While weighing whether to trade Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett this past summer, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge remembered how the franchise didn't deal aging stars Larry Bird and Kevin McHale while they still had value. Late Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach valued loyalty over business, and opted to hold onto the two stars until they retired.
And if Auerbach were still alive and running the Celtics today, there's at least one person who thinks he also wouldn't have traded Pierce and Garnett.
"I would have bet money that he wouldn't have done it," Auerbach's daughter, Randy Auerbach, told Yahoo Sports. "I don't know everything that has happened of late, but what I knew of my dad, I don't see him making that trade.
"I would guarantee he wouldn't have traded them. I'm definite in that."
Under Auerbach's leadership, Bird, McHale, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Dennis Johnson, Sam Jones and Bill Sharman either played their entire careers or finished their careers with the Celtics. Auerbach himself turned down a big offer from the New York Knicks because of his loyalty to Boston, his daughter said.
[Play Yahoo Fantasy Basketball: Catch video highlights and real-time scoring]
Prior to his retirement in 1992, Bird was hampered by back and Achilles tendon issues. The Indiana Pacers offered the Celtics forward Chuck Person, center Herb Williams and center Steve Stipanovich for Bird. The Dallas Mavericks also offered a trade for McHale, a Hall of Famer with back issues in his later years, that would have sent Sam Perkins, Dale Ellis and Detlef Schrempf to the Celtics.
Auerbach passed on both deals, and Bird and McHale retired as Celtics. The Celtics struggled for years after the retirement of Bird and McHale and the passing of Reggie Lewis. Ainge has said he once told Auerbach he should have traded Bird and McHale while they still had value. The 17-time NBA champion Celtics went 22 years without going to the NBA Finals before winning a title in 2008.
"In 1989, Larry had a bad back and two Achilles tendon surgeries and Kevin had a screw put in his foot. They weren't the same," Ainge said. "They weren't near the same players from that point on that they were in 1985, '86 and '87 when they were two of the best players in all of basketball."
Randy Auerbach said her father never seriously considered trading Bird and McHale. And if he had, her mother, Dorothy, would have talked him out of it. Randy Auerbach also said the Boston media would have "ostracized" her father if he traded two of the franchise's biggest stars.
"Knowing my father, I don't think trading them was an option," Randy Auerbach said. "If you look at his track record, he had more players start and finish their careers with the Celtics than any other team. That's Celtic pride.
"Players didn't come and go then. I don't recognize half the team now."
Ainge said he also didn't like seeing his stars leave, but he became open to change after the Celtics lost to the Knicks in the first round of last season's playoffs. Pierce is 35 while Garnett is 37.
"I've talked to [Pierce and Garnett] over the last few years, so I think the possibility [of a trade] has always been in their minds," Ainge said. "K.G. had a no-trade clause. At the same time, if there wasn't a deal out there for us, we would have been thrilled for Paul and K.G. to still be with us. There wasn't an urgency to try to do something."
That changed when the Celtics began talks with the Brooklyn Nets before the NBA draft, and eventually completed a deal that sent Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Nets. The Celtics received forwards Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, swingman Keith Bogans, guard MarShon Brooks, forward Kris Joseph, three first-round draft picks and the option to swap first-round picks during the 2017 draft.
"A deal came up to us that we thought was best for the Celtics franchise," Ainge said. "It was good for everybody involved. Those deals are hard to find. There haven't been many of those deals beforehand with a team that was willing to pay this type of luxury tax and give up a lot of young athletes. Those situations are unique.
"The packages were magnificent, I thought at the time and still [do]. In today's day and age, it's a little bit different. You rarely see players of their age – 35, 36, 37 years old – getting value or even first-round picks for players of that age. That is very, very rare, even if it's a late first-round pick. You just don't get first-round picks for 35-year-old guys anymore."
The Celtics' struggles after Bird's and McHale's retirement were in the back of Ainge's mind when he made the Nets deal. Pierce's memorable 15-year career with the Celtics came to an end. Garnett's was shorter, but he made a strong impact. Both should eventually have their jerseys hanging from the rafters in the TD Garden one day alongside Bird and McHale.
"We have eight draft picks over the next four or five years," Ainge said. "We are in a better position now than when I took the position 10 years ago."
Auerbach's daughter still doesn't agree with Ainge's logic.
"Given [Red Auberbach's] track record and philosophy of life, not in his lifetime would that have happened," Randy Auerbach said. "He really took a lot of pride in players finishing their careers with the Celtics. That was something very important to him.
"If it was for Chris Paul, maybe. We got nothing [for Pierce and Garnett]. You don't trade laterally, and we didn't even get laterally. But I hope it works. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to be wrong."
- Sports & Recreation
- Boston Celtics
- Red Auerbach
- Kevin Garnett
- Larry Bird
- Danny Ainge
- Paul Pierce