WALTHAM, Mass. — True to his word, Danny Ainge officially slammed the time capsule door shut for good on the Big Three era by sending Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn for an assortment of players and draft picks.
Still, that won't stop some from questioning whether Ainge stuck with Pierce and company too long, similar to what legendary Red Auerbach did with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in the early 1990s.
"The difference was that Paul and KG, and Ray (Allen) for that matter, were all playing at much higher level than Kevin (McHale) and Larry (Bird) were playing, in their thirties," Ainge said. "Those guys didn't even make it to their mid-30s. Larry had two Achilles tendon surgeries and back surgery, and Kevin had the foot that never got better after he had the surgeries on his foot."
Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, added, "It's apples and oranges as to who those guys are and who they were and the longevity and durability of their careers."
Even though Garnett and Pierce's play is on the decline, Ainge said he was fully prepared to head into this upcoming season with them if the Nets deal didn't materialize.
"But rather than have a farewell tour this year and sort of go by the wayside," said Ainge, "to accumulate the young players we got and the draft picks, I think as hard as it is for some fans, as hard as it is for me to do as someone who cares a great deal about them, it was the right thing to do for the Celtics organization."
And while the profits of this deal will certainly show stronger returns initially for the Nets, Ainge didn't pull the trigger on this deal so that the C's would become instant title contenders.
The trade was made to give the Celtics flexibility moving forward in a way that can position them to go in a variety of directions soon without the concern of being too bogged down by hefty contracts.
"We stayed as long as we could with a championship team," Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck told CSNNE.com recently. "I don't think anyone thinks we would have had a chance if we held on to them for one more year. It's time; everybody sees that. Fans see that. We see that. Once you make that decision, you go full speed ahead."
The highest-paid Celtic right now is newly acquired Kris Humphries who is due $12 million in this, the final year of his contract.
After him is four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo, who has two years left on his deal.
You go down the line and the bulk of current Celtics have few years remaining on their current contracts.
But the real key for the C's will be how well do they utilize the three, first-round picks (all unprotected) they got from the Nets for the 2014, 2016 and 2018 NBA drafts.
In addition, the Celtics have the option of flipping picks with the Nets in 2017.
"Unprotected draft picks are hard to find, even from good teams," said Ainge who admits he was pleasantly surprised by the Nets' willingness to give up unprotected, first-round picks. "They're just hard to come by."
Ainge made it clear that the Nets deal was the best deal he has been offered in trade packages involving Pierce and/or Garnett.
"So what happens is, in the Big Three era, I was close to a trade for one of them a couple times," Ainge said. "But that was more Ray and that was because people wanted Ray. Ray's contract was a little bit easier to swallow and he had a skill. It had nothing to do with us wanting to get rid of Ray.
"And the ironic thing this year was we were offering Ray a no-trade clause. He could have come back and never been traded."
Instead, Allen signed a two-year-deal with the Miami Heat, playing a vital role in them winning a second straight NBA title after rallying from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat San Antonio.
Offers for Pierce and Garnett weren't as plentiful in large part because of their large contracts.
"And their age, there's not a big market for a 35 . . . even when they were 35, let alone when they are 37," Ainge said. "So to be able to get this many draft picks for guys at their age, it doesn't happen very often and it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't a team that was willing to spend a lot of tax dollars. So we needed to take that opportunity."
Disappointed to see Pierce and Garnett leave, Ainge does take some solace in the fact that he moved them to a team that has a chance to win an NBA title.
"It just softens the blow that they get to go together and play on a great team," Ainge said.