The day after the 2007 NBA Draft, I sat poolside while thirty kids participated in the “Camper Olympics.” I was a lifeguard at the time, and my job was to ensure the safety of all the children. Instead, I talked to one of my buddies about Boston’s acquisition of Ray Allen.
“Why did we give up the number five pick for Allen?” he asked. “And Delonte West, too? I love that guy. At least we got rid of Szczerbiak.”
You see, trading for Allen wasn’t always seen as such a swish. He was already 32 years old, and he had just missed 27 games the previous season after undergoing season-ending surgery on both his ankles. He could score, we knew, and he could shoot, and he was smoother than a polished 8-ball (the game, not the drug). But there were serious questions about Allen’s durability and age, not to mention how he fit in with the Celtics.
If the Celtics entered an NBA season with a starting lineup of Sebastian Telfair, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins, they would be right back in NBA purgatory, good enough to limp into the playoffs and possibly win a round or two, but not good enough to contend. As a Celtics fan coming of age in the nineties, I had spent more time in NBA purgatory than I would like to admit. Sometimes, like when Antoine Walker wiggled after a game-winning banked three-pointer, or when Paul Pierce scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to complete the greatest playoff comeback in NBA history, I even enjoyed the resting ground between heaven and hell. But I knew trading young, potential stars for decent veterans was not the way to build a title contender (case in point: Joe Johnson for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers). The Celtics went all-in every season and advanced to the Conference Finals once. But they could not have been any further from contending for a title.
“Why does a rebuilding team trade for the aging Ray Allen?” I asked rhetorically, knowing there was only one answer. “The C’s must have other plans, right?”
They did have plans, of course. Big ones, too. As in, “trade for Kevin Garnett and win a championship immediately” plans. But while I sat poolside, working on my tan, ignoring the kids I was supposed to protect and chatting about the NBA Draft, I didn’t know that. I could only judge the Allen trade in a vacuum, and at the time, the move seemed like a spurned lover badly in need of a partner. As good a player as Allen was (and still is), acquiring him—if it was just him—would have set back Boston’s rebuilding process.
As the kids ran wild under my (non-existent) watch, we pondered the Allen acquisition. How much does he have left? Are his ankles okay? Can he and Paul Pierce and not much else take Boston to the promised land? Does Danny Ainge have something else up his sleeve? Is Sebastian Telfair the NBA’s worst starting point guard?
A little more than a month later, I refreshed HoopsHype 1,032 times per day to see the latest Kevin Garnett rumors. One day, the KG trade became official, I jumped so high my head literally busted through my basement ceiling, and the Allen trade suddenly made perfect sense.
Now here we are, four years later. Allen hasn’t aged a day, and after all that has resulted from the 2007 draft-day trade, it’s odd to think we initially questioned Ainge’s move. But there was a lot to doubt, a lot to explain, a lot that didn’t quite make sense. In retrospect, all the doubts could be erased by two words: “Kevin Garnett.” But back then, we worried.
“Why couldn’t we have just kept West and drafted Yi Jianlian?” my friend asked, and I’m embarrassed to say I did not immediately drown him in the pool.
(Happy birthday, Ray. The youngest 36-year old shooting guard in NBA history, I would say.)