Five. That’s how many players the Celtics had under contract at the beginning of this offseason, including the soon-to-retire Rasheed Wallace. So make that four.
Zero. That’s how much cap space the Celtics had to spend, unless they wanted to renounce the rights to Ray Allen and/or Paul Pierce. Fat chance of that happening.
Eleven. That’s how many players Danny Ainge signed, and many of them quality pros. Just another summer at the office for Ainge, another offseason spent making wine out of water.
I didn’t know what direction the Celtics would take this summer. I figured Paul Pierce would re-sign because he’s a Celtics lifer, but beyond that I had no idea. They needed to improve their depth, I understood that, but I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen. Ainge was armed with only the mid-level exception and minimum contracts, and it isn’t like the Celtics were teeming with quality trade assets, either. Ainge was either going to pull a rabbit out of his hat or I was going to be disappointed by the offseason.
It’s a good thing Ainge once again proved himself to be a hell of a magician.
Just look at the Delonte West signing. The Celtics needed another wing and they only had the veteran’s minimum to spend. The other minimum guys on the market would make a basketball purist cringe. Larry Hughes, Jarvis Hayes and Damien Wilkins were the cream of the crop. I take back that those guys would make a basketball purist cringe; they’d actually make purists puke. When you group West with those guys, he’s a golden god. He has problems, yeah, but would you rather take a risk on West or sign Hughes with the understanding that Hughes is a miserable basketball player? That’s what I thought. Score one for Ainge.
Shaq was a steal, too. You don’t have to know that some analyst rated Shaq the third-biggest bargain this summer; all you have to know is the contracts other big men received. Four years and $20 million for Darko Milicic. Five years, $32 million for Drew Gooden. Five years, $18 million for Joel Anthony. I mean, the market was bugging out this summer. Big men were at an absolute premium, and doo-doo players were getting all kinds of money tossed at them. And then the Celtics picked up Shaq for $1.6 million. Whether or not you believe Shaq is the answer, $1.6 million for a starter-quality big man is nothing short of highway robbery.
Somehow, despite all the odds against him, Ainge put together a squad as deep as Ray Allen’s range. He solidified the frontcourt. He put together a bench with talent at every single position. He convinced Ray Allen and Doc Rivers to return and somehow made sure only Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce were signed for longer than two years. Danny Ainge, the magic man.
My brother, cousin and I always joke about a line Phil Hellmuth muttered after he got busted from a poker tournament one time. Hellmuth sat there whining, with his face in his hands, and said something like, “The average spectator has no idea how well I played this week. People won’t understand how great I was.”
It’s the same with Ainge. The average spectator has no ideahow well he played this offseason. People won’t understand how great he was.
But me? I know. And I’ll be eternally grateful for it, especially if Ainge’s offseason heist leads to an NBA championship.