Ainge inherits a full plate with Celtics
He won't be one of the frontrunners for NBA Executive of the Year in 2003-04. Too many hurdles to clear.
Danny Ainge will make his mark as director of basketball operations of the Boston Celtics, but it may happen later rather than sooner.
Boston's new ownership group wants to adhere to the NBA's luxury tax, which could go into effect for teams with payrolls of between $50 million and $55 million next season. Boston is committed to paying three players Ñ Antoine Walker, Paul Pierce and Vin Baker Ñ a total of $40.5 million. You do the math. There are at least nine other bodies to compensate. The Celtics probably won't even be able to use their $4.6 million midlevel exception.
'It's going to take awhile,' says Ainge, who signed a three-year, $9 million contract to run the Celtics. 'I'm going into circumstances beyond my control. It's going to take time to build the kind of club I envision.'
Baker is the albatross causing Ainge's neck to snap forward. The maligned forward will make Ñ not earn Ñ almost $44 million in the next three years, an untradable contract. The best Ainge could hope for would be a Shawn Kemp-like buyout, but don't bet on it.
There is plenty of talk of trading Walker, the 3-point shooting power forward who struggled as New Jersey swept Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Walker, 26, was .343 from the floor and .200 from 3-point range and averaged only 14 points in the series.
'I am not looking to trade Antoine,' Ainge says. 'Absolutely not. He had a spectacular (first-round) series against Indiana. We just don't have enough good players around Antoine. Our overall talent was exposed against New Jersey.'
Boston has glaring needs at point guard and in the middle to help its limited but game center Tony Battie. Problem is, the Celtics are short on commodities with which to remedy the situation.
So what can Ainge do in the short term?
'Make a great draft selection,' says the Eugene native, chuckling. 'And hopefully use our veteran's minimums to get some players.'
Ainge says he is working to redo the contract of coach Jim O'Brien, who has a year left on his deal. The contracts of O'Brien's assistants Ñ including former Oregon coach Dick Harter and ex-OSU great Lester Conner Ñ have expired, but Ainge says he is amenable to re-signing them, too.
In December 1999, Ainge walked away from his job as head coach of the Phoenix Suns to devote more time to his wife, Michelle, and their six children. In the 3 1/2 years since, Ainge's priorities haven't changed, but the family situation has.
'Three of the kids are out of the house now,' he says. 'It's a good time for my family. If my family resisted this move, I wouldn't be here.
'And I wouldn't go back to coaching right now. This position is completely different. You still have to put in the time, but it is a job where I can control my schedule. I don't have to be at practice at 10 every morning, don't have to be on the road as much. I can dictate my time more and balance my life.'
Still, Ainge was in a comfortable position, making a six-figure salary as an analyst for TNT, working only one or two days a week. Accepting the Boston offer wasn't a lock. What tipped the scale were Ainge's 7 1/2 seasons as a player in Boston. He played for other teams, including Portland, but he bleeds Celtic green.
'It was very difficult to make that decision,' says Ainge, 44. 'It's not all good news with the Boston Celtics right now. It's not like we have two lottery picks and $20 million in salary cap room. That would be ideal.
'But I lived here. I know what it's like. The Celtics have a great tradition and fan base. I know and like (co-owner) Steve Pagliuca. And it's the right time to make a move.'