Ever hear the story of the time Danny Ainge bit former Atlanta Hawks center Tree Rollins?
If so, whoever told you the story got it wrong. Truth is, Rollins bit Ainge. The two had an altercation during a 1983 playoff game, Ainge tackled Rollins, and Rollins bit him on the finger in return. The famous "Tree Bites Man" headline ensued.
But Ainge somehow got the bad wrap. Given his get-under-your-skin style of play, folks began to believe the Celtics guard was the culprit.
"I know a lot of it comes from my personality," Ainge told Sports Illustrated in 1985. "I was booed in high school and college. I’ve just always showed a lot of emotion and played aggressively. Everywhere I go, people think I'm the dirty little guy who bit Tree Rollins' finger"
Twenty-six years later, as president of the Celtics, the Brigham Young University alum hasn't changed much. He’s aggressive, red-faced when things go badly for the C's and super-competitive. Some might even call him arrogant.
It's no surprise, then, that in the wake of Boston’s second-round exit from the postseason, Ainge has been on the offensive, hoping to preemptively strike down criticism of the much-maligned Kendrick Perkins trade.
Of course, it's a lofty goal. Boston sports fans and media alike (www.nesn.com/2011/02/how-the-celtics-can-still-win-without-kendrick-perkins.html" target="_blank">including yours truly) have been ripping Ainge for the trade since Feb. 24, the day it happened.
But read between the lines of Ainge’s quotes over the past three months, and you’ll notice just about everything he says is a thinly veiled defense of perhaps his biggest blunder since tackling Tree Rollins.
Feb. 24: Snuff out the criticism before it begins
"I think he can play the 4 and play the 3," Ainge told WEEI of newly acquired Jeff Green. "He defends multiple positions. He can shoot the 3-ball. He can post up smaller guys. He's a terrific passer. He brings length and athleticism to the team. And he brings a lot of athleticism -- he brings scoring, passing, intelligence, experience, energy, youth and athleticism all in one package."
March 7: Stem the growing tide of criticism
"I think we're stronger," he told SI -- right before the C's http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/dan_shaughnessy/03/07/ainge/index.html?eref=twitter_feed" target="_blank">went on a 10-11 tear to end the regular season. "I think our offense and our defense will be every bit as good, if not better, as long as we get some bodies healthy."
April 16: Use hyperbole to throw folks off the scent
"I think we’re really good," he told reporters just ahead of the playoffs. "I think we're the best team we've had in a while."
But what about the dismal 10-11 finish to the regular season? "I felt like our guys were not playing as hard, and pacing themselves a little bit."
May 15: The ‘Oh crap, what do I say now?’ defense
"I don't think we played as well as we were capable of playing, but in my opinion, it’s not because we didn’t have someone setting screens, because we did have some people setting screens," Ainge told ESPN after Boston bowed out in Game 5. "It's not because of our interior defense. I think it had a lot more to do with our ability to score down the stretch of games. And we thought we improved that by making the trade."
To be fair to Ainge, the C's did suffer some misfortune down the stretch. Who could've known that Dwyane Wade would throw Rajon Rondo to the ground (and not receive a flagrant for it)? Or that the referees in Game 2 would award 15 free throws to the Heat in the deciding final five minutes of the game? Or that Glen Davis would do the "Magic Man" this postseason -- now you see me, now you don't.
But there were plenty of other problems that any casual Celtics fan could have predicted. Shaquille O’Neal playing 12 minutes in the entire playoffs (I was expecting more like zero minutes). Green buckling under the pressure in his first tough series playing for a storied franchise. The Heat getting to the rim without trouble whenever Jermaine O'Neal had to sit (which was often, because of his aging, achy body).
Ainge made a move for the future when the Celtics were very much a team built (by Ainge) for the present. Trading Perk under the rationale that Shaq or Jermaine could take his place was just shy of insanity.
And perhaps the most obvious point was the one Ainge never considered, or at least didn't give enough weight -- the impact the trade would have on the simplest, yet most profound, assets of the Celtics: chemistry and mental toughness.
After trading Kendrick Perkins, Boston lacked both. Heck, even the head coach said as much.
"I would wait until after the year was over. I’ll put it that way," Doc Rivers told WEEI on Monday. "Making that trade at the time we made that trade -- that made it very tough for us. And not only that, we added other pieces, as well, that we tried to fit in, so it was just a lot of moving parts to a team that -- the advantage that we had was that we had continuity, everybody else was new.
"Chicago was new, and the Heat were new. They couldn't fall back on what we could fall back on with our starting five, and once we made that trade, we took that advantage away."
So Danny, if you don't think all the flack you’re getting from the fans and media is worthwhile, at least take it from your head coach -- the guy you just handed $35 million.
Learn to live with the fact that this trade will go down in Boston sports infamy. Stop making excuses for it, and focus on getting the team a center who can perhaps fill Perkins' empty shoes.