Boston's empty 'tank'

The Vertical
Yahoo! Sports

When it comes to defending his franchise from mounting suspicions of tanking the season for Ohio State's Greg Oden, history isn't on Danny Ainge's side.

Three years ago this week, Jim O'Brien quit as the Boston Celtics' head coach. He was tired of watching Ainge disassemble a playoff team, replacing them with suspect young players and misfit parts. The Celtics president himself said that maybe the resignation was for the best because O'Brien and his staff "came in with a design to win every single basketball game."

The nerve, huh?

Amazingly, O'Brien didn't want to give minutes to the Celtics' genius No. 1 draft pick point guard, Marcus Banks. For some reason, O'Brien wasn't sold. And as Ainge himself said, maybe it was best to drop into the draft lottery than make the playoffs. After all, Dwight Howard was waiting there.

Now, the Celtics are making a breathless push to deposit the most shamrock ping pong balls into David Stern's lottery drum.

So yes, take your time returning to uniform, Paul Pierce.

Keep coaching 'em up, Doc Rivers.

One of these days, Ainge is liable to force Rivers to play Sebastian Telfair – then you'll know they've gone into Operation Shutdown.

All in all, the Celtics have lost 13 straight games and done something that never happens in the NBA – no matter how many injuries, how many young players – by losing 10 consecutive at home. They've distinguished themselves with the worst record in the East at 12-33.

So much for Celtics pride.

Whether they're trying or not, they're making a spirited bid for Oden – bigger and bolder than M.L. Carr did in the pre-Pitino days. Rick Pitino still spins a story that he took the job because he believed it would include Tim Duncan, but that's nonsense. He hoped it would include Duncan, but he took the job because of the $50 million. When Pitino wasn't publicly selling that Duncan story, he was privately confessing to grabbing for the cash.

At the time, Pitino's ego was too enormous to think that it mattered who his players were. If he didn't have Duncan, he would win with someone else. Well, he tried, and it didn't work. When Ainge took over, he insisted that it would be different with him as CEO. Pitino had been out of the pro game and struggled in making personnel decisions, Ainge said. Just wait until old No. 44 started picking the players.

It hasn't worked out too well. And it comes down to this: Ainge has one shot left to save his flawed administration. It's the bounce of the lottery balls, the 7-foot generational center who made a stop at Ohio State. As a college freshman, Patrick Ewing was a scrawny, baby-faced kid. Hakeem still knew more about playing soccer goalie than center. Oden is different. He is 19 years old, going on 29.

After breaking his right wrist, Oden played the start of the season with one hand. He shot his free throws with his opposite hand and still made them. Kevin Durant of Texas could be a fantastic consolation prize at No. 2 &ndash which is why Larry Brown is hanging around Philadelphia's front office now, waiting to see who drops into the 76ers' lap before he decides about bumping Mo Cheeks off his bench.

Once the Sixers traded Iverson and bought out Chris Webber, you knew they were determined to make a push for Oden, too. At least they've been winning games lately. Last week, they beat Cleveland in overtime and won two straight on the road. That's something, anyway.

Three years ago, Ainge insisted he had to turn over these Celtics and keep them out of the playoffs. And three years later, the Celtics are still a befuddling array of spare parts, teen washouts and an unimpressive staff for player development. Ainge has tried to package his young players for a veteran star, but save for interest in Al Jefferson, no one in the league has been inspired to give Paul Pierce a running partner.

If Ainge does something to dramatically improve these Celtics before season's end, it will be a surprise – not that there's much out there for him, anyway. And if he feels compelled to fire Rivers this season – something he has said he won't do – it will only be because he'll get to promote from a coaching staff that doesn't include a credible replacement.

Whatever they're saying about trying to win, it's worthless.

Do the players care about tanking for Oden? Of course not. As Brian Scalabrine, late of two New Jersey NBA Finals appearances, has been saying for months, the AAU culture has created a generation of players who play game after game in the summer without a consequence for winning and losing. That indifference doesn't change in the NBA.

And Ainge has loaded up the Celtics with them. They'll lose because it doesn't hurt that bad.

"Losing has to bother you enough that you get so [ticked] off that you do something about it," Rivers said.

They can keep blaming the players for that, but it starts at the top. Ainge preferred the lottery over the playoffs when there was a long shot at Dwight Howard. Now, the Celtics are freefalling straight for Greg Oden, and no one with these Celtics seems interested in slamming on the brakes.

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