Rarely do you get NBA general managers to admit what "The Plan" is. Usually it's "the plan," all lower case letters and a bunch of trite clichés about flexibility and doing what's best for the team's future; as if that was something new to the NBA and startlingly profound. GMs don't speak in specifics partially because tampering rules won't allow you to discuss names of players currently under contract to a different team, for one, but also because at the heart of every "Plan" is a guy that really just has no flippin' clue how all of this is going to turn out.
Then there is Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who didn't mind comparing his team's completely rebuilt (and, some would say, "dismantled") roster to the asset-rich young roster that lost so many games for the Boston Celtics before they were able to trade for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007. Morey wasn't a Celtics employee at the time, but he did work for Boston during the spell that led up to Danny Ainge's killer summer of 2007. From the New York Times:
"It's very similar to what Boston did," Morey said. "Hopefully, it will yield the same result."
"Last season, we won more than half our games with a roster of youth and experience," he said. "I liked what we had, but we didn't have enough."
This time, he could end up with draft picks, young, intriguing players and salary-cap space in which to make his run at [Dwight] Howard or [Andrew] Bynum. That's the plan, anyway.
"We'll be very well set up in a year," Morey said.
Not what Rocket fans — who have been waiting year after year — want to hear. But it's not as if Morey can come out and tell a writer (in this case, the longtime Boston Globe columnist Peter May, writing for the New York Times) that "we're trying to trade for Dwight Howard, who is under contract to play for the Orlando Magic between now and July of 2013."
The problem with the Boston comparison is … well, the Boston comparison.
Ainge did a fantastic job in both gathering assets and drafting well during the years that led up to Boston's 2007 makeover, but he was also incredibly lucky that the stars he acquired were there for the taking. He was very lucky that Minnesota Timberwolves GM Kevin McHale declined Chicago's superior offer of Tyson Chandler and high lottery picks for KG in 2006, and Phoenix's reported and potentially superior offer of Amar'e Stoudemire and picks a year later.
Ainge was very lucky that then-Seattle SuperSonics GM Sam Presti thought as highly of Georgetown forward Jeff Green as Ainge did, and signed off on a deal involving Green and Ray Allen for cap relief that didn't hit (in the form of Wally Szczerbiak's contract) until the next season. He was lucky that Presti didn't press him to put the expiring contract of Theo Ratliff in the deal, an asset Ainge later used to deal for Garnett -- who enjoyed the five-year anniversary of his trade to Boston on Tuesday.
The Boston GM was also lucky, in a way, that his team fell in the 2007 draft.
Boston tanked to end the regular season, and in a move that I'll bring up anytime an NBA scribe complains about late-season tanking, the system righted itself (and for the similarly tanking Milwaukee Bucks, who ended up with the sixth pick in the draft) and gave Boston the lowest pick the NBA draft lottery bylaws would allow it to acquire. Had the Celtics ended up with the first selection, they would have taken Greg Oden; and don't let any revisionist chatter tell you differently. Had they ended up with the second pick? Kevin Durant, and a very nice (with Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Al Jefferson) core, but perhaps not a championship one.
And remember, without the trade for Allen, KG doesn't agree to the contract extension that led to his deal. So it's a tough guess as to whether or not KG would have made the similar jump to play alongside an 18-year old in Durant.
This isn't to call Danny Ainge lucky. You create your own fortune, and Ainge put himself in place to turn his team around (after years of waffling, it should be noted, since he came into town to break up the Antoine Walker/Paul Pierce duo) by drafting smartly in the lower reaches of the draft and dealing for contracts that could have been used as assets. His one blown draft pick, Jeff Green, wasn't even a Celtic for long after being moved to Seattle for Ray Allen.
Even Ainge will tell you that so much had to fall perfectly into place for him to engineer a 42-win turnaround and provide coach Doc Rivers with the parts needed to field an NBA champion. Hell, even McHale (now the coach of Morey's Rockets) would concede that.
It's a sound plan, on paper, should all the hypothetical deals go through and the Rockets reel in star after star. It takes two and sometimes three and four to tango on NBA trades, though, and Ainge had a heck of a lot of good timing with his tango partners in 2007.
Will Morey have the same luck? Only "The Plan" knows for sure.
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