Ainge deflects heat from Celtics moves
Coach's resignation is latest challenge for former Blazer
When the Boston Celtics invade the Rose Garden on Feb. 21, check Danny Ainge for singe marks.
The Celtics' first-year director of basketball operations got roasted by media and fans after popular coach Jim O'Brien resigned Jan. 27 over philosophical differences with Ainge.
'I knew there was going to be some heat, and I know how Boston is, at least when it comes to patience with its sports teams,' says the one-time North Eugene High flash, who will travel with Boston on its four-game West Coast trip. 'I knew this job was going to be hard. The easy thing would be to stand pat and win some games and not take chances.'
The proud Celtic tradition has taken a beating in recent years. O'Brien got his team to the Eastern Conference finals two years ago, but in Ainge's mind, it was an aberration, and the natives have gotten restless. Boston is now a Red Sox town, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, and the Celtics need to get with it.
'They overachieved in 2002, which is a tribute to Jim and his staff,' Ainge says of the Celtics. 'The reason I was hired, though, is because nobody was satisfied with the last dozen years of the Celtics. When I got here last year, there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm for our team. I was brought in to make changes and create a different style of play.'
First trade OK, second isn't
Ainge first split up the Celtics' 'big two,' keeping Paul Pierce but trading Antoine Walker to Dallas. The Boston coaches were fine with that, particularly since they got Raef LaFrentz and Jiri Welsch in return.
On Dec. 15, Ainge gave up center Tony Battie and forwards Kedrick Brown and Eric Williams to Cleveland for controversial Ricky Davis, Michael Stewart, Chris Mihm and a second-round draft pick. That one didn't go over well with the coaching staff. Battie and Williams were popular veterans who play good defense; Davis is most well-known for throwing up a shot at the opponent's basket in an attempt to seal his own triple-double in a game last year.
Oddly, Ainge had given O'Brien a contract extension before the season.
'Before his extension, Jim and I talked about how we wanted to run the team, and we shared a lot of the same thoughts,' Ainge says. 'We wanted to play more up-tempo basketball. That was the plan, and that is why we drafted Marcus Banks and made the trades, to get more athletic and younger.
'Jim is a defensive coach. When things aren't going well, that's what he goes back to. The week before the (Davis) trade, Jim understood why we did it. The day of the trade, he wasn't for it. The day after, he was OK with it.
'When we talked on the day he resigned, it ultimately came down to that he didn't know, or didn't want to, or couldn't implement the kind of changes he knew I wanted, even though I wasn't putting pressure on him to do so. He said, 'Danny, I'm just not your guy.' He tried to be. He wanted to be. In the long run, he might be right, but I was willing to work with him because of the other qualities he has that I admire.
'It's tough, because Jim is a good guy. I felt like I was trying my best to work with him and let him have his space.'
Baker's suspension 'no fun'
It wasn't Ainge's lowest moment in his new job. That came a few days earlier, when forward Vin Baker was indefinitely suspended for failure to comply with his rehabilitation program to deal with alcohol abuse and emotional issues. Baker may be released and lose the remainder of his contract, which calls for him to make more than $30 million over the next two years. That would be doing the Celtics a financial favor, but still, it's an unsavory situation for Ainge.
'I like Vin,' he says. 'I'm rooting for Vin. Those kind of things are no fun. It's the one bad time I have had in my nine months on the job.'
Ainge says it doesn't even bother him that Walker called him a 'snake.'
'It's just sour grapes,' Ainge says. 'Antoine's pride was hurt when he was traded. He thought it was personal. It was definitely not. I like him as a person. I don't like all the things he does as a player, and I felt (the trade) was for the good of the club.'
Boston had lost eight of nine going into Thursday's game with Chicago, but the Celtics were still in eighth place at 23-30 and in line for the last playoff spot in the East.
'I knew we would struggle,' he says. 'It has been harder than I thought it would be, but at the same time, I see some good things, and I am excited about this summer and tour possibilities in the draft.'
John Carroll, a former O'Brien assistant, is coaching the team on an interim basis. Carroll almost surely won't be the coach next season. Neither will Ainge, he says.
'Definitely not,' Ainge says. 'I don't like coaching, at least compared to what I'm doing right now. I have some things I want to accomplish in building this team. I am looking forward to the challenge. I am having fun. The only thing I will say is, I would feel better if we had won three or four of the games we lost but should have won. Then we would be 27-26 or so and in pretty good position.'