Talk Ainge off the ledge - NBC Sports

Talk Ainge off the ledge
Blowing up the Celtics would not be wise - better to take the Cuban approach in Dallas
AP
Talk is intensifying that Celtics GM Danny Ainge is going to blow up the Big Three of Paul Pierce (34), Kevin Garnett (5) and Ray Allen.
January 23, 2012, 4:01 pm

In June, no sooner were the Heat defeated by the Mavericks in the NBA finals than the debate ensued about breaking up the Big Three. Amid success in Dwyane Wade's absence in recent days, the volume has intensified on that one.

In L.A., months after being blown out in the second round by the Mavericks, and little more than a season removed from consecutive titles, the Lakers first attempted to rip it apart in a bid for Chris Paul, then sold off Lamar Odom for pennies on the dollar to Dallas.

And now the Celtics, a team that advanced to the 2010 NBA finals and might have made it back in 2011 with an ambulatory center, are threatening a core meltdown.

Uh ... um ... patience, anyone?

What the NBA seemingly needs even more than a few extra days off amid this post-lockout compacted schedule is a round of Ritalin for its front offices, amid the attention deficit to recent success.

Which brings us to Boston and what might happen next for Danny Ainge's teetering ensemble.

First, step back and consider whether we even would be debating the Celtics had Kendrick Perkins not been dealt to the Thunder last season (or at least had Jeff Green not been detected with a season-ending heart condition in the wake of the lockout).

For as ugly as it has gotten for Boston at the start this season, it would not nearly be as ugly if Perkins were there to ease the inside burden on Kevin Garnett, or if Green's versatility was in place to alleviate the scoring load on Paul Pierce or Ray Allen.

With Perkins or Green, we wouldn't be here, at this intersection of allowing it to play out and blowing it apart.

For Ainge, these are the moments he gets paid for, the franchise-altering juncture that will define not only this season, but perhaps the next decade.

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Why deal Perkins, when a mega-bucks contract decision would have had to have been made with Green, anyway?

Why lock Doc Rivers into a new, long-term deal if there was even an iota of a thought about rebuilding?

And why continually dangle Rajon Rondo while he remains the lone youthful component that could be utilized as a foundation for rebuilding?

Clearly, there are issues with Rondo, at least from Ainge's perspective. This shortened offseason wasn't the first time the crafty point guard has been dangled. There clearly is a fiery (testy?) personality in place there.

But this whole notion of "blowing it up" is one of the most overstated in sports, particularly in the NBA. This is not the NFL, where revivals are boosted by softened schedules. This is not Major League Baseball, where there are no salary-cap restrictions on free agency, pitching staffs created on whims by the Yankees and Phillies.

If anyone should appreciate the danger of taking that step back, it is Boston.

The counterargument, the one being mulled these days by Ainge, is that the step back does not have to be one off a cliff, if it is taken with the proper foresight, that the NBA's new collective-bargaining agreement rewards teams who build cap stashes.

On the surface, that appears to be the approach being taken by Mark Cuban in Dallas, who despite winning the 2011 championship allowed Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson to walk in the offseason without compensation.

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But there is a difference here, a significant difference from the nuclear winter being forecast in Boston:

Cuban's plan centers on reloading - perhaps with Deron Williams, perhaps with Dwight Howard - with Dirk Nowitzki still in place.

The equivalent in Boston would be doing the same with Pierce.

Nowitzki is 33; Pierce is 34. Dirk was MVP of the Finals last season; Pierce in 2008. Yes, Pierce's numbers have come down in recent seasons, but he still is a go-to scorer, a player capable of creating needed baskets in a league where such players simply have not come free other than during Pat Riley's one-time score in July 2010.

Then there is the timing of this panic, so early in a post-lockout schedule.

First consider life after the previous lockout, when the New York Knicks scrambled to finish above .500 in the shortened 1998-99 season and then went from No. 8 in the East to the NBA Finals.

Then consider the state of the Eastern Conference. Considering Charlotte, Washington, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and New Jersey already have reservations at the lottery, it essentially would come down to beating out Milwaukee for the eighth seed. Even at Boston's current depths, that seems not only doable, but likely.

In fact, it would be achievable even in the midst of Ainge's restructuring, but not demolishing.

What would make sense is dangling the expiring contracts of Allen and Garnett to contenders who could ship back either prospects or else similar expiring contracts and draft picks.

Allen to Chicago in a package for Omer Asik would be a win-win for each side, the Bulls getting a better-than-Rip Hamilton sidekick for Derrick Rose, while the Celtics get a taste of the future in the middle.

As for Garnett, the $21 million salary is massive, but Cuban, of all people, has the pieces to potentially concoct something in return. A Garnett-Nowitzki pairing would take plenty of the fright away from starting Brendan Haywood in the middle.

With Rondo and Pierce, Boston still would measure up ahead of the Bucks, and therefore still measure up for a playoff spot.

For now, Ainge needs to take a deep breath before blowing up anything in Boston. With a subtle touch, the playoffs - as well as rapid regeneration - remain not only plausible but eminently possible.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat .

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