In this weirdest of times, the NBA’s 2020-21 season got underway with the draft Nov. 18, and the regular season Tuesday. The Celtics tip off against Eastern Conference-favorite Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
The 2021 season should have a very hot seat with Danny Ainge’s name on it. Unless the Celtics at least make it to the NBA Finals, it should be the last season that he is at the helm. Hear me out.
As a GM, Ainge has underachieved. He’s certainly no Red Auerbach, who won nine titles as a coach, and presided over seven more in the Celtics front office.
In 1987, after winning titles in ’81, ’84 and ’86, the Celtics lost to the Lakers in six.
Including that win, the Lakers have added eight NBA titles to their trophy case over the ensuing 34 seasons. They now have 17 — the same as the Celtics. Since 1987, the Bulls have added six Larrys. The Spurs have five. Golden State, Miami and Detroit have three each. The Rockets won a couple.
Dallas, Cleveland and Toronto have one each.
As do the Celtics, who won it all in 2008. One NBA title in 34 years. Who says the Bruins are the kings of Garden futility?
Ainge was a decent role player, once averaging 20.3 ppg over a season. As a coach, he took three Phoenix teams to the playoffs, but never won a series.
Somehow he got put in charge of the Celtics in 2003. Here are some factoids:
• He traded for Kevin Garnett, but the pick he dealt to Minnesota became Jonny Flynn … picked just ahead of Steph Curry.
• He dealt for Ray Allen … and signed Allan Ray.
Everybody misses on draft picks, but he’s had more strikeouts there than on a baseball diamond …
• 2008, 30th pick: J.R. Giddens. Not DeAndre Jordan or Goran Dragic.
• 2011, MarShon Brooks at 25, and immediately sent him to the Nets for the pick at 27 that became bust JaJuan Johnson. Drafted after Johnson? Jimmy Butler, Bojan Bogdanovich, Davis Bertans, and Isaiah Thomas.
• 2012, took Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo at 21-22 … not Draymond Green.
• Hired Brad Stevens, good call … then dealt all the remaining Ubuntu guys and a pick that became Kyle Kuzma … to be fair, he did get back the pick that became Jaylen Brown. But this one was a requirement to start the post-Pierce era rebuild, so …
• He got MarShon Brooks back in the Ubuntu Nets trade in 2013 … Then dealt him again in 2014 … Ainge does not know where he stands on MarShon Brooks.
• Took Marcus Smart sixth overall in 2014, solid, but not: Zach LaVine, or a handful of theoretically equivalent guys.
• Took Scary Terry Rozier in the 2015 draft, not scarier Montrezl Harrell.
• Took Jaylen third in 2016, but Guerschon Yabusele at 16 … not Pascal Siakam or Dejounte Murray or Malcolm Brogdon.
Every year, Celtics fans talk about landing a big fish in free agency. Before Kevin Durant signed with Golden State, a lot of the fan base thought he’d come here.
But why? When was the last time the Celtics scored big in free agency? His free agency moves have not clicked for over a decade. The Celtics broke I.T., dealt him to get Kyrie Irving, and then watched Kyrie walk away leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth after two years. Kyrie averaged about 24 ppg here, but few remember anything exceptional other than weird press conferences.
Al Horford and Gordon Hayward also walked. He signed Kemba Walker, who is all heart, but his body has begun to betray him. The modern NBA is a meat grinder. Kemba couldn’t even make it through a shortened season last year, and is out for the start of a shortened season this year.
Ainge’s big acquisition this year is Tristan Thompson, who addresses a major need with interior defense and grit. Tristan Thompson.
Are the Celtics closer to a title now than they were at any time in the last 10 years? Still gotta deal with Milwaukee and Miami … Toronto is still here. Most of the Eastern Conference seemed to get better just in the last few weeks. The Sixers now have a coach who knows how to win.
Ainge gets a lot of shine off of having also played pro baseball, but his career batting average was only .220. As the builder of the modern Celtics, that seems to be his batting average as well. It’s not good enough. He’s had plenty of time to build a team that competes for titles every year instead of just the playoffs. The 2008 title was a long time ago, and the 2010 Finals loss still stings. The Patriots have three titles since 2008, and two more AFC crowns. The Sox have won twice since then. The Bruins have one Stanley Cup and two near-misses.
The bar is high in Boston, the currency here is championships. Without one this year, it’s time to make a change.
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