As the confetti fell from the rafters and covered the Boston Celtics in glory for the 17th time in the organization's rich history, fans in the other NBA cities were left to ponder the same question:
Why not us?
Why were the Celtics, an average team through the early part of the decade and a horrific one (24-58) last year, able to swing two monstrous trades to acquire two of the Big Three, notably Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen . . . and (pick your team) could not?
Well, at the risk of coming off as a Pacers apologist for one of the first times in recorded history, there's a very good reason Indiana didn't make those kinds of deals, why the Pacers couldn't have made those kinds of deals and why it's still out of the question.
They don't have players that other teams desire.
There's Danny Granger and there's, um, er, hmmm . . . there's Danny Granger.
Let's stop for a second and look at how the Celtics pulled off the two mega-trades:
They acquired Allen from Seattle in exchange for the No. 5 pick in last summer's draft. (There were also some other odds and ends involved in the trade.) Now, where was the Pacers' first-round pick? That's right: The Pacers didn't have a first-round pick, having foolishly dealt it away in the Al Harrington trade. And just for the record, that wasn't a Larry Bird idea.
Now let's look at the Garnett mega-deal. The Minnesota Timberwolves got two commodities the Pacers lack: They received four cheap, low-risk players under the age of 24 (Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes and Gerald Green), they acquired another valuable piece in the expiring contract of overpaid Theo Ratliff ($11.66 million), and the Celtics' 2009 first-round pick.
In the world of rebuilding NBA teams, there is no more valuable chit than an overpaid stiff whose bloated salary number is soon to come off the books -- another reason the Pacers would have been better off keeping Austin Croshere for one more season instead of dealing him prematurely for Marquis Daniels.
So the Wolves got younger and cheaper and obtained more cap flexibility. Jefferson, clearly, will be an excellent player down the line. Telfair has been an enigma, but he's a low-risk proposition and will be a restricted free agent this summer. Same thing with Kirk Snyder, who was acquired for Gerald Green in a deal with Houston. Gomes is not currently under contract for next season.
What did the Pacers have that Seattle or Minnesota could have wanted?
Granger, maybe. And the Pacers are not moving Granger. Period.
Jermaine O'Neal? His trade value is as low now as it has ever been, and while it would be preferable to move him this offseason so rebuilding can commence, the truth is, the Pacers might have to hold tight and wait until next season's trade deadline to get full value for him. That's assuming he's healthy at that point.
After that, the Pacers have a lot of overpaid, ordinary players with long-term deals. Who wants Troy Murphy? Who wants Mike Dunleavy, even after a breakout year? Who wants Jamaal Tinsley? No, really, I'm not asking, I'm begging, does anybody want Tinsley? Please?
One of the primary reasons the Celtics were in this position is because Danny Ainge, who looked like a complete dope until last summer, was not afraid to let his team go in the dumper for a few years.
They already had Jefferson in house, having taken him at No. 15 in the 2004 draft. Then, in 2005, they drafted Green at No. 18 and Gomes at No. 50. (Another reason to mention how the Pacers threw away a second-rounder on James White.) Then, in 2006, Ainge acquired Telfair and Ratliff from Portland.
The moral of the story is, the Celtics willingly if grudgingly fell to rock bottom, drafted reasonably well (traded for draft rights to Kendrick Perkins at No. 27 in 2003 and Rajon Rondo at No. 21 in 2006), added some young talent and an expiring contract, and put themselves in a position to make two seismic, offseason deals.
Lucky? Yeah, there was some of that. A decade ago, Pierce dropped to the Celtics at No. 10. And it's helpful that Ainge and Minnesota GM Kevin McHale have a relationship -- and yes, McHale deserves another Celtics championship ring for this most recent Boston championship.
Even knowing that Bird and McHale have a history, both sides know the Pacers had nothing to offer in a deal to get Garnett and Allen.
No first-round draft choices. No intriguing young players, unless you're intrigued by Shawne Williams. No expiring contracts. Nothing.
The Celtics made their championship deals because of drafts and trades they made during the franchise's dark period. The Pacers are still waiting for that first glimmer of light. Unless somebody wants Tinsley for, say, LeBron James. Somebody? Anybody?
I just quit reading after like the third paragraph...