Commentary

Danny Ainge not throwing in towel

Celtics hoop boss says rebuilding process doesn't have to go on forever

Updated: July 2, 2013, 9:45 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was asked how long, ideally, this recently activated rebuilding process will take before reaching fruition.

"I'd like us to fix everything this summer and be playing for a championship next June," a straight-faced Ainge said.

When he was asked if that was a realistic timeline, Ainge finally cracked a veteran GM's smile and answered, "No," before laughing.

[+] EnlargeAinge
AP Photo/Steven SenneDanny Ainge acknowledged that there are no guarantees in rebuilding a franchise.

"There's no time frame," Ainge said. "Everybody wants to hear that [it will be quick, but] it takes time. And there are no guarantees.

"When you trade players the significance of Paul [Pierce] and [Kevin Garnett], and you talk about moving those guys, [some think] it's some sort of guarantee that we're going to rebuild and we're going to be successful again. When, no, it just happens to be the best way or the only way. But it's certainly not a guaranteed way to return to where we were. It just seems like the only way.

"So our hope is to accumulate a lot of draft picks and younger players. We have a core group of guys that we are really excited about and developing and continuing to watch their growth as the responsibility and expectations for them grow without the veteran players that have been so special for us the last six years."

The departure of head coach Doc Rivers last week triggered a rebuilding process that's a bit overdue (and that would have likely occurred even if Rivers hadn't bolted for Los Angeles). The Celtics moved quickly to reach a deal with the Brooklyn Nets on draft night that will send its 35-and-over club of Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn in exchange for what the team hopes is a restoration acceleration package headlined by three first-round picks.

And while Ainge believes the Celtics are in much better position to tackle this rebuild than they were a decade ago, he admits there are no guarantees with how quickly things will turn back around.

One thing is certain: While Rivers had little desire to go back to those dark days before the Big Three were assembled in the summer of 2007, Ainge seems somewhat inspired by the process, as daunting as it appears.

"I wouldn't say it's exciting. It's a challenge, and I welcome that challenge," Ainge said Monday in Mattapan during a community event that doubled as the team's formal introduction of rookie draft picks Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson.

"I'm re-energized to try to [rebuild] again. Having been through it, I think the experience will help me. I think we're a lot further along than we were before. But it's almost like I'm walking with a limp and I need surgery on my foot, and right now we're going through surgery. And you hope that everything is going to be better at some point, and I'll be able to play again."

But the Celtics know full well that you can't just rely on being bad to get good again. Sometimes the pingpong balls don't cooperate. Right, M.L.?

Which is probably why Ainge reportedly bristled at the suggestion that the Celtics should tank next season.

"We are not tanking," Ainge told the Boston Globe. "That's ridiculous. This is the Boston Celtics."

True, but 16 banners didn't stop the 1996-97 Celtics from traveling that path. But Lady Luck didn't deliver Tim Duncan, and Ainge knows no amount of losing can ensure the likes of Andrew Wiggins this time around.

Ainge can gussy it up however he wants. What matters is whether this rebuilding plan works, and how quickly.

Ainge made it clear on Monday that the Celtics are content to sit back at the start of this year's free-agent frenzy. By the time the Nets trade is officially consummated later this month, Boston will need to trim both players and salary to conform to league requirements. While Ainge is not waving the white flag on the 2013-14 season, Boston's primary goal this summer is to simply get its salary structure in order by doing what it can to shed long-term, big-money deals.

If Ainge can clear some cap clog and pick up some additional draft picks along the way, then the Celtics might not have to be terrible to improve. Heck, a young core helmed by the likes of Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger might be good enough to get into the postseason in a less-than-imposing Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have to carefully straddle that line between teaching a winning culture to a young core and not winning so much that it hinders their draft efforts.

With nine first-round picks in the next five drafts -- after snagging 7-footer Kelly Olynyk with the No. 13 pick in this year's event -- Ainge believes the Celtics have the assets that can speed up the rebuilding process, regardless of how those picks are utilized.

"We always look at picks as being Celtics for their whole careers," Ainge said. "I know it hasn't always worked out that way. When we drafted Delonte West and Al Jefferson, we loved those guys and hoped they would be around for the whole time. Those guys were able to turn into Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Those were opportunities that, with the timeline of our franchise, and with Paul Pierce's age and so forth, we felt like we needed to make those deals. Our purpose was never to draft them and trade them, but that is part of the business.

"We always say, 'The three Ds: develop, draft and deal. That's how you build.' That will never change, it'll always be that way."

Ainge is confident the Celtics are on the right path, one that doesn't necessarily have to be termed as tanking. To be safe, classify Boston's plans as being "forward thinking." And Ainge foresees a bright future.

"There are no guarantees, but I expect us to be a championship contender again. Absolutely," Ainge said. "I wouldn't do this if I didn't believe we could get it accomplished."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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