Odd couples have worked well together in the past, but the Jim O'Brien-Danny Ainge union was doomed from the beginning. Are you really surprised that this shotgun marriage ended in less than a year?
It may have been a shock to hear that the head coach of the Celtics resigned during the same week the Patriots were preparing for the Super Bowl. It may have been stunning to learn that the resignation took place after 46 games, with the Celtics positioned as one of the "top" six teams in the flimsy, see-through Eastern Conference.
But a surprise for basketball reasons? Not if you've been paying attention.
Ainge arrived in Boston awkwardly, in the middle of a playoff series the Celtics lost to the Nets. His connection with O'Brien was just as wobbly and unnatural.
As a television analyst, Ainge said he hated the way the Celtics played. And he hated the way Antoine Walker played. And he felt the Celtics, who were two wins away from the NBA Finals in 2002, overachieved and weren't a legitimate contending team.
O'Brien didn't hate the way his team played; he believed their 3-point shooting style was necessary. Walker didn't repulse him; O'Brien considered the former cocaptain to be a valuable player and friend. He had few negative things to say about the '02 Celtics; he actually liked them very much.
Ainge and O'Brien would have been great contrasting costars in a reality show. They may have even been a good radio team -- with disagreement as the shtick -- on morning drive. They were never going to see pro basketball the same way, and that was obvious at least once a month.
(Call me cynical, but I never believed that O'Brien's contract extension was a sign that Ainge loved him.)
Remember the time Ainge said he believed in developing young players at the expense of a win or two? O'Brien countered by saying he believed in winning all games and giving time to those who deserved it.
Remember Kedrick Brown in the starting lineup? O'Brien didn't play the swingman for two seasons, presumably because he didn't think he could do the job. Ainge comes aboard and suddenly Brown is part of the plan.
Remember part of the logic in the Walker trade? Not only did Ainge say that Walker had a "grasp" on the organization (whatever that means), he also believed that some of Walker's production could be replaced by Vin Baker.
Baker is a thoughtful and kind man who also happens to be a recovering alcoholic. Outside of basketball, anyone with a heart is rooting for him to do well. But if you're the executive of an NBA team, how can you trade a proven 20-point scorer with no off-court issues and plan to replace him with someone who is struggling to overcome a serious addiction?
There are lots of unanswered questions in the Ainge Era of Boston basketball.
It's still not clear why he unnecessarily blew up a competitive team in the pathetic East. Indiana is the best team in the conference now, and the Celtics handled the Pacers in last season's playoffs (you can blame Isiah Thomas all you want; the Celtics won the series in six games). The '02 Celtics beat Detroit in five games, and the Pistons are the second-best team in the conference. New Jersey treats Boston like an intramural team, but that disparity would have shrunk considerably if ownership/Ainge had been willing to spend money on a mid-level exception player in the offseason.
It's still not clear where Ainge is going with his master plan. On one hand, he indicates that Walker's strong personality and dominance of the ball was impairing the growth of the team. On the other hand -- in the middle of a five-game winning streak, no less -- he goes out and trades for Ricky Davis, a talented kid who isn't yet 25 but already is on Team No. 4.
How can you trade Walker and bring in Davis, whose defining moment remains purposely missing a shot so he could try to cop a triple double? How can you concede in the East? How can you acquire four players (Davis, Chris Mihm, Jumaine Jones, Michael Stewart) from last season's Cavaliers, a team that won 17 games?
The last time a Celtics coach resigned in January, he did himself and the organization a favor. Rick Pitino was stressed, exhausted, and not getting through to his players. This time it's the opposite. O'Brien was a good coach here, one who took whatever was given to him and made something respectable out of it.
I was never wild about the free rein he gave Walker on the perimeter, but only a fool would quibble with the coach's results. He was honest, he was impeccably prepared, and his players respected his consistent, no-flash style.
He should be applauded for keeping his composure through a lot of unintentional sabotaging of his work. He had to deal with the Baker trade that he didn't want. He had to keep his team together when Baker's problems became known. He had to coach under a boss who comes from a different basketball school -- even if we don't know what that school is yet. He had to watch his boss push the reset button after he had developed enough chemistry for the Celtics to win five in a row.
He's gone now, and the Celtics are going to miss him.
This team is one piece closer to being Ainge's, now that he will be able to hire a coach who thinks the way he does. If the early days of Ainge's leadership indicate what is to come, the future is nothing to look forward to.
Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.