A couple of times since 2007, I've seen Danny Ainge's moves described as Auerbachian. He was able to amass the chips needed to trade for 2 future Hall of Famers and after that to build a bench capable of winning a championship. This season he was able to sign Jason Terry with the MLE and then make a trade for Courtney Lee in a manner that Sherrod Blakely called unprecedented. This got me thinking about some of those moves that Red made back in the day. Was Red really good, or was he really lucky?
Red was famous for being able to recognize talent and bring them to the Celtics. But even with all his saavy moves and eye for talent, he also needed some luck. For instance, Red had acquired the Pistons' first round pick in the 1980 draft. If Ralph Sampson had left school early, Red said that he would have drafted him with that pick. But as luck would have it, Sampson opted to stay in school and Red had to go to plan B. Red then looked to trade the pick. The consensus No. 1 that year was a center, Joe Barry Carroll from Purdue, but Auerbach didn't like his game. He did like the 6-11 Kevin McHale from Minnesota. With prodding from coach Bill Fitch, Auerbach approached the Warriors, who had an unhappy and underachieving Robert Parish and were worried about being able to re-sign him. Golden State agreed to give up Parish and its pick, the 3rd overall, for two Celtics picks, No. 1 and No. 13. The rest is history and the first Big Three was born. This deal is remembered as one of Red's greatest coups, but we shouldn't forget that this deal was Red's plan B.
Bob Cousy is one of the greatest point guards in the history of the NBA. The "Houdini of the Hardwood" wasn't Red's first choice either. There was a lot of pressure on Red to take Cousy because he was a local favorite. Auerbach wasn't short on opinions about who should play on his team. "Am I supposed to win here, or take care of local yokels?" he asked, suggesting that Cousy was touted merely because he played at nearby Holy Cross. Auerbach passed on Cousy in the draft, instead selecting 6-11 center Charlie Share. Local fans were irate. Cousy was taken by Tri-Cities and quickly dealt to Chicago. He never played a game for either team because Chicago soon folded. Its three top players were Cousy, Max Zaslofksy, and Andy Phillip. Their names were put into a hat for the three teams that could afford them or want them: New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Auerbach wanted Zaslofsky first. Then Phillip. But when the Celtics drew the name out of the hat, it was Cousy's. They had him for $8,500. Cousy wasn't plan A, B, or C but was actually plan D for the Celtics and as luck would have it, he went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Celtics.
Another Auerbachian move was the drafting of Bill Russell. Auerbach figured he had no shot at Russell in the draft, as Russell had led San Francisco to consecutive NCAA championships and the Celtics had the 7th pick in that draft. But Auerbach made inquiries as the 1956 draft approached first to Rochester, which had the No. 1 pick, and then to his old boss, Kerner, now the owner of St. Louis, which held the No. 2 pick. Rochester felt it couldn't afford to pay Russell. Royals owner Les Harrison, a future Hall of Famer, agreed to accept a deal from Celtics owner Brown, who also owned the money-generating Ice Capades. Brown agreed to give the Royals extra Ice Capades dates if Harrison passed on Russell. Harrison did, drafting Sihugo Green of Duquesne. The Hawks had the second pick. Auerbach agreed to part with St. Louis-native "Easy Ed" Macauley and the rights to University of Kentucky star Cliff Hagan for the Hawks pick. Kerner was willing to make the deal in part because St. Louis was arguably the worst NBA city in those days for African-American players and Macauley and Hagan would be a much bigger draw. It took work to make this deal come about but it also took some luck that the Royals would take the Ice Capades instead of Russell and the team with the second pick was a team where Russell wouldn't have fit very well.
Red was never afraid to take chances either. In 1969, several teams shied away from Jo Jo White because of a military commitment that he had to fulfill. Auerbach drafted White, who went directly to the NBA and fulfilled his military service in the reserves. It was said that Red pulled some strings with his contacts in Washington to get it done, however. In 1981, Danny Ainge, then a professional baseball player, was said to be firm in his decision to play baseball rather than basketball. Auerbach drafted Ainge in the second round and had him in a Boston uniform for 53 games the following season, even though there were some legal hoops that had to be jumped through. In 1978, Larry Bird was eligible for the draft but had made it known that he would return to school for his final season. 5 teams passed on Bird before Red took him with the 6th pick. "They didn't know he'd be that good, and I didn't either," Auerbach said. "I only saw him play once." By signing him as a junior eligible who planned on finishing school, Red ran a risk of getting nothing if they couldn't come to an agreement and Bird decided to re-enter the draft the next season. He thought Bird would be impressed with the Celtics' history and mystique and would eventually sign without re-entering the draft and he was right.
Danny had a plan when he took over the Celtics. He wanted to gather chips through the draft and then trade those chips for stars and that is exactly what he did. He was good in that he judged talent in the draft and lucky that players like Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes fell to him. Getting Oden or Durant may have been plan A, but Danny worked hard to get Plan B done to bring Garnett to Boston. Danny was willing to take a chance and give up his young and talented players to get Garnett whereas other teams where hesitant to do so. Also, he didn't give up when Garnett at first said he didn't want to come to Boston and instead worked on another deal that would make Boston more attractive without giving up the chips it would take to get Garnett. The result of these moves was Banner 17.
Since that championship, the Celtics themselves have lacked the luck needed to win a second championship. They have come close a couple of times, but it was injuries that has derailed the team. Danny took a very big chance in 2011 when he broke up a starting five that had never lost a playoff game when healthy. So far, it looks like Danny wasn't quite as lucky in this trade. First, the team lost chemistry and a team that was at the top of the standings went on a losing streak. Then Jeff Green, the centerpiece of the trade was diagnosed with a heart condition and missed all of last season. But Green is healthy again and signed long time now and the verdict on this trade is not yet in.
I think we can agree that Danny's moves were indeed Auerbachian - a combination of smarts, hard work and luck. I also think Red would be very proud of him.
there was no luck involved with Red, just plain guts and smarts. He was the shrewdest GM in the NBA back then. He made deals and the league never knew what hit them. Danny has been smart in many of the moves he has made during his tenure. But, Red was g genius.
Rosalie, I have to disagree. Red did have some good luck also. He was however prepared with plans B, C, D, and E or he wouldn't have been in position to take advantage of those serendipitous moments. It's not like he was perfect; he certainly had his misses (Michael Smith, Joseph Forte among them).
LOL Lee - In answer to your question, no, the bitter taste of the trade hasn't faded - I'm still bitter and still hate the team and still miss Perk. But I'm willing to give Green a chance because it wasn't his fault. Is that softening? Maybe I need more therapy LOL.
Rosalie, I agree that Red was a genius and that he was several steps in front of everyone else. But he was lucky too. He passed on Cousy but ended up with him anyway through the luck of the draw. So his success was based on a mixture of being a genius and being lucky.