Red Auerbach liked to say that some of the best trades are the ones you don't make. Certainly the team made a serious case for a major deadline move. The list was long and undistinguished--apathetic play, blown leads (lots of them), a distinctly pedestrian record after Christmas, turnovers spewed out like they were an art form, old injuries lingering and new ones popping up, and scoring droughts eerily balanced by a suddenly porous defense. The thirty-something crew seemed determined to remind us of why the league stopped having a Legends Game at the All-Star break. Just revisiting this list gives me the willies. It was as if the squad had hit its expiration date and overnight gone from borderline great to below average.
When the malaise seemed to run throughout the team, no addition or change of two or three players was going to alter the course. Things were so depressing that I spent the All-Star break divining a way to start the blow up rather than cobble together a fix. Only a change in attitude and direction of the entire rotation would reverse the seeming inexorable slide.
And then. Following the break they eked out a victory over the woeful Kings. The deadline passed and they played much better Thursday against the Lakers. No Kobe but we'll take the victory and more importantly the upward trend in play. The next evening they dismantled the Trailblazers with the bench affording the starters much of the night off. Apparently Danny had made all the right moves--but in fact these victories and the up tick in play was done shorthanded with House gone and the centerpiece of the only trade, and a minor one at that, laid up with the flu. Ainge brought in no game-changer, no Allen blockbuster, no sexy acquisition trumpeted in the headlines, no cavalry coming over the hill. No, this resurgence came from within. Although Pierce was still obviously affected by his maladies, he avoided letting his physical ailments create too negative an impact--no avalanche of turnovers, no flurry of attempts trying to shoot his way out of the cold spell, no denial of his current limitations that would hurt his team. As for the rest, to a man they raised their game, rediscovered their defensive identity, made wiser decisions, brought more energy, rediscovered Ubuntu.
So it is within this positive glow that I apply my 20/20 hindsight to the 2010 NBA trade deadline activity which saw an unprecedented amount of big-name movement--none of it with a green tint. Of all the major moves, only that of Caron Butler and Spencer Haywood to the Mavericks had me salivating. Those were big additions and brought Dallas from the lower playoff half into the upper echelon. I would have eagerly moved Allen's contract for this pair. So would Danny I suspect. The truth however is that Dallas sent Josh Howard over in the exchange and when he has his head on straight (perhaps not all that frequent an occurrence) he is a very attractive piece himself. Also a piece that Ainge had none comparable with which to barter. Of the other glitzy offerings, none filled me with yearning.
The real opportunity I think Danny blew was with New York. Now we did a small deal with New York, ridding D'Antoni of an irritating rock in his shoe and reuniting him with a previous favorite Eddie House. The big move by the Knicks, however, was ridding themselves of Jared Jeffries $6.9M obligation next year and freeing them to woo LeBron by also adding another max deal in addition to him. For this privilege they surrendered their 2010 #1 and the right to swap positions in 2011. Now LeBron is hardly a sure thing. Even if that part is successful the complementary pieces left in the cupboard are Eddie Curry, Chandler, and Gallanari. This might be the definition of Aces and Spaces. There are so many ways this can go wrong! For this they gave up what may be really high picks. When I consider that for the additional price of Scalabrine and Shelden Williams, Danny could have relieved them of Jeffries and gotten the shot at those lottery chances. Forget that Scal and Shelden have become human victory cigars. Forget that Jeffries, while not an offensive threat, is a long defender legitimately able to cover any of the five positions. Forget that he provides a "power three" to help contain LeBron, Kobe, or Lewis. Two shots at a high pick for Scal and Shelden? This isn't a coup; it is a steal worthy of Red. Oh what might have been! Jeffries 6.466 Robinson 4.000 10.466 / 1.25 = 8.373
House 2.933 Giddens 1.029 Walker 0.736 Scalabrine 3.414 Williams 0.825 8.936