Danny Ainge can thank his 2013 trade with the Nets for the enviable position in which the Celtics find themselves as regular-season contenders with the best future assets in the league. If and when he wonders why locals are less than ecstatic with his latest trade with the 76ers, he can thank the Nets deal for that, too.
The Pierce-and-Garnett-for-five-people-who-were-for-sure-basketball-players-and-up-to-four-of-Brooklyn’s-first-rounders trade has basically ruined all trades for Celtics fans for a long time.
That trade -- Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White for for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and first-rounders in 2014, 2016 and 2018, plus the right to swap picks in 2017 -- was the fleecing of a lifetime. It was a trade so good that stealing Garnett from Minnesota to give the C’s a championship merely falls into Ainge’s “best of the rest” category.
It was also a deal so good that when Ainge held the first overall pick in the draft and word emerged that he was trading it to Philly, C’s fans likely had a lot more in mind than one protected future pick. Maybe something like the 2018 LA first and another first from Philly, perhaps the Kings' 2019 pick -- all of which would be unprotected.
That might not have ended up on the Brooklyn trade given that the Lakers should be better next season and that the 76ers are going to improve with Fultz in tow. Yet it still would have further loaded up the C’s with really good assets, allowing them to both add top young talent through the draft and trade for established star power.
That is, after all, what the end game has long been assumed to be with Ainge. Gather, gather, gather, then cash in. Fultz presented an example of cashing in. Instead, he proved to be another opportunity for Ainge to gather more assets.
The frustration over this trade is warranted solely based on the C’s choosing not to add the top-rated player in the draft. There’s also probably frustration over the return, which is fair to an extent. The additional pick the C’s receive being No. 1 protected stinks. It’s worth questioning why the C’s made the trade now for a protected pick rather than sweating out Philly a longer to see if they’d trade the pick without any strings attached.
Yet that’s really the extent to which you can be overly frustrated. You can be upset that the pick was protected or that there wasn’t another pick to go with it.
The C’s not getting a Nets-like haul isn’t something for which Ainge should be faulted. Then-Brooklyn GM Billy King was historically bad in making that trade. You’re not going to find a team that incompetent every time you make a move.
In a deal involving high picks, people aren’t used to seeing Ainge’s Celtics as the potential “loser,” unless you want to include deals outside of the top five, like the 2006 trade for Sebastian Telfair.
When people think “Danny Ainge” and “top pick,” they think of him stealing them from a lesser franchise. They don’t think of him moving a top asset for an underwhelming return. Considering Ainge intimated said the C’s didn’t like Fultz with the first pick, maybe this will prove to be a savvy move. It isn’t a clear-cut ripoff, however, but then again most moves aren’t. Even if you’re Danny Ainge.