Go get your man, Danny Ainge.
You've long lusted over Chris Paul, now it's time to put him in green. The price won't be cheap, and you'll hear plenty of groans from a city fiercely protective of its own, but this is the right move at the right time.
The best opportunity for the Boston Celtics to make a legitimate charge at another title, and to remain competitive moving forward amid a looming roster overhaul, is to pry Paul from a New Orleans team seemingly resigned to move him, and move him fast.
Now it's up to Ainge to put together the right package to get him.
This has little to do with Rajon Rondo. He's one of the game's brightest young stars and the type of player most organizations would love to build around. He's also the most desirable asset the six-signed-player Celtics have and happens to play the same position as Paul.
And Paul is simply in another stratosphere, a legitimate top-five NBA talent. He's only 26, five years younger than Kevin Garnett was when the Celtics acquired him in 2007. Oh sure, there's no guarantee Paul will be here much past his 27th birthday in May, given his reported reluctance to sign a long-term extension with Boston, but that shouldn't detour Ainge in the least.
Let's rewind. Ainge's desire to bring Paul to Boston dates to 2005 when he nearly traded captain Paul Pierce for the chance to draft him. Paul earned rookie of the year honors that season and has been an All-Star the last four seasons. During the lockout, ESPN asked its writers to grade each player in the NBA and Paul emerged at No. 4, behind only good friend LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade.
Ainge doesn't just have Rondo for bait. He has the Clippers' first-round draft pick in 2012 (top 10 protected) obtained from Oklahoma City in February's deal that sent Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder. The team could also utilize its right with free agents Jeff Green and Glen Davis as valuable sign-and-trade assets.
Some fans are incredulous at the reported packages the Celtics have offered, including one that suggested the team would include two future first-round picks.
Danny, make it three if you have to.
Yes, the Clippers' pick could be nice, especially for a Boston team that needs young talent. But given their success, the Celtics' typical first-round selection is rarely glamorous (are you sweating losing a No. 30 pick like J.R. Giddens?).
The Celtics have to cobble together the right mix of talent, potentially involving a third team. Reports indicate that Boston investigated potential deals with Oklahoma City and Golden State in order to obtain the sort of assets that might intrigue the Hornets.
Make no mistake with all the rumored deals: Paul is the endgame.
Boston loves its own, and feisty Rondo with his Cousy-like distribution has endeared himself to the region. A championship ring truly made him one of ours. But Ainge has had five idle months during the lockout to ponder the best direction of his team, and it's clear that he believes obtaining Paul is the best way to go.
And why not? Have we not learned from history? Many groaned at the idea of giving up Al Jefferson as part of a package to lure Garnett. How did that work out for Boston?
Yes, there's no guarantee that Paul will ink a long-term extension in Boston, making it a potential one-year rental. There were similar concerns when the team was in the process of courting Garnett. It's likely in the best interest of Paul's wallet to wait to ink his next contract, anyhow, and Boston will be in prime position to lock him up, especially if it puts together a successful 2011-12 season.
And with Paul in the fold -- or maybe even if he isn't -- Boston could potentially lure another superstar in free agency next summer as the team transitions out of the Big Three era. With Garnett and Ray Allen coming off the books -- and the team can consider amnestying Pierce and the final two years of his contract -- the Celtics could be major players in the quest for the likes of Dwight Howard (or whoever remains available next summer).
Is it a risk? Of course. But when has that ever scared Ainge?
For those on the fence, here's one thing to ask yourselves: What's it going to take for the Celtics to win this year if they maintain the current core? Remember that the Celtics have limited assets ($3 million mini mid-level exception) to add talent beyond minimum contracts.
Are you confident that this core, as currently comprised, can withstand the rigors of a condensed 66-game season? Will these players be healthy in May and June? Do you believe this squad can win enough regular-season games to put itself in prime postseason position? After what we saw in the playoffs last year, is this team capable of competing with Miami with minor changes to its roster?
Ignore the noise, Danny. Go get your guy. You've never been afraid to roll the dice, and you shouldn't be now.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.