as much joy as you would like it to be because there's three or four guys who are not happy with their roles. In a lot of ways you're managing corporations because how you play them and how many minutes they play and what roles they play have a great deal of effect on their career earnings. That's going to be a tough deal for Brad this year the logjams at the different positions." And yet Ainge likes this roster more than the one he inherited when Boston hired him in 2003 or the one he handed over to Rivers as new coach of the Celtics one year later. The current goal which surely could change based on the events of this season is to renew the strategy that led to the 2007 trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett: To develop the team's current young talent and to draft well without necessarily earning a high choice in the lottery. Al Jefferson who was the key player in the trade for Garnett had come to the Celtics as a No. 15 pick three years earlier.
Celtics aim to develop talent, not tank for more
SI | Oct 5