With two days left before all hell breaks loose across the NBA, Danny Ainges objective is as clear as Todd Day:
1. Trade Rondo and whomever else (seriously, take everything!) to the Hornets for Chris Paul: Dont worry about the extension. Just get him to Boston.
2. Play out the season with a core of Paul, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and an assortment of other pieces with an emphasis on a serviceable swing man and a center capable of playing more than 15 minutes without his knees turning to goo. Is that enough to win the 2012 title? Probably not, but neither is the alternative.
3. Pray that Orlando doesnt trade Dwight Howard: While that may not make a ton of sense in the big picture for the Magic, there are a few short-term benefits: 1) Theyre opening a new arena. 2) Theyre hosting the 2012 All-Star Game. (What a disaster if he comes back in another uniform.) 3) Howards still a Top 10 player, the No. 1 center in the league and maybe the most dominant defender in NBA history. With him in the middle, the Magic are contenders; at least more than theyll be for a long time after his eventual exit. So why not bite the bullet and roll the dice on one last run? Ainge hopes they do.
4. At seasons end, with KG and Ray off the books, make a simultaneous push at Paul and Howard: In Pauls case, the temptation to join his buddies in NYC will still exist, but at that point, no one can offer more money than Boston (Bird Rights). Plus, wheres his best chance to win: In New York, with a core of defenseless Melo, Amare and Coach X, or in Boston with Howard, Pierce and Doc Rivers?
With Howard, you make the same pitch. Give him a call preferably sober and before 1 am and say: Dwight! Three things: Max contract, Chris Paul and Doc Rivers. What do you think?
You play the two off each other, sell them on the dream and hope it clicks.
5. Spend the rest of the decade building around Paul and Howard, and consistently field one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
Not bad, right?
Right. All emotions aside, no Celtics fan in his or her right mind would or could have a problem with this. Its realistically Bostons last chance to build a legitimate contender for a long time to come.
Look at it like this: In the last 30 years, only one team has won an NBA title without a legitimate superstar. It was the 2005 Pistons, and they possessed a level of balance and depth that will become exceedingly difficult in todays NBA, especially given the Celtics current predicament. So, Bostons best and perhaps only chance to contend is to immediately land a superstar (or in this case, two). The league is going the way of the super team, and if Boston misses out now, it will be a while before they can recover.
Danny Ainge knows this.
But, of course, its not that easy. We cant present this five-step plan without asking a few obvious questions. Celtics Nations version of Lloyd's: What if they shot you in the face?
What if Howard does get traded? What if Paul still loves New York? Or, before we even get there: What if the Clippers or Warriors make the Hornets a better offer? What if the clock strikes midnight on Friday morning and Dannys still staring at the same aging, depleted roster thats haunted him for the extent of this extra long offseason?
One common suggestion: Sign-and-trade Jeff Green or Big Baby for as much you can and patch together the rest of the roster through free agency. Make one last run with this core, hope for the best and try to make a splash next summer.
A few problems:
1. This cores not good enough to win another title.
2. Its hard to make a splash when youre jumping into the kiddie pool.
I say that because, assuming the Celtics find themselves in this scenario, Paul and Howard will both be out of reach next summer. Without Howard, they're also unlikely to woo Deron Williams.
Take Paul, Howard and Williams out of the mix, and heres the list of former and current All-Stars who will be unrestricted free agents next summer: Mehmet Okur, Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace, Steve Nash, Elton Brand, Jameer Nelson, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, Chris Kaman, Ben Wallace, Andre Miller, Jason Kidd, Baron Davis and Antawn Jamison.
Short of a time machine, theres nothing there. Certainly not enough to compete with a League of Extraordinary Super Teams.
Danny Ainge knows this.
Which brings us back to the present, two days away from all hell breaking loose, and Ainge is scrambling. His team's title hopes are fading like LeBron's hairline, and Ainge is shooting for the moon. Call him crazy, but which would you prefer: That he tries and fails, or merely accepts failure?
That's not Ainge, and he's proved it again albeit behind the scenes over the course of this past week.
Surely, there will be consequences. It's hard to imagine the relationship with Rondo will get much better after this string of well-publicized and highly-believable rumors. Given Boston's current situation (and those potential burned bridges), it's hard to see Rondo back here at all. He's still their only viable chip. Even if he can't help bring Chris Paul to town, trading Rondo is still Boston's best chance to completely overhaul a roster that, if we're being realistic, badly needs it.
What other choice do the Celtics have? Trade KG? Blow the whole the thing up?
Would anything shock you? If your answer was "yes," you've got two more days to prepare.
Because while no one knows exactly what Danny will do, we all know what he won't.
And that's stand pat and die.