We listened the other night to Bill Simmons interview with Danny Ainge and found ourselves shouting at the computer monitor, "Hey, why don't you ask him this???" To us, the big underplayed aspect of the Draft Day deal is how badly Ainge wanted rid of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but mostly Pierce. Let us count the ways:
1. Ainge accepted Gerald Wallace's contract --three years remaining at $30.3 million. Without it, the numbers don't even come close to matching. NO ONE thought the Nets could dump Crash's contract. NO one. Hell, Bill Simmons had publicly said Billy King should be fired after the Wallace trade and subsequent signing. Although we can accept that Ainge likes Wallace, if you're rebuilding, why are you willing to pay $10 million to a 33-year-old in 2015-16. As it stands now, that's the most the Celtics have committed to anyone that season. The Nets not only got out of a bad contract, they got out of the repeater tax in 2015-16 and may very well get under the luxury tax threshold in 2015-16, permitting them to use the MLE, the BAE and work sign-and-trade deals. Thank you, Danny!
2. Again, to make the numbers work, Ainge agreed to a sign-and-trade with Keith Bogans. Bogans who had never made more than $2.6 million a year in his career, was given a three-year, $15.9 million deal, only the first year, at $5.1 million, guaranteed. That's not what we find so strange. Other players have reaped similar deals. This is what is so strange: by using the S&T to make the numbers work, the Celtics hard-capped themselves, limiting what they can do in this, their first year of rebuilding. For example, they have a $7.7 million trade exception from the trade. Sounds great, but because of the hard cap, they can use only $2 or $3 million of it until July 10 of next season. Then they will have two days to use the rest of it. How so? Because they are hard-capped right up to July 10, the first day teams can make deals in the 2014 off-season. The TE runs out on July 12, the first anniversary of the official date of the trade. There is a history of TE's from high-profile trades never getting used. Same here, we're betting.
3. Ainge was willing to trade Pierce alone ... and in fact had an agreement to do just that. According to highly reliable league source, the Nets and Celtics had an agreement in principle the day before Draft to trade Pierce for Kris Humphries and the Nets first round pick in 2016. Is that value? Hardly. Moreover, it was quite a step down from what the Celtics reportedly wanted for Pierce only four months earlier. According to Fred Kerber, here's what the Celtics asked for at the trade deadline: MarShon Brooks, Mirza Teletovic, Humphries and two future first rounders. The Nets said no. A year earlier, according to Bill Simmons himself, the Celtics had been willing to give up Pierce for the Nets lottery pick in 2012 (which turned into rookie of the year Damian Lillard) and Mehmet Okur. Nets sources said at the time that Ainge did propose a deal that looked like that, then quickly pulled it, suggesting ownership didn't want to do it. So why'd agree to the fire sale now? Because if they hadn't, their next decision was going to be even uglier: they had to decide by June 30 --in three days-- whether to exercise their team option on Pierce and waive their heart and soul. What's better? Getting some value on June 27 or face a lot of bad publicity on June 30? The rest of the deal got done on Draft Day, with KG finally agreeing to waive his no-trade clause that night.
Yes, yes, yes, the Celtics got three first round picks in the deal and the right to swap a fourth. But with Mikhail Prokhorov willing to spend, spend, spend, what are the chances that the Nets' picks will be higher than No. 20 to 25? And really, the player who will be taken with that 2018 pick is now in middle school. Long time to wait. (By the same token, the first rounder the Celtics got for Doc Rivers isn't likely to be very high.)
Here's our bottom line: the Celtics were about to face a tough call from a public relations perspective: exercising that team option on Pierce's final year. They would owe him only $5 million of his projected $15.3 million salary in 2013-14. How would that have looked? Not good. In the cold calculus of rebuilding, they also knew that if they traded Pierce after letting Rivers go to the Clippers, the chances that KG would retire increased dramatically. He made that point quite clearly last week in China. No Paul, no Kevin = BIG savings.
So the top priority the last week of June was to dump the franchise player before they had to make that ugly choice and get the most they could. The Nets helped them out of a public relations mess. The Celtics got their picks and maybe some talent in Brooks. But they also agreed to pay two declining 30-something players $35.4 million over three years and agreed to postpone any other rebuilding moves by hard-capping themselves this season. Pundits seem to forget all that when assessing the trade.
Pierce, rightfully, feels miffed. He noted in his interview with Jackie MacMullan that he had hoped to end his career as a Celtic, but Boston didn't accord him the same respect the Spurs have accorded Tim Duncan, the Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki and the Lakers Kobe Bryant: great players who spent their entire careers with one team and who had helped that team to an NBA championship. Ainge can tell Simmons how tough it was to "trade Paul," but there was a lot of cold calculation in the mix.
Don't get us wrong: The deal was probably a good deal for both, but Ainge is being portrayed more or less as a brilliant strategist for getting all those picks. But it came at a cost. Ainge said he wanted to "do right by Paul" in the interview with Simmons. But mostly, he wanted to dump him.
Romy Nehme, our new writer is a Brooklyn resident and a long-time Celtic fan. Here's her take...
"I think Ainge hung on to them far longer than anyone expected -- given all the rumors swirling around the trade deadline in the last few years and Ainge's reputation as an emotionless, sometimes callous shot-caller.
"There's still doubt in my mind that Pierce and KG would have remained Celtics with the impending rebuild (especially KG, who adores Doc and deals with a variety of ailments that go unmentioned during the season). As you've noted in a few pieces, there were only a couple of teams that could have facilitated the swap because of all the factors at play; I don't buy Ainge's assertion that what he got for the pair of them exceeded their 2011 value, but I do think the Celtics got great invisible assets.
"I was shocked that they didn't get any young players out of it, but I now think it was too good to say no to given the alternative: wilting HOFs and no plans for the future. Bogans & Humphries are off the books, they can elect to not pick up MarShon's 4th year, and Wallace will fair better in Stevens' up-tempo game, even though he's the salt in the coffee. The best consolation of all is that Pierce and KG play in my backyard"