Luck of The Irish: Ainge's Inability to Trade Allen Pays Off
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge had gone from the firing line to the parade procession in the span of less than a year, orchestrating the biggest one-season turnaround in NBA history with a series of shrewd moves that earned him the award for 2007-08 NBA Executive of the Year. Yet as the Celtics enter Game 2 of these NBA Finals against the Lakers Sunday, the truth is that they are here in large part because of the move Ainge wasn't able to make this time around.
It's the seemingly-forgotten story of their surprise run in these playoffs, a far-from-storybook tale that took place at the February trade deadline when Ainge's attempts to retool an aging roster came up short. Most notably, he was determined to acquire former Sacramento Kings shooting guard Kevin Martin, with Allen certainly destined to be part of any such package.
Ainge was faced with a tough decision at the time. Would he let his valiant veterans play it out together and ignore the cause for concern when they lost eight of 13 games in late January and early February? Or would he jump at the chance to build for the future, upgrading with talented youth at either the guard spot or down low (he has acknowledged trade talks for Amar'e Stoudemire as well as those regarding Martin)?
He opted for the latter, but it wasn't to be. A potential deal for Martin never progressed, with the Kings hardly engaging Ainge to explore the possibilities, and Houston general manager Daryl Morey cut in line and made Martin a Rocket. Along the way, Ainge had been his respectable self with Allen, making his good friend aware that he and his expiring contract worth $19.7 million may indeed be traded and the Big Three as it had been known might be no more.
Allen said the discussion came in Ainge's office in February, but it could have come by way of text message for all it mattered. One of the most poised and professional athletes of his generation wasn't offended. There were no protests born out of pride, no chasm created between him and his boss. This was business, and he would remain business-like.
"I'd been in that situation before," Allen told FanHouse this week. "It wasn't like I was mad or disappointed. ... If I got traded, I got traded. My future was that I was going to play basketball regardless, wherever it was. At that point, I'd only been in Boston two years.
"I'd take my family. We'd pick up and go somewhere else. We'd try to figure out a new team, a new coach, a new city. For me, it's just been a privilege to be doing what I'm doing for this long. I never look at it like I'm mad at the team, like I'm mad at a player or coach. You just go somewhere else and make that team better."
Instead, he helped the Celtics return to the Finals for the second time in three seasons.
Boston center Kendrick Perkins said the trade rumors weren't as easy for Allen to handle as he might remember. And while only Allen truly knows whether it affected his play, he certainly played his worst basketball of the season just as the buzz started building in late January. Ironically, his worst outing in that stretch came against the Lakers on Jan. 31, a 90-89 loss in which he hit just 2-of-10 shots for seven points.
"It was tough for Ray," Perkins said. "We went through a lot of tough times, but you have to go through that stuff to get where you want to go. (The rumors) kind of drove him crazy, because you could tell right after the All-Star break he was back to his normal self. ... I'm glad (Ainge) stuck with us, and I'm glad we didn't disappoint him. But we still have a goal to reach and it's not over."
The journey is very different, though, although Kevin Garnett said they have all embraced that reality.
"You've got to remember that the season is a roller coaster," Garnett said when asked about the prospect of losing Allen. "If you go through all the teams and you ask them the ups and downs of it, I'm sure they could give you some tasteful stories, some non-tasteful stories. That's going to happen. We're no different from that. We've just been able to put this thing together in the playoffs and go forward regardless of our history and our season."
While Ainge didn't return a call for comment, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke for all front-office executives, offering a reminder that these types of decisions are simply part of the job description.
"There's not much you can do when (your team) is not playing well after the trade deadline," Kupchak said. "But prior to the trade deadline, it's a factor. Like right now, I don't really even have to be around the team. I'm around the coaches, for five or 10 minutes a game. It's 'What's up, how you doing, anything you need? No.' My job is done.
"We have to look forward to a year or two years down the road and protect ownership and the franchise. That's our job."
As for Allen, the Celtics need him to recover from tough times just as he did at midseason. He had just 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting in Game 1, with no rebounds and no assists.
As always, the 34-year-old who is in his 15th season has every intention of seizing the opportunity he is given. And whether by luck or fate, he said his approach to the situation this time around is no different.
"I'm trying to grind it out and just find the best ways I can to just continue this," Allen said. "We're here for a reason, and we have a chance to do something great and make people talk about this for a long time.
"That's why I don't pick my head up and flinch. I just keep moving. I don't allow it to throw me off course. That's how I've been my whole career."