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Danny The Dealer or Danny The Drafter?

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  June 27, 2007 04:03 PM

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Bulletin: Danny says on Wednesday, the day before the draft, he's keeping the pick.

Did anyone notice if his fingers were crossed when he said it?

We all know Danny Ainge tried very hard to market his number 5 pick. I think he went everywhere but QVC before deciding he would retain it. For now.

I was never opposed to trading the pick. If he could have used that pick to get a decent veteran, good. I just didn't want to include Al Jefferson in any deal.

But that always sounded easier in theory than in practice. It is now completely clear that if anyone in the league has any clout to exert with regard to where he will be spending the next few years, he makes sure he will not be spending them in Boston. You can probably throw Philly and Jersey/Newark in there, too, but you can specifically cite Boston as the least-favored destination in the NBA. In the eyes of the modern player, the Celtics have nothing to offer.

In the old days, the Celtics sold championships and (strike up the band) Tradition! Tra-dish-shon! They sold the floor and the flags and guys pined to wear the green and white. Even a then practiced cynic like Paul Silas, who came to the Celtics at age 29, admitted after a year or two that there was something very good about the Celtics Tradition!

Now? Please. These guys only know Boston as a sad outpost stuck onto the right side of the North American land mass. Tradition? The Celtics last won it all in 1986. They last participated in the Finals in 1987. Aside from that one aberrational appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals five years ago (can you picture that Bombs Away bunch actually playing for the championship?) the Celtics were last viable 15 years ago, in Larry Bird's last year.

To the modern player, the Celtics stand for nothing. Anyway, they're in Boston, a place where people need snow tires and scrapers. Most modern players, if given a choice, do not do snow tires and scrapers and heavy overcoats. They do sun.

Finally, players listen to agents, and agents undoubtedly tell them the Celtics don't know what the hell they are doing, otherwise they wouldn't be in the mess they appear to be in (the team actually isn't as bad as its record). So, no player consequence is willingly coming to Boston. They must be conscripted.

That's just the way it is.

The Celtics must essentially build from within, and they have picked up a few nice pieces of the puzzle in the last few drafts. Kendrick Perkins will always be, at the very least, a quality back-up center. If someone threw him the ball every once in a while, he might actually surprise people and put it in the basket. Tony Allen, providing he recovers sufficiently from his knee injury, was on the verge of being a very useful player when he foolishly decided to stroll down the lane and attempt a superfluous after-the-whistle dunk last winter. Rajon Rondo is already a first class defensive pest and someone who can both get up and down the floor rapidly and penetrate half-court defenses. Gerald Green remains a scary talent. Ryan Gomes will be in the league for 10 or 12 years.

And then there's Al.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Al Jefferson Fan Club board of Directors and I am up for president in the upcoming season. You can't teach hands and you can't teach feet and you can't teach the kind of inside scoring gift Al Jefferson was born with, and I don't think you can teach his kind of innate rebounding instinct, either. The lad won't be 23 until Jan. 4. (Larry turned 23 in December of his rookie year, by the way).

I wouldn't have traded Al even-up for Jermaine O'Neal. So there.

He's also ours. If he lusts for the beach, he hasn't yet made himself known. He seems to like it here. He's Our Guy. When he becomes a nightly 25-point man, I want it to be in a Celtics uniform. If Danny wants to trade that 5 pick to stick Pau Gasol in the mix, bring him on. But if someone asks for Al, hang up. I hope I've made myself clear.

Assuming Danny does keep the pick, brace yourself for Yi Jianlian. The more people saw this kid, the more they seemed to like him. You don't hear the worries about him being "soft" now as much as you hear them exude over the way he gets up and down the floor at 7-feet, and his touch. He now sounds to me like Brandan Wright with a jump shot. I could live with that.

If it's not him, I'd surely welcome Corey Brewer, who really elevated himself in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, or Jeff Green, the "knock" on whom is that he's too deferential, almost too much of a team guy. I appear to be out there on this one, but I'd also be perfectly happy with Al Thornton. Yes, I know he projects more in the 10-12 range, but I don't honestly see why. I love this kid.

I love Joakim Noah, too, but I'm sure the Celtics won't take him. To me, he's a cross between John Salley and Anderson Varejao; in other words, a seven-foot ath-a-lete who can't shoot, but who will make a big play or two a game no one else will. And if you're luck, his mom (a former Miss Sweden) will take in some games. Talk about brightening up the joint on some cold January night.

As far as trading Paul Pierce goes, I have one question: how? Who wants him, at his salary and with his basic track record?

Just put yourself in the place of rival GMs. Danny calls and offers Paul. If you're Brian Colangelo in Toronto, do you trade Chris Bosh even-up for him? No. If you're Donn Nelson in Dallas, do you trade Josh Howard even-up for him? No. If you're Otis Smith in Orlando, do you trade Dwight Howard even-up for him? No. If you're Larry Bird in Indiana, do you trade Jermaine O'Neal even-up for him? (Whoa. Maybe).

I could go on and on, and I'm not even going to get into superstar territory, which would be truly ridiculous. I see no match for him. If he really wishes to be traded, Danny should have the phone to his agent and say, "Go ahead, you make the deal. Then get back to me."

This doesn't mean I don't like Paul Pierce, or don't (usually) enjoy seeing him play. But I think the idea that he is the level of player management should cater to is ridiculous. He thinks he's better than he is. He looks in the mirror and sees a first-team All-NBA guy who was screwed by the voters. If he was quoted accurately by Adrian Wojnarski in Yahoo.com on Monday, he was saying that he wished the Celtics to import a "veteran co-star." Not veteran "all-star." Veteran "co-star." You are free to supply your own punch line.

I don't see him going anywhere because he's stuck in a curious limbo for which he can thank his salary. At $8 million there might be a market. At the max, no way. But he can still be effective here. It's just that it's either going to happen here or nowhere.

The Celtics can get a nice player at number 5. You need to get lucky. You think Miami knew Dwayne Wade was going to be Dwayne Wade when they got him at number 5? Nope. That's the kind of luck I'm talking about. And, believe me, that's the only way the Celtics will ever get good again. They need to draft lucky, starting on Thursday night.

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