I think I know what Danny Ainge is doing. But I also wonder this: Did he learn from the season-torching trade last year with Cleveland that chemistry still matters? And now we have Gary Payton and Ricky Davis in the same locker room?
It almost looks as if this latest deal, which sent Chucky Atkins, Marcus Banks, Chris Mihm, and a second-round pick to the Lakers yesterday for Payton, Rick Fox, a conditional first-round pick, and cash, was ordered from above. There's the immediate cash infusion from the Lakers. There's a savings of about $6 million next season -- at least until the next trade. There's the possible gate attraction of Payton -- and given how the team has flat-lined in the public domain, that's understandable. All of that should appease the bean counters.
The savings won't put the Celtics under the cap -- they will be well over after all the money settles -- but it will cut payroll.
But does this deal make the Celtics a better team in 2004-05? Or will we soon hear Ainge repeat his mantra from last year, that he doesn't care about this season, that he's looking down the road? How soon will he start talking about the value of the Lakers' No. 1 pick? (And please, Danny, let it sit for a while. We don't need another Kedrick Brown situation.) On paper, they might look better.
Let's start with Payton, because he's the indisputable key to the deal, from Boston's standpoint. He turned 36 last month and only Payton, his immediate family, and his agent would argue that the future Hall of Famer has much left. He had a disappointing season and was downright awful in the playoffs. With Payton, it's all about the attitude. He wants to go out on a high note, with a ring (which is why he went to Los Angeles in the first place). He is not going to get a ring here, which makes you wonder how happy he's going to be.
He's a Western Conference guy and always has been. (He was not happy in Milwaukee.) He's not all that enamored with the concept of practice. He can be a real handful if things don't go his way; just ask anyone who was around the Lakers last season. And on this team, there is no Shaquille O'Neal or Karl Malone to keep him from poisoning the well, unless you happen to think Doc Rivers is that guy. (Phil Jackson couldn't do it.) Frankly, it's a terrifying thought to think that Payton and Davis will be deemed "veteran leaders" on a team with so many impressionable and important youngsters.
I find it hard to buy that Payton will be determined to prove he can still do it -- mainly because he can't. Or, at least, not at the level that made him what he was. There's a reason he decided not to opt out of his contract, even though he knew Shaq (and possibly Malone) wasn't coming back to the Lakers. It's because he had to know there was not a team in the league that would pay him $5.4 million based on what he did last season.
And if he is determined to prove he still has something left, what does that mean for Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, and the rest? Sure, Payton is a better player than Atkins, but, at this point in his career, do you really want a potentially disconsolate (to be polite) Gary Payton around? And, by the way, since when does Payton like to run?
Fox is one of the league's best talkers, but he's been banged up, and I hope the Celtics let him Chris Mills-it for the season. It's not like they need another swingman.
As for who's going west, I guess we can now say that Banks wasn't the guy, huh? He was Ainge's first draft pick and big, big things were expected from him. I can still remember ownership slobbering all over him at the Shaw's Summer League in 2003. But if Ainge wanted a quarterback, he instead got a wingback. Or a scatback. Banks is fast, but he really isn't a point guard.
Rookie Delonte West is now the Flavor of the Month at the position, so that means Banks was expendable. Banks last year was where West is now. You could not remotely envision Ainge moving Banks; Banks was part of "The Vision." Ainge openly questioned former coach John Carroll for playing Banks so few minutes. I think Banks has a chance to be decent but, right now, he's not nearly as good as he thinks -- and he has no real position.
Mihm wasn't going to play -- period. With Mark Blount re-signed, LaFrentz (supposedly) healthy, Kendrick Perkins getting ready, and rookie Al Jefferson needing time, where was Mihm going to fit in? Plus, he was the consummate tease, making you think he was a decent player one night until he went Greg Kite on you like that. Atkins was a curious acquisition from the get-go -- but the Pistons are happy the deal was made and have the championship to prove it.
Like all trades, we'll have to see how this one shakes out. Payton and Fox are both in the last year of their contracts, so maybe they could be gone by February. You never know.
But the thought of Gary Payton playing for a team like the Celtics at this time of his career makes you wonder. Unless, of course, Ainge already has decided to do to 2004-05 what he did to 2003-04.