What’s next for Danny Ainge? Bringing peace to the Middle East? Finding a cure for cancer? Inventing a 100 mpg electric car that everyone can afford?
Well, probably the last one because no one knows more about building a great “green machine” than the general manager of the Boston Celtics, the NBA’s Executive of the Year and engineer of one of the most amazing turnarounds in sports history. A year ago, the Celtics finished the season with the poorest record in the Eastern Conference — 24-58, including a league-low 12 home wins. In this year’s playoffs alone, the Celtics won 13 of 14 games on their fabled parquet floor.
Somehow amid all the hoopla of Tuesday’s Boston Massacre, ABC-ESPN’s tag-team coverage neglected to interview the man most responsible for the resurrection. Last summer, it was Ainge who sent Delante West and Wally Sczerbiak plus the Celtic’s top draft pick to Seattle for Ray Allen. Just a few weeks later, Ainge talked his old teammate, Minnesota Timberwolves GM Kevin McHale, into unloading Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two future first-round picks in the largest swap of players for one man in league history.
Already with Bay Area product Leon Powe on the roster, Ainge also signed free agents P.J. Brown, James Posey and Eddie House. Of course, coach Doc Rivers did a masterful job juggling playing time for his 10-man rotation and making life miserable for any Laker who dared try to drive the lane against Boston’s pack-the-paint defense.
Ainge was rewarded for his patience with Rivers, who had never even won a playoff series in four prior seasons as an NBA coach, and captain Paul Pierce, who spent 10 long years in Boston waiting and often griping about the lack of a supporting cast. Pierce was not only the best player at both ends of the floor, he was the catalyst to the greatest comeback in Finals history in Game 4 and, appropriately enough, is the only Finals MVP to start a series in a wheelchair.
Meanwhile, viewers at home were left wondering what in the world happened to the highest-scoring team in the league, because conspicuously absent from the Lakers’ postmortem was any commentwhatsoever from the losing side. How ironic.
Throughout the Finals, we were bombarded with inane end-of-quarter interviews with players and coaches and given Spygate-like pregame peaks into each locker room (Bill Belichick, sitting courtside, was probably thinking he could get better footage that that) and we don’t get to hear one peep from Zen master Phil Jackson or the ever-candid Kobe Bryant, both of whom talked a better game than they coached or played. Inexcusable.
The most lasting impression of the NBA Finals? As much as the Lakers improved themselves with the acquisition of Pau Gasol and the increased playing time for fellow Euros Vlady Radmanovich and Sasha Vujacic, when the pressure mounted, the L.A. imports couldn’t hang with Boston’s band of brothers. Yes, K.G., you made Bill Russell mighty proud and you are indeed certified.
Rich Walcoff is the sports director at KGO Radio (810 AM) and can be heard weekdays between 5-9 a.m. on the “KGO Morning News.” He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.