"Larry's got casts on his feet [from surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels], Kevin's got a screw in his foot [to repair a stress fracture]—you've got to trade these guys." Everyone laughed at Ainge's typical audacity, but he wasn't joking.Paul Pierce slowly walked into the Celtics' locker room after another loss last March, head down, wondering how his career had taken such a wrong turn.The 29-year-old small forward was the lone All-Star on a roster of novices, five of whom were young enough to be in college; he was 10 pounds too heavy; and, worst of all, he feared that he would never accomplish anything of lasting value in the NBA, at least with Boston."I had pretty strong thoughts that I wouldn't even be here this year," Pierce says now.
But even Ainge didn't imagine last March that he would swing two significant deals that have dramatically revived the championship hopes of a franchise that had won only three playoff series since Larry Bird's retirement in 1992.By acquiring shooting guard Ray Allen from the Seattle Super Sonics and power forward Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves without relinquishing Pierce—forming an unparalleled trio of still-in-its prime NBA talent, with a cumulative 21 All-Star appearances and career scoring average of 65.6 points—Ainge made the Celtics relevant again.As Pierce was maturing into one of the NBA's finest all-around players (with career averages of 23.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.66 steals), his supporting cast was growing progressively younger and becoming less supportive with each passing year.The Celtics' 24—58 record last season was their worst in 10 years and included a franchise-record 18-game losing streak while a demoralized Pierce watched from the bench with a left foot injury.
***** As both a Boston player and executive, Ainge has not been afraid of the risks involved in acting boldly.
Back in 1988, when he was one of the Celtics' backcourt starters, he was seated at a table with Bird, forward Kevin Mc Hale and team president Red Auerbach during the organization's Christmas party.