I watched Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery on the edge of my seat. I watched with this sense of nervous energy as if I was climbing into the Octagon against Chuck Liddell; as if I was stepping into the batter’s box against Joel Zumaya in his pre-Guitar Hero days; as if I was plugging the C gap only to see Jerome Bettis turn the corner. Simply put, I was defecating in my pants. I had spoken with Keefe about an hour earlier as we ran down all the possibilities of what could happen. “Hey, the worst they can do is the 5th pick,” he assured me. “I guarantee they get the 5th pick,” I immediately replied. We would’ve been remiss to not discuss the possibility of getting screwed again, 10 years fresh off the Tim Duncan debacle back in ’97. After losing a franchise record 19 straight games, watching D-League players log significant time and our star sit out most of the season en route to the 2nd worst record in the league, an entire season rested on a stupid lottery system. The thing is so ridiculous I think I even had 0.00000389% chance to win the Greg Oden sweepstakes. And when the Celtics drew the 5th pick, I couldn’t help but feel the same emotions of panic, distress and frustration that have been the proverbial wet blanket over the TD Banknorth Garden in recent years.
I was bullsh*t. I was irate. I was speechless, thoughtless, emotionless, depressed, suicidal…alright it didn’t get that serious, but you can understand that I felt like someone was squeezing my testicles like a stress test outside of K-Mart and Shaw’s. Pop in a quarter and see how over the top you are. I mean honestly, how does that happen? The TrailBlazers might as well have been all-in on a draw with 3, 4 suited against some poor saps’ pocket rockets only to pull a one-outer on the river. Ridiculous, and after steaming all night and into the morning, I finally took some time to reflect on what happened and where the Celtics should go from here. My thoughts have led to following: Danny Ainge & Co. must decide if the future shall be now or if they want to sign it to another 3-year extension.
Should the Celtics opt for the latter, then Ainge should place a call over to Yawkey Way and ask Theo Epstein how he worked up the intestinal (and testicular) fortitude in 2004 to trade away the face of the franchise in Nomar Garciaparra. As crazy as it sounds, and it did in ’04, it may be in their interest to put captain and five-time NBA All-Star Paul Pierce on the trading block. Look at it this way, Pierce will play all of next season as a 30 year old in his ninth season in the NBA. Should the Celtics use that fifth pick on a young player like Al Horford from Florida, Brandon Wright from UNC or Yao Ming’s fellow brethren there from China, it will still most likely take the Celtics another two or three years to become contenders in the diluted Eastern Conference, and even that is wishful thinking, especially when you have to acknowledge that first-rounders aren’t always a lock. Besides, the top-seeded Pistons would have only finished 4th in the Western Conference last year. Think there’s any sort of disparity or variance there? A couple years to even think about mixing it up with the best of the East which isn’t even on the same level of it’s adversary out West. By that time, Pierce will be 32 or 33 and either finishing up the back nine of his heralded and arguably Hall of Fame career or just simply impossible to re-sign. And if that was the case, that would leave us with a group of still maturing NBA players who just recently earned the right to drink legally; yet their fearless, exemplary leader will be out the door and Doc Rivers not too far behind when he realizes his already sunken ship has been discovered. So let’s do this: dangle Pierce in the collective face of the Portland or Seattle franchises, along with that 5th pick and see if they’ll take the bait. If they do, the Celtics take home either Oden or collegiate Player of the Year Kevin Durant to add to a nice stable of developing NBA players. They’d probably miss the playoffs again next year, but could end up with another lottery pick or close to it and continue Ainge’s 30-year re-building effort. A guard rotation of Delonte West, Rajon Rondo and Gerald Green with a front-court of Perkins/Gomes, Big Al and another impact type player, ideally Durant or Oden, later on looks to a promising future. Or if you send Pierce straight up for another pick to a team looking to add a veteran player, you can keep that 5th pick and select another first-rounder. We’d have the second coming of the Fab Five, or Six, just older and in the NBA. The franchise would continue to experience growing pains, but like last year the team would be fun to watch and times and exciting for talk-radio and writers/readers/fans like ourselves to talk about in anticipation of what’s to come. All it would take is the continued patience of Celtic Pride to understand that Ainge and the Celtics are like Matt Amorello and Big Dig. We said the project was going to be completed seven years ago, but we suck at what we’re doing yet we’re still excited about the future of this organization and where it’s heading.
Meanwhile, Pierce could do what other great athletes have done in this area. Like Ray Bourque, he could amicably part ways with the franchise and go elsewhere to try and win a championship. If he ends up on Portland, Zack Randolph, Jarrett Jack, Brandon Roy and Co. wouldn’t object to Pierce’s arrival. They could probably make a run out West immediately. Or if he went to Seattle, how about the tandem of Ray Allen and Pierce with Rashard Lewis, pending the SuperSonics re-sign him which they say they will, and Nick Collison. That’s not too shabby, either. Or like Nomar, he could ungraciously go where the Celtics send him, although I think Pierce would take the high road and make the most of a fresh start.
But of course that all depends on whether or not teams would be willing to take Pierce for any of those options. Which brings us to the former. The future is now and Pierce stays in Boston. Ainge could look at the 5th pick as a lost cause and dish it away. After getting of the phone with Keefe today, he left me feeling optimistic about this alternative when he suggested the likes of Jermaine O’Neal or Ron Artest. O’Neal might make the most sense for the Pacers. They forked over their 11th pick to the Hawks as part of the Al Harrington deal, so Larry Bird would’ve been better off as a no-show at that brutal live Draft Lottery. More importantly, he could’ve been spared the awkward dialogue between he and Fred Hickman which was embarrassing just to watch. It was even bad enough to have Tom Heinsohn and Jerry West leaning over to exchange pleasantries and derisions at Hickman’s expense.
But back to the Pacers and O’Neal. In O’Neil you’re getting an athletic big man that can score 20 ppg and be a double-double threat every night washing the boards. And with 2.6 blocks per game last season, he’d add a defensive presence to alleviate some of the pressure down low on Big Al, who would be a bit of an undersized center. Meanwhile, the Pacers could draft in the top five for the first time since 1988 when they selected Rik Smits second overall. Smits, of course, went on to average almost 15 ppg over 12 NBA season.
Another option for the C’s would be Ron Artest, who really knows how to wear out a welcome wherever he goes. But as Keefe mentioned on the phone, him and Pierce are boys and that might make him a welcome fit in the locker room. Besides, Artest would probably get Pierce on his next album and be a staple at Mirage on Tremont St. That alone is worth the price of admission. On the court, he’d be like that nut job in White Men Can’t Jump, taking his gun around the corner to rob a convenience because he lost a bet in the middle of the game. He’s a raw dude like Corey Dillon and would bang bodies down low and seriously aid a defense that allowed opponents to score just a shade over 99 ppg last season.
And of course there’s the ever-desirable Kevin Garnett, whom many are comparing Durant to this year. Although he may not be on the trading block for Kevin Mchale et al, I would be remiss not to drool over the thought of him, Pierce and Big Al. After Tuesday night’s “worst-case scenario,” that would easily be the “best-case scenario.”
All in all, these are obviously hypothetical situations that may or may not be feasible for Ainge to execute using either his star player or the “coveted” 5th pick in this year’s draft. Essentially, the point I’m trying to make is although we got the raw end of the deal, landing the “worst-case scenario” on Tuesday night, it’s actually not all that bad. If Ainge can finally play his cards right, the Celtics should absolutely make tremendous headway by the time the 2007 draft has completed on June 28. But the most important thing they must do is commit to one or the other. If the Celtic brass decides that the future is now, trade that pick for a big-time veteran that can turn the Celtics into a venerable playoff contender. But if the Celtics choose to take the alternate route, you can’t keep Pierce leading a group of young, underdeveloped talent that is still a few years away from being much of anything. It’s unfair to him and an impediment to the overall status of this esteemed yet recessed franchise. You can’t get caught in the middle for yet another season because the current value of their assets is as high as they will be. You don’t need to be an avid reader of the Wall Street Journal to know that you buy low and sell high. But I suppose with his history, Ainge could probably use a subscription.
And us fans? Let’s just relax knowing that although Tuesday night was certainly not a Utopian wet dream , we are still in a substantial position. Let’s just hope Ainge doesn’t pull a Pitino.
If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions, please send them to Keefe, Besse and Sharkey at firstname.lastname@example.org.