Here's what Ainge told Sharp...
"I wasn't really trying to trade Kevin and Paul. I had sort of resigned myself to the fact that Kevin and Paul would remain Celtics and retire as Celtics. There really hadn't been much momentum, or even tempting opportunities to move them, until Brooklyn came along and made an offer. It sort of came up last minute, right before the draft."
"We needed some direction. It's tough when you have aging veteran guys and young guys trying to mix. But at the same time, we would love to have our young core group of guys be mentored by KG and Paul. There was a lot of good things that could have happened either way."
Not quite... or at least not what we were told at the time and in multiple conversations since. It was far, far more complicated than that.
Yes, the deal was finalized on the day of the Draft, Thursday, June 27, but it wasn't exactly last minute. Two days earlier, the Nets and Celtics had put together a simpler deal, multiple sources told us: Pierce for Kris Humphries and the 2016 first round pick. Jeff Schwartz, Pierce's agent and the Nets favorite agent, had helped arrange it, had even recommended it to Pierce.
Ainge, it should be noted, had a problem. On June 30, he had a big decision to make: Pierce's $15 million deal for 2013-14 was only guaranteed at $5 million. Unless he made a deal before then, he risked having to waive his franchise player, a P.R. nightmare, without getting anything back for him, not good for the franchise. Billy King became his savior. (One big criticism of the deal has been that the Nets had all the leverage -- that Ainge was in a bad place -- but the Nets wanted leadership and toughness they thought Pierce and Garnett would bring.).
Ainge had been willing to trade the perennial All-Star before. At the 2012 trade deadline, after Dwight Howard opted in with the Magic, King had offered the Celtics the same basic package he ultimately gave the Blazers for Gerald Wallace, including the lightly protected pick that became Damian Lillard. But as the deal was being discussed, Schwartz let the Nets know that Pierce was not interested in playing in New Jersey, again according to multiple sources.
Now, though, Pierce was committed. So the Nets went for broke on Wednesday and Thursday. They wanted KG, too. By Thursday morning, the outlines of a deal were coming together. Ainge was willing to deal Garnett as well as Pierce, but the price was high and getting higher. He wanted the Nets to take on Jason Terry, who needed knee surgery, and he wanted more than one or two picks. Initially, the Nets were willing to give him one but not both. And Garnett had to be convinced to lose his no-trade clause. He was fully guaranteed in 2013-14, but like Pierce had a buyout in 2014-15. The Nets agreed to honor it.
What happened on Thursday afternoon and evening has never been completely disclosed, but as the deal grew, there was different combinations of players added and subtracted. Ownership grew more and more excited at the possibilities and pushed King. Making the deal would be difficult. The Nets were taking on three big players, at least two of whom were future Hall of Famers and were offering second level players in return. So draft picks were added. Thursday morning, the Nets were hoping to get away with two first rounders and no Terry, but by Thursday night, they had agreed to three and Terry. KG had agreed, too, at a cost of $6 million, to waive his no-trade clause.
Each of the three picks -- and the swap of 2017 picks-- was assigned to a key piece of the deal, according to more than one source: one pick each for Pierce and Garnett and another for the Celtics willingness to take on the $30 million owed Wallace, by then in obvious decline. The swap may very well have been to compensate the Celtics for the sign-and-trade of Keith Bogans. To make the deal work under the CBA, the Celtics had to pay Bogans $5.2 million in 2013-14. (King has denied it was that simple.)
Although the deal was reported done late Thursday night, there were still details that needed to be worked out Friday morning during the final conference call between the two teams. The Nets wanted the Celtics to take on Reggie Evans. The Celtics wanted MarShon Brooks, who had played at Providence. (Brooks also wanted out of Brooklyn.) The Nets relented. They wanted the star power, the leadership Pierce and Garnett would bring. Brooks and Evans were minor pieces. Later, to make the deal final, the Nets added Kris Joseph and the Celtics D.J. White to the mix. Both were cut.
There were other ramifications. There was some confusion over just how much the incremental luxury tax provision, new in 2013-14, would add to Mikhail Prokhorov's bill. Also, because of the Stepien Rule, the first round picks couldn't be protected. If they had been protected, the picks could have rolled over to the next Draft and the rule prohibits the trade of first-round picks in successive seasons.The Nets believed, as apparently did Ainge, that the Nets would not need the picks, that they were bound for glory.
In addition, Pierce, Garnett and Brooklyn's other big off-season acquisition, Andrei Kirilenko, didn't show up in the best of shape. Terry had his knee surgery. All, it turned out, were past due. As Ainge told Sharp...
"Brooklyn made a calculated risk and things just didn't work out. For lots of reasons, mostly health reasons. So far it's worked out good for us, and it's allowed our young guys a chance to have the stage, and really shine and improve."
Indeed. The risks outweighed the reward. It was a quick fix for Brooklyn, one driven in large part because of the Nets collapse in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Now, the piper must be paid. Only one player, Brook Lopez, remains from that 2013-14 roster. Jason Kidd, who truth be told wanted a faster-paced roster, left for the Bucks after a dispute with ownership. King was ultimately "reassigned" and replaced by Sean Marks.
Ainge, of course, is happy and claims to be surprised by what happened. Did he think the picks would be as valuable as they now appear, did he think Pierce and Garnett would fall apart so quickly?
"No way. I actually thought Brooklyn was going to be really good. I was excited for Paul and KG. For Brooklyn to be able to acquire those guys, they still had basketball left in 'em. I was excited for them to go together and play with three young stars like Lopez, Joe, and Deron. I thought they were going to be a very, very good basketball team."
Question: was he laughing up his sleeve at the time?