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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Ainge has placed the ball in Pierce's court

So, who assumes all the pressure now?

Danny Ainge or Paul Pierce?

We know it won't be Doc Rivers. It never is. But Ainge has a bull's-eye on his back after last week's moves and he's throwing everything at the size-15 feet of Pierce. He's telling us that he got Ray Allen for Paul. And now it's up to Paul to deliver the goods.

Ainge has overhauled the entire roster (except for Pierce) since taking over the Celtics. He has talked about a "vision," while appearing to be blind a good deal of the time. He has enjoyed a good relationship with the media and been spared the torchings that singed the likes of Lou Gorman, Rick Pitino, and Dan Duquette. He has presided over a train wreck of a team that won only 24 games last season.

When he made the deal for Allen on draft night, the Celtics were graded as big losers by many pundits and a significant portion of the dwindling Celtic constituency.

Reached in Utah via telephone this week, Ainge defended his professional life. And put everything on Pierce.

"The gist of the criticism has been that we're wishy-washy in our plans and not consistent with our public message," Ainge acknowledged. "I don't think that's right. From the very beginning, we've tried to accumulate assets. We decided two years ago we weren't trading Paul Pierce. We were going to try to surround Paul Pierce with at least another significant player -- hopefully two -- to give him the best opportunity to win. That has been our public statement pretty consistently. I don't want just any veteran player. The fact that we were making a run at Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen is exactly what has been in our plan. So, it's very consistent with what we've been trying to do.

"We're not accommodating Paul Pierce. We're taking advantage of the Paul Pierce era. We don't want Paul Pierce to go play for another team and play like we know he's capable of playing surrounded by better players. We want Paul Pierce playing in Boston and getting that chance. We think he's that significant of a player. But kind of like Ray Allen, he's had to do a lot on his own.

"Getting the first or second pick would have made the plan easier. We could have added the pick as the possible significant other. Chances are if we had pick 1 or 2, I would have been playing golf the month before the draft.

"Everybody's been saying, 'We're too young. We've got to make a choice -- Paul or go young.' Two years ago, we thought we had the opportunity to get Chris Paul for Paul Pierce. That was something we wanted to do, but it fell through, not from our doing. Since that time, there's been nothing tempting regarding moving Paul Pierce. We made a choice to keep Paul and try to get an opportunity to win in Boston."

What about all the criticism?

"That's what I love about Boston," said Ainge. "I love the passion. I get wonderful e-mails, I get nasty e-mails. I've always said the greatest place to win is Boston and ultimately all the talk doesn't mean much to me.

"Around the league, I've gotten a great deal of response from my peers about what a great trade this is, but I'm sure I haven't heard from the people that don't think it's a good trade."

He would not name names.

What about the contention (mine) that trading for Allen now is akin to bringing an aging Dominique Wilkins to Boston for the 1994-95 (35-47) season?

"That's ridiculous," Ainge said. "But I love the passion. I think you know that I don't get caught up in that stuff.

"This is not Danny Ainge's team. This is Wyc Grousbeck's, Steve Pagliuca's team, management's team, the players. We collectively do what we think is best for the franchise, and now we've chosen this to be Paul Pierce's cycle. What I think is uninformed is that this is a short window. There's no reason that Paul Pierce can't play until he's 38 if he takes care of himself. Same with Ray Allen."

Garnett?

"I can't talk about him because he's not a free agent. There's a chance [of another big-name player coming in], but I don't want to get people's hopes up. We're not sitting there relying on it. We're still trying to work some things out but we think we have a good team right now. I think we can win the East next year. I believe we have had a major upgrade to a team that was a 36- to 40-win team last year if everyone stayed healthy.

"My owners are very happy. My players are excited. Al Jefferson. Paul Pierce. And Ray Allen. They feel rejuvenated, optimistic, and confident in the team. And my coach is thrilled about it. I can see the opposing views of the deal. We discussed all these different views, although we never did discuss the fact that Ray Allen was Dominique. The vision now is to try to surround Paul and Ray and Al with the best chance to win."

There you go, Paul Pierce. You told your agent you wanted the Celtics to make a deal for an established star. They fulfilled your request. Now it's up to you to deliver the goods. If the Celtics aren't good now, it'll be your fault. Not Danny's fault or Doc's fault. Paul Pierce's fault.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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