What's Ainge's plan?


What's Ainge's plan?

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.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics-Cavs Game 4 preview: C's expect an aggressive LeBron

Celtics-Cavs Game 4 preview: C's expect an aggressive LeBron

CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart made shots, Jonas Jerebko (10 points) outscored the entire Cleveland second unit by himself, and Kevin Love’s hot hand in the first half cooled off considerably in the second.

It was on so many levels the perfect storm for the Boston Celtics in Game 3 which ended with Avery Bradley getting a friendly bounce or two – OK, it was four bounces to be exact – that would be the difference in Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win, which cut Cleveland’s lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.

But that perfect storm is now a thing of the past, which is why the Celtics are battening down the hatches for Hurricane James – LeBron James – in Game 4.

James scored just 11 points in Game 3 on 4-for-13 shooting.

Certainly, Boston’s defense had a role in James’ struggles.

But after looking to be a facilitator at the start of the game, James never flipped the switch to become a terminator.

So, as his teammates struggled with their shots in the second half, James didn’t ratchet up his aggression level to get buckets and in doing so, was just what the Celtics needed to get a much-needed victory.

Had Boston lost Game 3, this series being over would have been a mere formality with no team in NBA history has ever rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the next round of play.

But the Celtics are very much alive and well with a chance to even up the series at 2-2 with a victory tonight.

If they are to somehow find a way to beat the Cavs on their home floor a second straight game, it’ll most likely come after fending off a strong surge from James.

This season, James has been an offensive power following games in which he has scored less than 20 points in a game.

In the following game after he scores less than 20 points, James has averaged 27.8 points.

And his record in those games during the regular season was 10-3.

“He’s going to be aggressive,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “LeBron James understands how to play the game and he understands what his team needs from him. He’s most likely going to be a lot more aggressive. It’s our job to make sure we defend him as best we can; take other guys out of the game.”

Like Tristan Thompson who had 18 points but only took four shots (he made 3) to get it, as most of his scoring came from the free throw line after getting fouled.

“He had 12 free throws or something like that? He’s playing well for them,” Bradley said. ‘We have to try and limit him to less rebounds. It’s going to be hard. If we’re able to do that and guard the 3, I like our chances.”

Boston’s Al Horford anticipates seeing not just James but the entire Cavs roster try to be more aggressive at the start.

And that means as good as they did in Game 3, they’ll have to be even better tonight.

“On the defensive end, we feel there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement,” Horford told CSN. “We just have to come out and play.”

In Game 3, Boston fell behind by as many as 21 points but for the most part stayed within arm’s reach of the Cavaliers which was a major improvement over Games 1 and 2 in Boston.

And as the Celtics continued to climb back into Game 3, James’ lack of impact plays remained a mystery.

And while there are some who are quick to put Sunday’s loss on James, not surprisingly his coach sees things differently.

“We're all to blame,” said Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue on Monday. “We lost; it happens. For a guy who played great for five straight months, he's got to have a bad game sooner or later. He's human. He didn't shoot the ball well. It wasn't his ordinary game. But Kevin (Love) and Kyrie (Irving) had it going early and they played well, so it kind of got him out of rhythm a little bit in that first half. That's no excuse. Like I said, they played well, but we've just got to play better, be more physical.”

After reviewing the video from Game 3, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was once again impressed with James for the most part making the right basketball play most of the game.

“When you've got guys that are all on fire the way they are, the right basketball play is to find them,” Stevens said. “He just made it over and over.

Stevens added, “The guy is a tremendous basketball player. He makes the right play over and over, and he thinks the game, he sees the game. He's a really good defender. He can read situations. So, I thought he was pretty darned good. But like I said (following Game 3), I'm not going to be critical of the best player in the world.”

Indeed, Stevens has far more important things to worry about, like bracing his players for the impending storm known to all as LeBron James.