Ainge Getting Another Big 3 Through That Door
By Royce Webb
It's good Danny Ainge is a devout man.
Otherwise the Boston Celtics' architect might be feeling all the angry joy that comes when vengeance is thine.
If Ainge were prone to such feelings, Boston's sixth straight win, a 101-86 walkover in Indiana on Tuesday, was a statement game disguised as an ordinary Tuesday night in November.
In fact, as statement games go, it was the Big 3:
Statement 1: See, Jim, I knew what I was doing.
Just four seasons ago, the Celtics were coached by Jim O'Brien, now the Pacers coach, who had led them to their greatest successes since their 1980s heyday. O'Brien had salvaged the Rick Pitino squad, taking the C's to the 2002 East finals.
But when Ainge took over in 2003, he looked to the future and started reshaping the roster. When Ainge traded veterans Eric Williams and Tony Battie to Cleveland for Ricky Davis (plus two players and a pick), O'Brien up and quit.
Score one for Coach Obie. When we polled fans that day on his bold move, 79 percent said they trusted O'Brien's judgment more than Ainge's. An overwhelming 98 percent said that O'Brien deserved another coaching job, and 76 percent described his resignation as "honorable" rather than "crazy" or "disloyal."
During the following three seasons, Ainge's reputation became further tarnished until rock bottom arrived in 2006-07, when the C's won 24 games and were widely accused of tossing games. Many thought Ainge's days were numbered.
Meanwhile, the Celtics had continued to stockpile young talent, hoping for either an infusion of Miracle-Gro or, even better, a miracle trade or two.
Enter Ray-Ray, courtesy of the Seattle Durants.
Enter The Big Ticket, courtesy of old pal Kevin McHale.
As Ainge admitted Tuesday in Chad Ford's podcast , he didn't know whether players like Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett would ever come walking through that door.
But give him credit: He's got guts. Ainge traded away 10 of his assets, including Al Jefferson and three first-round draft picks, to get Allen and Garnett.
So maybe Ainge and O'Brien can both pat themselves on the back. Maybe they were both right. Because finally the Celtics are exactly the kind of team O'Brien wanted.
Statement 2: Hey, Larry, my team is better than yours.
Just four seasons ago, the same year O'Brien resigned in Boston and Ainge found himself wearing the dunce cap, the Indiana Pacers had the NBA's best record. Ainge's old teammate Larry Bird had just rejoined the team as an executive after guiding the Pacers to the NBA Finals as coach, and his first season was charmed.
The Pacers' fall from grace, starting with the infamous Palace Brawl, has been well-documented, but receiving less scrutiny has been the disastrous series of front-office decisions by Larry Legend and Donnie Walsh.
It's impolite to suggest that an on-court genius like Bird might be less well-suited to the executive suite, but basketball IQ doesn't transfer easily to the boardroom.
Meanwhile, as Bird's Pacers continue their descent into the hell of NBA mediocrity, Ainge finds himself on a rocket ride fueled by the kind of star power the Pacers used to boast. And now it's Ainge with the halo, the genius label, the wins, the media at his feet.
And don't think he forgets for a second who is running the Pacers into the ground.
Statement 3: I've got my own Big Three.
Ainge doesn't like to hear about the original Big Three of Bird, McHale and Robert Parish. In fact, he says in Tuesday's podcast that trio was not the Big Three, if such a creature even existed.
Remember, Ainge and backcourt mate Dennis Johnson were All-Stars who sacrificed their stats for the greater good. And in doing so, they had to watch Bird, McHale and Parish grab the spotlight, the accolades and the cool nickname.
So as the Celtics roll to a record of 6-0, what could be more satisfying than seeing his new Big Three already making strides toward supplanting Bird, McHale and Parish in the hearts and minds of Celtics fans? You don't need Ainge's brain doctor to tell you how good that must feel.
Sure, Garnett, Pierce, Allen and Co. are focused on winning the East and ultimately the NBA title. But there is more at stake. There's history, both professional and personal.
The 1985-86 Celtics, still revered by many Boston fans as their choice for the greatest team of all time, won 67 games.
So don't be surprised if Danny Ainge drinks an extra big glass of milk if and when his Celtics get victory No. 68.
Royce Webb is an NBA editor for ESPN.com