SQ #30--Gambling With the Right Odds

Summer Quandaries #30
Aug 30—31 Days to camp

Gambling With the Right Odds

Ainge has had a busy summer. Good thing because on July 1 the Celtics had exactly eight players under contract. Of those Perkins was due major surgery with an expected return date of deep into the season, Wallace had already announced his intention to retire, and Lafayette and Gaffney were late season additions from the D-league. Danny couldn’t even field five players with experience; and needed to add at least half and perhaps two-thirds of a team. What he has been able to do smacks of both genius and practical desperation. He re-upped most of the serviceable lapsing contracts; drafted BPA without moving up, down, or adding picks in the draft; and added free agents leveraging his few assets into the best supporting cast he could manage. What he did not do, and I’m positive it was not from lack of trying, was find an alluring piece to acquire with Sheed’s evaporating contract. Every single one of these steps involved a certain level of risk.

First let’s talk about the moves that were chinches to succeed. . . . Well, that didn’t take long! The closest thing to a no-brainer was the one that followed the decision to try and extend the window. Choosing to extend rather than rebuild was far from a no-brainer and represents a significant gamble. Ainge is playing the odds, good odds not great odds, that he won’t find himself in February with half a dozen injured, fading, and soon-to-be ex players who are more prepared to write their memoirs than continue the season. If he is wrong then he will be starting over, at perhaps the most inconvenient of times, and with almost no leverage to jumpstart the process. The likelihood of this happening is not large, probably not as high as that of a Championship, but certainly not negligible. If the wheels come off this buggy it will be a one of those disasters too ugly to watch—but impossible to take your eyes off of. But once the die were cast to chart this course the real no-brain move was to get Doc re-signed. This, however, was problematic because Doc was suffering from shell shock—a long difficult season with stressor piled on top of stressor, a full quota of personality disorders to manage, and the mutually exclusive goals of honing the cutting edge of a weapon he was reluctant to take out of its scabbard. Danny wanted to give Doc the leisure in which to recharge the batteries, heal the raw wounds of the lengthy battle, rekindle the fires at the homestead, and allow the competitive urges to renew. Sure, take all the time you want; and be back in four days to plot a draft strategy and set up the dominoes to fall in place to reassemble the veteran All-Stars now without a contract so as to hit the ground running at the start of the free agent signing period. No pressure!

Obvious perhaps, but with significant risk, was the need to iron things out with the Captain.
He didn’t want to go any place, and in fact was opting out and taking significantly less per year to give the franchise flexibility. Once the window decision was made, Danny didn’t want to see Pierce go, but you know he had to jerk awake nights nightmar-ing of a sadly out-of-shape Truth trudging up and down the court in no condition, or mood, to play the game he had once loved—the images of a lackadaisical Sheed fresh and raw and painful in Ainge’s memory. In a fine display of risk management/abatement, a third year allowed Paul to recoup his losses from the opt-out and the partially guaranteed fourth year balanced retiring number 34 with avoiding an albatross contract hindering the start of the post-Big-Three era. Getting Pierce back on board set up a similarly deft negotiated compromise to keep Ray Allen in the fold through Garnett’s contract. Ray got somewhat less than he probably could have wheedled from one of the free-agent-lottery-bonanza losers but got well over the MLE and the chance to play out the string with his Ubuntu buddies. It is still taking a chance with Allen coming off his worst shooting year but the risk is reduced by the constantly professional demeanor and conditioning that has been Ray’s career-long staple. Yes, these All-Star wingmen may be Hall-eligible in five years rather than seven or nine, but the odds are pretty good that neither declines precipitously during his contract extension. Once again Danny is playing the odds, accepting that “pretty good” is good enough.

We’ve almost got that “starting five that has never lost a series to the Lakers” back! Perk, however, is under the knife. If I was a betting man and could get my $10 down on 50-50 odds that Kendrick would be back by season’s end at 100%, I’m keeping my money in my pocket. I’m not betting on 95%, or even 90%. Give me 50/50 on 85% and I’ll take the bet, a bit optimistic but I prefer to be optimistic where the Celtics are concerned. Even if so, now the question becomes whether Perk at 85% is enough to slay the Laker Dragons? Even if you feel good about those chances, how do you get to that home-and-home series in June? Here Danny needs to roll the BIG dice.

Adequate, much less above average, big men are hard to find, and expensive. With his biggest (and the MLE is pretty paltry in this case) bargaining chip Ainge is trying to pull this starting-level-Center rabbit out of a hat. It better be magical because we are talking about finding a $10-15M commodity available and willing for $5.8M. This might the definition of taking a chance. If available at that price, such a player will be old, injured, a headcase, under suspension or indictment, or some combination of one or more of the above. Once a $20M/year All-Star power forward, Jermaine O’Neal is on the down slope of his career. On the far side of 30, growing heavier and less mobile, increasingly beset with injuries, and no longer putting up the gaudy numbers so frequent earlier in his career, Jermaine was nonetheless a $20M Center for a playoff team last year. He put up quite respectable regular season numbers (13.6 pts on 53% shooting, 6.9 reb in 70 games) but was badly outplayed in the Heat’s loss to the Celtics in the second round. His seventy games were the most since 2003 when he missed only 4 games and was a 20/10 guy. Before tossing too many stones let’s consider who he is replacing, Perkins who played in 78 games but delivered only 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds. This year if Jermaine can deliver similarly solid numbers as last year and play in as many games, I think all parties will be ecstatic. As for the playoff dip in performance, word is that a he was limited by a lingering bone bruise on his calf. Seems to be a good chance that his clunker of a playoff was the anomaly. All things considered, I believe Danny wove a silk purse out of a sow’s ear of a situation. He solved Boston’s most pressing problem with what looks like a quite adequate replacement—creating good odds (but not great) that the Center position will be a strength rather than a weakness.

Starting team in place, tomorrow let’s continue with the Center position.