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Danny Ainge's wheels turning

On the night of the 2005 NBA draft, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Globe had an agreement in place. A season-ticket advertisement that would run in the newspaper after the draft would feature a likeness of Paul Pierce.

There was a catch, however. No ad would run if the Celtics pulled off a deal they were investigating at the time -- trading Pierce to Portland for the No. 3 overall pick, which Danny Ainge would use to select Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul. It was close enough to happening that the ad never ran because there was no guarantee at press time that Pierce would still be on the team. Portland ended up trading the pick to Utah, which used the No. 3 selection on Deron Williams. Paul went No. 4 to the Hornets.

Now, the whole maneuver seems pretty far-fetched, at least the first part. Letting Pierce go for a draft pick on an unproven rookie, no matter how promising? But if you recall, back in June 2005, Pierce's stock was at its lowest. He had feuded all season with new coach Doc Rivers. He had staged that ridiculous media room incident after Game 6 of the playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, which the Celtics lost, getting routed in Game 7 at home.

And Ainge loved Chris Paul.

Fast-forward to November 2011. Paul Pierce seems as set, safe and secure in Boston as Tom Menino, its five-term mayor. And Ainge still, rightly, loves Chris Paul.

Is it possible? The Paul and Paul Show coming to Boston this season?

No sooner has the nuclear winter gone tropical than the background music for the NBA has gone from elevator noise to Adele's "Rumour Has It." This one has the Celtics trying to pry Paul loose from New Orleans, which he is likely to leave, using Rajon Rondo as the lure. Another team or some extra bodies would have to be involved to make it work because of the difference in salaries.

The new collective bargaining agreement doesn't help the Celtics, who have four players on their roster earning $10 million or more this season. The only way Ainge can bring in serious talent is via the trade route, and let's face it, the only truly tradeable commodity he has right now is Rondo.

It probably won't happen, but Paul is going somewhere next season and the Hornets know it. They can't afford to let him walk for free. If Paul really wants to go to New York, great, but he's going to have to either take substantially less money or risk joining a team that shed one of its attractions to get him. While Chris Broussard of ESPN.com is reporting Paul doesn't want to go to Boston, well, neither, if you recall, did Kevin Garnett at first. So minds can be changed.

And one of the ways to assure Paul that Boston is going to be OK is to tell him Target No. 2 is Dwight Howard, summer of 2012. Unthinkable? Probably. But it is possible on paper, at least.

As of now, the Celtics have three players under contract beyond this season: Pierce, Rondo and Avery Bradley. (They will have a fourth when they sign first-round draft pick JaJuan Johnson.) Depending on how Ainge manages things this season (re-signing Jeff Green, Glen Davis and/or Delonte West), the Celtics could put themselves in position to be able to sign Howard as an unrestricted free agent.

That also would depend on how Orlando deals with Howard, who, like Paul, can opt out of his contract after this season. The Nets reportedly already have an offer ready for Howard featuring Brook Lopez and draft picks. It stands to reason Orlando won't let Howard go without getting something back. The Magic played that game once (Shaquille O'Neal, 1996), and it didn't turn out too well. It's also hard to envision any team trading for Howard without assurances that he will stick around.

But Howard holds all the cards. He can say he wants to play with Paul, and as we've seen with other high-value targets, playing with another marquee player (or two) can be as important as 70-degree days in January and February. Rivers remains a huge draw as a coach. Howard would be joining a Boston team that still has Pierce, and, who knows, maybe even KG and Ray Allen would agree to return at bargain-basement rates.

If nothing else, it makes for fun speculation down the road, because the here-and-now reality is much more sobering. The Celtics' payroll situation for this season is not good; the team seems certain to exceed the guestimated $70 million-plus luxury tax threshold, giving it less attractive free-agency options.

The only trading option besides Rondo might be Green, a restricted free agent who could end up being a difficult re-sign. He turned down a lot of money from Oklahoma City a year ago because his agent, David Falk, felt Green was a max or near-max player. The Thunder didn't agree and traded him to Boston.

He was supposed to be part of the core group of the Celtics going forward, and he still might be. If the Jeff Green we saw in OKC resurfaces in Boston, that's another valuable, productive young player to make free agents consider the Celtics.

How about this a year from now on opening night: Dwight Howard, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul and Jeff Green? Ainge has shown he's not afraid to pull the trigger and, I'm guessing, would not need to hire a food taster or car starter if he were able to swing a deal for the guy he wanted so badly six-plus years ago. And that might prove to be just the tasty appetizer.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.