Boston Sports Forum Commentary
Del N. Jones
You're on the clock Danny Ainge. Let's see whatcha got.
That will be the general New England consensus this week as the former Boston Celtics player and new executive director of basketball operations takes part in the 2004 NBA Draft, concluding his first full season as the No. 1 shot-caller.
After moving around the roster like mismanaged chess pieces in his rookie front office year, Ainge will take three first round picks (15, 24 and 25) into the annual auction that will go far in determining how things will go during his return to Kelly green.
Basically, it's Danny's show - trading away one of the two in-house franchise players, running off a solid and popular head coach, and bringing in his good friend to take over on the bench following a turbulent season that subjected the few remaining faithful to a turnstile of sad departures.
Antoine Walker went in favor of Raef LaFrentz and friends; Eric Williams and Tony Battie for Ricky Davis. Chucky Atkins, a first round pick and some cash came back in the three-way deal that sent final piece Rasheed Wallace to the eventual NBA champion Detroit Pistons.
Remind me, does Danny get a ring for that move?
The crew that will put on the once famous colors Thursday will have be serious contributors to keep the believers believing, and that includes the ghosts of 16 championship banners up in the rafters.
So far Ainge has drawn a polar reaction to his arrival and microwaved methods. After Boston welcomed one of its basketball brethren home before the end of the 2002-03 season, his moves have either angered or encouraged. Supporters have preached patience. Detractors have swung open the door with hopes that a new ownership group would demand the direction that is not clearly seen in the front office thus far.
A solid/good draft could go a long way to change that anti-season ticket perception and Ainge will draw the credit or the blame for either sway.
This draft must resemble the years of Cowens, Maxwell and McHale - not Kite, Montross and Mercer.
Ainge believes he's ready for the pressure of making the correct personnel choices. His new head coach Doc Rivers sure hopes so.
"Iíve been a big believer that the GMs and the scouts have seen guys all year, as far as the college guys," Rivers said in a recent chat session on celtics.com. "And I tend to lean more on them about the draft. I try to give Danny an idea of what Iím looking for in the type of players to fit my style so he can then go and look at these college guys, in a lot of cases high school guys, for the draft. But Iím the one who has seen the pro players. And you know, thatís where Danny and I have had a lot of discussions about who would be a good fit for our style."
Ainge's style has been quick decisions that are ironically supposed to be for a better "future" for the franchise. Celtics fans have been forced to look into that uncertainty after going six embarrassing seasons without making the playoffs, finally ended by the current three-year non-lottery streak.
Ainge will be the deliverer of renewed title dreams or the undertaker driving the masses further away from that greatly desired location.
The Pistons just showed the basketball world that a championship can be won with hardworking role players absent star qualities, replaced by cohesive effort.
But a strong front office with the instincts to know when and where to make the right decisions is still needed to reach the unpromised land.
Thursday will go far in letting us know whether the Celtics' current shot-caller is truly worthy of the job.
Commentaries by Del N. Jones are posted on Boston Sports Forum every Monday. His weekend columns can also be read in the Saturday/Sunday edition of The Patriot Ledger or at patriotledger.com.