As 2007 turns into 2008, and with the Celtics winning with such proficiency and ease, it is time to salute Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, and the team's owners. I know they haven't won anything yet. But so far, to borrow a phrase from Mike Huckabee . . . shazam!
Looking back, it's impossible to have seen this coming. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been on the evening of May 22 if Ainge had stood up and said, "Well, we're disappointed we didn't get the first or second pick. But we're going to use that fifth pick and we're going to use several of the players we have from our 24-win team to get Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Oh, and by the way, we're not giving up Paul Pierce." Even Ainge himself didn't see that one, although there was a method to his madness.
When the original Garnett deal fell apart because KG didn't want to come here, Ainge went out and got Allen from Seattle. Left alone, the deal made a little sense, but not much, although Ainge says now, "I think a team led by Ray, Paul, and Al Jefferson would have been good. Maybe very good."
Still, it seemed more like a sideways move, designed as much to keep Pierce from jumping off the Zakim Bridge as anything else. In reality, Ainge said he made the deal to help Pierce, get a veteran in the locker room - and improve his chances of landing Garnett.
"Oh yeah," Ainge said. "That's because the real key components to the Garnett deal were still there - Theo's contract and Al Jefferson. Even though Minnesota wanted that fifth pick [included in the Allen trade], I still thought there would be a way.
"But I also knew there was no way we were going to get KG if we didn't do the [Allen] deal. I felt like the Kevin Garnett element was definitely going to be satisfied by getting Ray. Whether the Minnesota element could be satisfied was still in question."
But, as we know, Kevin McHale caved, accepting Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Jefferson, and two first-rounders (one of them being the one McHale had sent to Boston in the Wally Szczerbiak-Ricky Davis deal) for a first-ballot Hall of Famer and, as we now sit, this season's leader for Most Valuable Player. It has to rank as one of the best trades since Jack Warner pried Ingrid Bergman away from David O. Selznick for six weeks to film "Casablanca" - and agreed to exchange the services of Olivia de Havilland. As Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry accurately said, "Danny Ainge embarrassed us all." (Most of all his buddy, McHale.)
Ainge said even after the initial Garnett rejection, and before the acquisition of Allen, he never really felt the KG deal was dead. But, he said, "Some things had to fall in place.
"Trades are sometimes not just a matter of desire, but of having the pieces to make it work," Ainge said. "We've always wanted Kevin Garnett. Who hasn't? But you've got to have the contracts, elements, and assets that the other team wants. And we had to satisfy Kevin Garnett as well with a contract extension. It's not that Dallas, Phoenix, or the Lakers didn't want him. They wanted him as badly as we did."
Ainge said he feels no sense of vindication, especially since a lot of people (including yours truly) never, ever thought he could put those kids together and get what he got.
"I don't pay much attention to what people say to me on the street," he said. "They were the same people saying different things a few years ago, and I understand both sentiments."
As for Rivers, well, we know Doc has his legion of bashers, but how can anyone quibble with what the coach has done so far? Ainge was always in Rivers's corner, helped Doc get an extension, and said he never doubted his coach's ability.
"First, his presence here was a big factor in getting Kevin to come," Ainge said. "When I went out there to visit him, Tyronn Lue was staying at his house. He and KG are best friends. And that was key, because Tyronn had played for Doc and told KG that Doc was good to play for. Even though we won 24 games, Doc's reputation as a coach with KG's best friend was a factor.
"But there was a never a doubt to me that, if we had the talent, that Doc would win. That's never been an issue. It's just hard to convince people or fans who think they can coach, that don't see that it's not a game of chess, that there are people and emotions involved. If you were sitting where I had been sitting, and watching practice all the time, you would have tried to keep Doc Rivers, too."
None of this would have been possible, however, had not ownership agreed to cross the Luxury Tax Rubicon. You could say that any ownership group that wouldn't do so under these circumstances doesn't deserve to be in the NBA. But a lot of deals get killed because of luxury tax concerns. Garnett was worth the price (and the string of sellouts and the home playoff dates will help ease the pain).
But it wasn't just KG. Ownership signed off on a deal for James Posey for more than $3 million, which, because of the luxury tax, basically makes it a $6 million deal. Ainge and Rivers lobbied hard for Posey. Ownership agreed.
"It's a lot of good fortune and good ownership," Ainge said. "The owners were well aware of what we're doing. Even after the [Garnett] trade, they went a little further in the Posey deal. Doc and I felt it was a big deal. We were missing a guy like that. They stepped up and did that, too. There are a lot of teams whose owners won't do that."
So, gentlemen, kudos all around. If nothing else, you've made the Celtics relevant again. And, we suspect, brought back basketball in May. Possibly even June.
On the road to a dead end
Attention Celtics season ticket-holders: If you forgot the mail carrier for Christmas, tickets to Wednesday night's game would be an ideal gift. (Unless, of course, you're in the Jared Dudley Fan Club.)
The Charlotte Bobcats may not qualify statistically as the Eastern Conference's worst team, but, by season's end, they should be firmly entrenched in the cellar.
Where to begin? They've had one road win all season, and that was back on Nov. 4 in Miami. They've dropped 11 straight roadies and still have yet to play a single Western Conference road game.
They are winless against the five teams in the East that went into the weekend with winning records, one of those losses coming Nov. 24, when they couldn't execute a simple inbounds pass in the waning seconds against the Celtics. (Coach Sam Vincent had a Stage 5 Brain Cramp.) The ball was stolen, ended up in the hands of Ray Allen, and, well, you already know that story.
They are 0-6 on the second night of back-to-back games, and No. 7 should come Wednesday, as the Celtics will be well-rested (having last played yesterday) while the Bobcats host the Nets Tuesday.
All this has come with arguably the league's easiest schedule (19 of the first 31 at home, no game played farther than the Central Time Zone). In other words, these are the good old days.
The Bobcats have only 10 home games after the All-Star break and play 25 of their last 38 on the road.
Scola has excelled in transition game
The newest NBA import from Argentina, the Rockets' Luis Scola, is gradually settling in to his new life in the United States.
Scola was one of the few "name" Argentines to play last summer in the Olympic qualifier, but he played well enough to get Argentina to Beijing and was named the tournament's MVP. Now he's playing 19-plus minutes a game for Rick Adelman, averaging around 7 points and 5 rebounds.
"He's been learning the game. He's been learning about our league," Adelman said. "He's had some real big games. He's still learning how to play without getting fouls. Offensively, he's going to be a very good player in this league. One thing you love about him - he plays so hard, every night, every minute."
Scola was thought to be the designated starter at power forward next to Yao Ming, but that job has remained with Chuckie Hayes. Scola has not missed a game this season, but said his biggest adjustments have come off the court.
"I knew it was going to be hard for me," he said. "You're changing everything - your way of life, the way you play, your teammates, your coaches, the city, the food, everything. And there's a bunch of stuff that you have to do when you move to another country. It's tricky if you don't know."
You'll see plenty of Scola next summer in the Olympics. He was a big part of Argentina's 2002 team that nearly won the Worlds and the 2004 gold medalists in Athens. But he said it's too early to know how good Argentina will be in Beijing.
"We don't know who's going to play," he said, although he and everyone expects the Argentine A team to show up. "We don't know how people are going to feel in six months. It's going to be different. Everyone is a year older. But I know I will be there."
K-Mart spares no expense
So how was your New Year's Eve? Bet it didn't top the bash that Kenyon Martin threw, which doubled as a 30th birthday party (Dec. 30) for the Nuggets forward. Martin flew his teammates on three private jets to Miami and put them up at the Four Seasons Hotel. (Allen Iverson was a no-show because of family considerations.) The party was held at a private mansion in South Beach (duh!) and featured a red carpet entrance, Moroccan decor, ice sculptures, fountains, an open bar (duh!), and free hors d'oeuvres (duh!). The guests were entertained by dancers, music from the famed DJ Clue, and, to top it off, numerous fauna, including cobras, mongooses (to keep the cobras occupied, no doubt), pelicans, black swans, and turtles. Others on the guest list: rapper Trina, fashionista Toccara, actress Keisha Knight Pulliam (Rudy Huxtable from "The Cosby Show"), comedienne Sommore and NFL players Edgerrin James and Willis McGahee. Apparently, the Nuggets behaved themselves because they returned to Denver and beat the Spurs Thursday night.
In the 1979-80 season, Utah center Rich Kelley shot 81.4 percent from the line. The team trumpeted the achievement as Kelley being the first 7-footer in NBA history to shoot 80 percent from the line. This story came to mind last week when the Rockets were in town with the remarkable Yao Ming. First off, Yao has shot 80 percent from the line in four of his five seasons and this year is shooting a career-best 86.5 percent. Against the Celtics, Yao did miss one - snapping a string of 21 consecutive makes. Three times this season Yao has had free throw streaks of 20 or more, including one in which he made 35 in a row from Nov. 9-14. He also made 27 in a row from Nov. 26-Dec. 5.
You may have missed the second half of the TNT doubleheader last Thursday (Seattle at Phoenix) but commentator Reggie Miller came up with a beauty. Watching the Sonics' Jeff Green move to double-team the Suns' Boris Diaw, Miller cracked, "That's a rookie mistake on Green. Doesn't he look at the box score? Boris Diaw hasn't played in a year and a half. Why would anyone need to double him?" Unfortunately for the Suns, Miller is right. Diaw has been a big disappointment basically since he signed his contract extension ($45 million over five years, starting this year) after his stellar 2005-06 season saw him win Most Improved Player. His numbers that year: 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. This year? 6.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. He's also shooting 41 percent from the field. Diaw also took a lot of heat back home in France for his underwhelming play in last summer's European Championships.
Salt in the wound
In one of those delightful quirks in the schedule, Gordan Giricek, traded by the Jazz to the Sixers Dec. 29, played his second game for Philadelphia against - yup - Utah. Even worse for the unfortunate Giricek, who had warred with coach Jerry Sloan, the game was in Salt Lake City. He ended up playing 13 minutes, scoring 4 points - and getting booed every time he touched the ball. (Derek Fisher, inexplicably, received the same treatment. He left the Jazz to be in a city where his daughter could get treatment for her eye cancer.) "I've played in worse situations than this," Giricek told reporters afterward. Hey, he's played in Zagreb and Moscow and other exotic ports of call, so he's probably right. While the Jazz like their part of the deal (Kyle Korver), the Sixers get salary relief (Korver was owed more than $9 million for the next two years while Giricek's contract is up at the end of the year) and a first-round pick.
Thursday is payday
Yesterday was the first day NBA teams could sign players to 10-day contracts, so expect to see a lot of strange names on the transactions list. The bigger date for fringe players is Thursday. As of Jan. 10, all contracts are guaranteed for the rest of the season. So any player on a make-good deal won't have to sweat it out if he's still on the roster. The only Celtic in that boat is Leon Powe, who already has had $200,000 of his $687,456 guaranteed by being on the team as of Oct. 1. Assuming he stays (and he's not going anywhere), Powe's third-year salary ($797,581) becomes fully guaranteed if he has not been waived before July 15.
Peter May can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.