His team has spiraled back onto the front of the sports pages, and Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck couldn't be happier. He is delighted with the trade that brought Antoine Walker back to Boston, and suggests all those with elaborate conspiracy theories on why it occurred should take it at face value.
"There is no more to this trade, literally, than the fact we are the worst rebounding team I've seen in my life," said Grousbeck yesterday. "It's a joke. We needed to add some rebounding ability to this team. And, when Philadelphia got [Chris] Webber, and all of a sudden were back in the mix, we had to do something.
"We were not going to get it done with Steamboat Willie under the basket."
His obscure animated reference aside, Grousbeck has a point. The Celtics are a deplorable rebounding team, and have been for some time. One of Antoine's more obvious assets is his ability to clear the glass. His passing skills might come in handy, too, although Gary Payton, who was passed over by title contenders before the trade deadline, could well end up back here by next week. While Boston is genuinely delighted by the progress of Delonte West, he has missed nearly half the season with injuries, and it seems a tall order to ask the rookie to assume control of the team. "Kenny Anderson is still out there," mused Grousbeck.
The most intriguing piece of this transaction is how Ainge can put a positive spin on reacquiring a player he declared had a "stranglehold' on the organization a little more than a year ago. Walker was portrayed as petulant, spoiled, and entitled -- and on his way out of town.
So, Danny, what's changed?
"When I said Antoine had a stranglehold on the organization, I was talking primarily about the coaches, who had treated him a certain way for some time," Ainge said yesterday. "It was going to be difficult for them to all of a sudden turn around and say, `Now you have to be this way.'
"But now I have a new coach. Now that Antoine is back, he has to fit in with the way Doc [Rivers] wants to do things."
Why bring back Walker? That's an easy one. When Ainge traded Walker to Dallas prior to last season, he was an All-Star who would be looking for -- and expecting to get -- a maximum contract when his deal was up. Those days are gone. You simply don't have the same clout when you've played for three teams in a calendar year, as Walker has. He's no longer billed as an All-Star, or an elite player, and will most likely be offered the midlevel exception, which figures to be somewhere around $5 million, by other teams this summer.
What that means is now the Celtics are dealing with strength when it comes to 'Toine. If he truly wants to stay, and is willing to take a pay cut down to say, $6 million, instead of the $14 million-plus he's getting now, then suddenly all those intangibles he offers become attractive. If he doesn't want to stay in Boston at that price, the team can engineer a sign-and-trade for him, or let him walk.
Clearly, there are still flaws in Walker's game that rankle Ainge. That has led to speculation that Grousbeck and his partners leaned heavily on Ainge to pull the trigger to, 1) provide a response to the acquisition of Webber, and 2) make sure the team is still good enough to generate some postseason revenue.
"It's just not true that we forced this [on Ainge]," Grousbeck insisted. "Danny started these discussions two months ago. I had no input. At the time, Atlanta wanted more than we were willing to give. Obviously, that changed, so we made the deal. If Danny wasn't the lead advocate, this wouldn't have happened."
The merits of this deal aside, we are left to wonder if the Celtics' carousel will ever stop turning. At some point, every team needs consistency and stability.
"I think Danny has five or six guys on the team that he wouldn't touch right now," Grousbeck said. "I'm not going to name them.
"You have to look at what we had when he came in. We had a roster that was well over the hill and on the way down which was fortunate to make a nice playoff run.
"So what do you do? You try to get four, five, or six young guys, along with Paul Pierce in the prime of his career, and have that be your core. I think it's fair to say there is stability with the Boston Celtics now. For the next four or five years, we know who is going to play for this team. There will not be blockbusters like we've had."
There is a large contingent of confused Celtics followers who will likely find that last statement hard to believe. That particular segment of the fan base would like to have Ainge tested for attention deficit disorder. Ainge said he's happy with his current team, but knows better than to promise he's done tinkering.
"No one wants a revolving-door roster," Ainge said. "We'd all love to have the 1984-88 Celtics and start the same five guys every year. But until we have success, until I feel we are set up for that success, I can't stop.
"I can't stop taking phone calls. That's my job."
Earlier in the season, when Rivers was doing his best to quell a mutiny on his roster (a storm he has weathered nicely, thank you very much), the Celtics rightfully examined whether Pierce would ever truly be happy here again. The phones rang regularly with inquiries about Pierce, but offers such as Baron Davis never made sense, not with his bad knee and an equally troublesome back.
Ainge confirmed yesterday he did have interest in Davis, who was traded to Golden State Thursday. "We were in that hunt right up until the end, but at no time were we offering Pierce in those discussions," he said.
The immediate goal is to see if Pierce and Walker, the sequel, can blend in with a mix of exciting young talent to forge a relationship that can last. If it does, the carousel might actually stop turning. If it doesn't, the ride will continue.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.