Boston Celtics' President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge, who architected the franchise's modern "Big 3," is looking forward.
With the Celtics struggling to start the abbreviated 2011-2012 NBA season, Ainge has publicly declared that he would consider trade scenarios involving any member of his Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, provided it would fortify the future of the franchise.
He first made the comments to the Boston Globe after the Celtics' recent win over the Toronto Raptors, and expanded his thoughts yesterday on his weekly appearance on a local radio station, WEEI. Ainge suggested that acknowledging he would trade one of his star players was simply "stating the obvious," as he has always explored opportunities to improve the franchise's fortune.
Ainge went on to cite an example of holding onto a triumvirate of stars for too long, and it's one familiar to Bostonians and Celtics' supporters. The original Big 3 of Celtics basketball -- Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish -- was held together until the twilight of their respective careers, and the franchise suffered as a result.
After two plus decades without a championship, Ainge -- who was hired to run the team in 2003 -- acted swiftly in the summer of 2007 to acquire Garnett from Minnesota in a blockbuster package, but not before he had already landed Allen in a draft night exchange.
The results have been undeniably fruitful: the franchise's NBA-record 17th championship in the first year of the Big 3 Era, and a subsequent trip to the Finals in 2010.
But seemingly as quickly as the Big 3 was constructed, it has begun to crumble, as signs of aging and dwindling athleticism are ever-apparent, and the Celtics sit four and a half games back of the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia 76ers as of Friday morning.
The proclamation by Ainge that he would consider a major deal isn't a surprise to many, as audacity is a lynchpin of his strategy as a personnel decision maker. Just hours before the 2011 NBA trade deadline, Ainge dealt rugged and popular C Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for F Jeff Green -- a player he had coveted since his playing days at Georgetown. The move was loudly opposed by the Boston public and Celtics players alike, and PG Rajon Rondo seemed to experience a funk following the trade.
Now, Ainge faces a proposition far grander than trading the fifth best player on his team, and both the immediate and long-term future of the franchise are at stake.
The value of each of Ainge's three aging stars is dependent upon the needs of a potential trading partner involved.
For teams interested in a player who can create his own shot and defend the wing, Pierce is the primary target. With roughly $30 million and two years left on his contract after this season, he's a steep investment for any franchise.
Allen, who has hardly showed signs of aging, remains amongst the premiere sharpshooters in the game, and would add a lethal scorer to any team at a reasonable price (he's in the final year of a 2 year, $20 million deal).
And Garnett, who is in so many ways the heart and soul of the current Celtics, brings defensive versatility, length, and still enough rebounding to shore up a front line. His passion and communication on defense set the bar amongst NBA players, and his arrival in Boston immediately morphed the culture into a winner again. Garnett is in the final year of the mega-extension he signed with Boston, which is paying him over $21 million this season.
While it is clear that Ainge is open to disassembling the Big 3, little in the way of established trade rumors has surfaced about where any of them could end up. The frantic pace of the lockout-shortened NBA season has franchises scrambling out of the gates, and it appears that franchises are more interested in riding it out with their current mix -- at least for now -- rather than exploring major roster shake-ups.
Should Ainge choose to hold onto Pierce, Allen and Garnett, it's evident that the Celtics need are in need of major offensive adjustments. The team is averaging just over 90 points per game, and is 0-6 against teams that currently hold winning records. Pierce's scoring average has dipped to the lowest of his career, and Allen and Garnett are each averaging the fewest points per game since their respective rookie seasons.
Ainge will forever be remembered for taking a chance to acquire the Big 3, understanding that a difficult decision to eventually move on from it would soon follow it's formation. It appears -- whether or not Celtics' fans want to hear it -- that Ainge has reached his crossroads, and the days of the Big 3 could be numbered.