Celtics  president of basketball operations Danny Ainge appeared on The Big Show Friday afternoon to discuss the NBA trade deadline and his team’s current performance.
Ainge praised the newest member of the Celtics, Nate Robinson , saying that he is “more of a scorer, and I think that’s what Doc wants him to be. That’s what he is good at and that’s what he should try to do.” Ainge said that the Celtics did not like giving up Eddie House  in the deal, but that Robinson is “just a more dynamic player.”
After a rough stretch to close out the pre-All-Star Game schedule, the Celtics are 2-0, including Thursday night’s win over the Lakers. Ainge addressed some of the current issues on the team, including the health of Kevin Garnett  and the play of Rasheed Wallace . On Wallace, Ainge said that his “biggest concern with Rasheed when we were looking at him this summer was that he didn’t come to play every night,” but he hopes he will give the C’s an edge in the playoffs.
He also talked about the health of Paul Pierce , and his place in history among the Boston greats. Ainge said that Pierce’s foot injury has healed, though his knee infection still causes some problems at times that leaves him at “95 percent.” He said that Pierce’s sustained excellence put him in a class among some of the team’s all-time greats including Kevin McHale  and John Havlicek, “outside of Bird and Russell.”
Below is a transcript of the interview. To listen, click here .
Were you happy with that game last night?
So what’s been going on when we’ve played the good teams over the last month ‘ we have a 14-point lead at Orlando, an 11-point lead against the Lakers here at the Garden ‘ so there have been a lot of good things going on. Our offense down the stretch, it seems like we quit moving. We are doing nothing but isolation basketball. We quit moving ‘ it’s not fatigue, it’s not age. It’s more bad habits than it is anything to do with talent. We saw last night that Ray is not old, Ray [Allen ] can play. Maybe he has been distracted the last few weeks. But here is the deal with Ray. One thing that’s lost, and that is why it was hard to move Ray considering our chances this year, is that Ray is having the best year of his career shooting the ball inside the three-point line. The only place he is struggling with his shot now is with the 3-pointer. His two-point shooting is the highest in his career and that doesn’t get noticed. Last night he made the spot up shot in transition which were huge and we are hopeful we can see more of that in the second half of the year.
When Ray is hitting those shots, your offense changes dramatically.
No question. Now we just need more movement. When Doc came out of the time out and Rajon [Rondo ] hit that running layup off the glass it was a huge possession and it went from side-to-side and it was a great possession. It’s not so much ball movement, it’s like we are trying to do it one-on-one.
Does it still come down, especially defensively, to Kevin Garnett getting healthy? He got beat and I don’t remember seeing that.
But you do, and Doug Collins  made a big deal of it on TV. Ray gets beat by [Sasha] Vujacic, it’s not speed that beat us there. KG gets blown by by Lamar Odom because he is late closing out on a wrong angle. It’s not speed.
You don’t think he is slower at all?
Yeah, he is, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that you have to play smart ‘ you have to get square and you have to take away the angles. When guys are getting beat off the dribble it’s usually more mechanics and more technique than it is speed. You watch him play against Lamar Odom last night, and most of the time he was great. Most of the time Lamar Odom couldn’t go by him, but when he does it’s not because of the speed. It’s because KG is not playing at the right angles. When [Pau] Gasol  blows by Rasheed, you look at his feet and at the angle he is playing him at. Because then he adjusts and Gasol doesn’t go by him the next time.
You feel confident he will get better by April?
Last year, we never thought KG was going to play. We hoped he was going to play. I had just as much hope as any fan. We never believe Kevin Garnett was going to play, but we hoped that he might be able to play. We were saying all along there was a chance he might play, but we are not counting on Kevin Garnett. That’s the first thing. The second thing is when he went and had surgery, the spur was bigger than anybody thought. So the pain he was experiencing was much greater than anybody thought and even the doctors thought. So that is the first thing we learned and that is not the first time I have experienced that when you go in for the surgery it is different from what the MRI and those things show. If KG plays like he did last night and he makes his shot ‘ I think he missed his last six shots last night ‘ he’s gone through stretches, and we are not talking about a game here and a game there, where he was making 70 percent of his shots. Last night he missed six down the stretch of the game. That has nothing to do with health, he has made those shots and he is shooting an amazing percentage. We need KG to play like he did last night healthwise. Make shots ‘ the answer is yes. Now, Rasheed did not play well last night ‘ couldn’t make a shot, didn’t look good defensively. Marquis did not play well, had one of his worst games.
Did he take a shot?
No, he didn’t. He made some bad defensive errors and just looked out of sync offensively. And we are still able to get a win, but those aren’t health issues. Our team is not in sync right now. So the answer is if KG plays like he did last night defensively ‘ rebounding he lost a couple of rebounds he should have had ‘ and he can make those shots that he normally makes that he didn’t make last night, the answer is yes. Because Paul is still not 100 percent.
Are whatever defensive problems you’ve had directly contributable to KG being hurt or is there more to it?
No, I’ll tell you something else. KG is one of the best defensive players in the league ‘ team defenders. And he is a big part of our schemes. But last year when he was out and we started 11 games with Brian Scalabrine  our defensive numbers were the same. We’ve got to be able to execute defensively, with or without KG. As long as he is not hurting our defense, which he is not, but again, it is the little things. and Doc keeps showing them over and over again, especially recently, on tape and you can see it and they can see it. And that’s why there is confidence in Doc and confidence in our players in what we have. Because they have just gotten away ‘ if anything I think Doc would admit right now that because they are veterans and because they’ve had injuries he has been a little bit light on them with practice time this year, for obvious reasons. I don’t think it is necessarily a mistake, but there are some reasons why we are not as sharp as we need to be.
Danny, can you talk more about Rasheed? What you expected and what he has given you.
I think that Rasheed is about what we expected. We had hoped that Rasheed would be a 35 percent three-point shooter. Right now I think he is shooting about a 30 percent. He did have a good January where he shot about 37 percent. I’m hoping ‘ Rasheed is one of those guys that in a seven-game series is capable of shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line, but he has never been that way in his career. And so you are counting and hoping that he is a 35 percent three-point shooter. He has given us about what we expected defensively. The emotional part of Rasheed, we’re foolish to think that we were going to get anything different than what we’ve gotten to this point. By the way, his technical foul was rescinded last night.
Oh, we’re down to 12.
Yeah, but still I think Dwight Howard  has more technicals than him. But the point is ‘ and by the way if Rasheed gets suspended for a game, when the playoffs start it starts all over. When the playoffs start you get a whole new seven.
He’ll need them.
He will need them, I understand that. And hopefully we go far enough in the playoffs where it will be an issue. But Rasheed has not been as consistent as we want, OK. But the last two games before last night Rasheed was not only good, he was our best player. Sacramento and New Orleans, he was our very best player. So I think that Rasheed is getting there. Last night, again, that was a step back; he didn’t play well.
Why does this happen? He seems to drift in and out.
My biggest concern with Rasheed when we were looking at him this summer was that he didn’t come every night. But he did come in big games. He did drift, but he has the ability to step it up and be the best player in a game on any given night. But you know in a seven game series he is not going to be there every night, but most role players aren’t. Most bench players aren’t. If you get three really good games out of a seven game series out of bench players, you are in pretty good shape. And you need your good players to be there for five out of seven games. Last year [Hedo] Turkoglu  gets this huge contract, he had one great game in our seven game series. It was Game 7, he played great, but he did not have a good series at all. And against Cleveland, you know, he is unbelievable. And I think that Rasheed is that kind of player. He has the ability to have great series, he has the ability to put together streaks. When he does make shots, we don’t even lose. I mean, we win. When he is making shots, we win. And I think that is an important element. What he brings to our team is important, and we need him to continue to get in shape and be more focused and I think he will toward playoff time.
I’m a little surprised that [Amar’e] Stoudemire stayed in Phoenix.
We did talk about Stoudemire, but I got a sense immediately that they weren’t getting the things that they wanted and I think they were frustrated. I think they would have liked to have moved him, but I think they like Amar’e and even heard rumors that they were trying to extend Amar’e with a two or three year contract extension. He is a terrific player and they just didn’t get what they wanted.
This deal for Robinson seemed to take a lot of time.
The deal was worked out ‘ we had talked about getting Nate back around the first part of the year around Christmas time or New Year’s before he went off for 41 points and the deal became a little more difficult. But as time went on the parameters of the deal needed to change, but we had a deal worked out. The reason why it was taking so long was that we were trying to do other things, New York was involved in other things. We had this deal on the side of one of the bigger deals we were discussing, but it was kind of agreed that is was going to be what it ended up being with Marcus Landry coming here and J.R. Giddens, Billy Walker and Eddie [House] going to New York, but if we needed those players we might have been able to change things up. But it was a complicated deal, but the complications of the numbers was worked out well in advance. We just never knew until about two days ago that we were doing it, but we were still trying to work out a bigger deal with New York that involved Houston or Sacramento or other teams.
Did you have interest in Kevin Martin ?
Yes, we did have interest in Kevin Martin.
There was the rumor with [Caron] Butler and [Antawn] Jamison . Jamison didn’t seem to make much sense. Did you really have interest in him?
Well everyone has interest in Jamison, he is a terrific player. But because of his age and his contract it was prohibited for us to get involved with him, so there was never discussion of that.
Did you like Butler?
We did like Butler and we did have some discussions about him. He is a terrific player ‘ he is young and athletic and his contract ‘ so we did try to see if we could do something with him.
Why did you have interest in Nate Robinson? Why was he having so much trouble with his coach out there? Are you concerned about that?
I’m not concerned about that. I don’t know all the details about that, whether Nate was right or the coaches were right. I will say this, that coaches are not always in the right. But I don’t know. I’m sure that Nate brought a lot of these things upon himself. I think that Nate is a terrific talent. He was glorified and idolized in New York awful quick. He was a dynamic player, a crowd favorite and really one of the best players on the New York team. I think that can create problems when young players get a little too much too quick. But I think, and everything that I learned from Nate when he was coming out for the draft, I talked with his college coach about him, I’m a fan. I’m a fan of him as a player and as a person. The only thing you worry about in a trade like the Eddie trade is not Nate coming in ‘ I’m not worried about that at all ‘ but I liked Eddie. We really like Eddie House and what he brought to the locker room and who he was, he’s a good guy. But Nate as a player is just a more dynamic player. He’s got speed, he’s got athleticism and as you guys watch as play, nobody gets in the paint except Rondo. And this guy creates space he creates energy and on top of that he can shoot, but he can create his own shot.
I was going to say he is the type of guy if you put him out for awhile he can get you 12 or 14 points. But it doesn’t seem to me that he distributes the ball. Does he have to be used in a careful manner?
I think it will take a little bit of time for Doc to figure all that out, but that’s not a bad thing. We are sitting watching LeBron and Carmelo last night, and they’re not doing anything. There is no ball movement. LeBron comes down and runs a pick and roll, and if there is a double team he kicks it to an open three-point shooter. And with Carmelo, they give him the ball at the elbow, he faces up and just takes open shots. I mean, college basketball  is a game because they players’ offensive skills are nowhere near what they are in the NBA. And in the NBA with a shorter clock and the talent you have on offense and on defense, patterns don’t create offense. Moving the ball around is overrated. Moving bodies is not overrated ‘ everybody cutting and moving ‘ and that is something we need to do more of down the stretch. But when you have someone like LeBron and you can just give him the ball and all of a sudden here comes Varejao and he sets a screen, that’s all the offense they have. Now you have to pick your poison. If you’re going to trap him, he gets it to an open shooter, if you don’t trap him he gets a shot, he gets in the paint and he creates offense. And that’s kind of what Nate it. Nate has the ability to just run high pick and rolls for the whole quarter.
You’re not putting LeBron and Nate in the same sentence?
No, absolutely not. But he is the kind of guy where you can run a high pick and roll offense for a seven-minute stretch. And he’ll make the open pass ‘ if they double him he’ll pass it to the open man. But you’re right, he is more of a scorer and I think that’s what Doc wants him to be. That’s what he is good at and that’s what he should try to do. And it’s not like what we are giving up is offensive creators or a point guard.
No, but he did open up the floor for you. When he is on, he’s had some huge games that opened up the whole floor.
Is there a future for [Robinson] with the Celtics past this year?
We’ll see. Time will tell if it’s a good fit for us and a good fit for him. And he’ll have options this summer to pick and choose where he wants to play, and hopefully it works out and its not just a short-term fix.
Speaking of the future, how much with this trade deadline do you have your eye on the future?
It’s my job to come to ownership and to establish and to identify the value of players. And then collectively we sit down and figure out what we should do. So if it is tempting to break up the Big Three ‘ if there is something there that would really give us some stability for the future and be something that we could not turn down for the present then we talk about it and we sit down as a committee and we try to figure out what’s best. That didn’t happen this time. We had some conversations and discussed those possibilities and talk about the future constantly, but those opportunities weren’t any good or even tempting. We didn’t come close to doing any of that this deadline.
Everybody over the last 24 hours has said that it seems you’ve decided to stick with the Big Three. It seems to me that you still have some flexibility when the season is over. When the season is over, you can still do a sign-and-trade with a team, and there are so many teams now that have put themselves in a position to get LeBron, Dwyane Wade  Chris Bosh ‘ they’re not all going to get them.
Right, sign and trades are a possibility. Just because you have a player with an expiring contract does not mean that player is gone. You also have the ability to re-sign that player, and in Ray’s case we don’t know what those numbers are. I think a lot of it is going to depend on what we want to do, what Ray wants to do and a lot of it is going to depend on how we play from here on out. But we do have options. The bottom line is you try to find anything out there that will tempt you. You try to find some value and then you take those back and try to discuss the future and present and weigh those. I can tell you that we had a ton of discussion; we talked with a lot of teams and we had some wish-list players. And those weren’t there.
Hard to imagine that with all the rumors out there, there was something that wasn’t reported. Was there anything going on that wasn’t reported?
I would say that the things that are reported were probably not true, this time around. I’m not saying that is always the case. In this trading deadline, I picked up the paper one day and was reading and it was amazing to me that the things that were reported had no truth and the things that we were discussing were not being reported. There are a lot of things happening that aren’t being reported and you get to learn in this business as you deal with people who you talk to, how fast it gets out. And you kind of follow that and there are some people that you can really trust within this business and some that just can’t help themselves but talk, or there is leaks within this organization.
Do you ever use them to try to manipulate things?
I don’t, though I think that that does happen. I’m not sure if it is agents or teams, but I don’t think that it is helpful. There are times where you are fearful that anyone knows what you are doing because if someone else got wind of what you were trying to accomplish it could affect things. As a matter of fact, there are some things that were reported that got us real close to doing some deals and it might not have happened without them being reported. Because things that we were offering ‘ players ‘ and it spurs on well, maybe this team can get us that player. And then you see, well, maybe San Antonio likes this player. And there is no way to know that unless you sit down with San Antonio and ask them what players they want, and nobody wants to tip their hat unless you have a working relationship and a partnership with other teams and that can be really helpful.
The difference is, these guys find they have to get the story out as soon as possible even if it isn’t totally right. You get out there, you Twitter and get the first line of the trade and then correct it 15 minutes later.
Now it’s a race, it’s a race for the scoop and accuracy is not important. If you get any bit of it ‘ you say Butler and Jamison ‘ that is considered accurate even though Jamison’s name has never been mentioned. There is some truth in the Butler part and there’s some discussion happening, but there is no truth in the other part and some of the players we are offering and things like that.
You know what happens in that case. One team is discussing something with one team and all of a sudden they hear Boston is interested, so they assume it is those same guys.
You are exactly right, it is a race, so if they hear it, boom, it’s out. And it’s all over and it builds.
Does it come a distraction in all of this?
It’s annoying, I will say that. Having to deal with media people all the time saying, oh I heard this rumor and so forth. I’d rather not deal with it, but it can be helpful.
You mentioned that Paul is not entirely healthy. What else can you tell us about that?
I just don’t think that he is 100 percent. I don’t think that he is jeopardizing hurting himself going down the season, I think he needs to get himself back in shape. The infectious knee is starting to get there and I think his foot is not an issue anymore, I think the foot is fine and is 100 percent. His knee is still a little bit sore here and there, but there are no structural things, it is just an infection. So he has good days and not so good days, but I think he is 95 percent.
He looks slower and lumbering at times.
I think that what we are doing is we have the ball in his hands too long, and Paul starting from a dribble is not explosive. Paul starting with a live dribble and catching the ball at the elbows, he still has explosiveness. But last night, we saw at the end of the game he is dribbling and he’s got Artest outside the 3-point line, he’s trying to run clock and he is starting from such a distance. I think he needs to catch the ball with a live dribble and face up and jab and then use his speed and quickness. I think that Paul still has his explosiveness.
What can you tell us about how meaningful it was for Paul to win the three-point contest and his comments?
I think that is what makes Paul a good player, and all good players. Whether we believe it or not, I love the fact that he thinks that. But what about the comments they were talking about where Paul falls in Celtics history?
I’ll give you my opinion Danny. I love the fact that it means so much to him, but is there anything bad in that? Is there a personal agenda?
Not at all. I’ll tell you this, Larry [Bird ] wanted to win. Larry Bird was out practicing for weeks. No question, Larry wanted to win and Larry used gamesmanship like Paul was doing. He was talking trash to guys in the locker room, so I don’t have any problem with Paul wanting to win. That’s what makes guys great, is he wants to win.
He failed at it a couple years ago, so he probably looks at that as an important thing. The mistake they make ‘ they did it last night with McHale when they try to argue about the top five or top 10 Celtics. And I certainly think Paul Pierce is in there, but this organization has had so many great players who do you throw out of the list?
Here’s the thing, if you put Paul Pierce with Robert Parish  and Larry Bird, he’d have championships, especially in the prime of his career. Paul Pierce is a fantastic player and he’s done it for a long period of time. He’s been a great player and you saw the year that he did have some help ‘ and he had an aging KG and an aging Ray Allen ‘ he was the MVP of the finals, 45 points in Game 7 against LeBron James . He wasn’t a good player, he was an unbelievable player. If Paul played more games like that in the prime of his career, I don’t think it would even be a discussion. The problem is you have [Bob] Cousy , who was an MVP of the NBA, and you have [Dave] Cowens, who was an MVP of the NBA, along with the obvious two, [Bill] Russell  and Bird, you’ve got to have those four guys because they were the best in their league. So I think when you’re talking about Pierce and Havlicek and McHale, those guys are all great players and I think Paul is definitely in that discussion, without question. And I think because of his sustained greatness, he could be in the discussion with the others outside of Bird and Russell.
Did you get upset at all about the fact that Cleveland is able to go out and get Jamison and 30 days from now [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas  could come back and be on that Cleveland roster? The reason I ask you the question is you guys did the exact same thing in going to Atlanta and getting Antoine Walker  back, and getting [Gary] Payton back.
You know what, it doesn’t, because it is a rule that we are all aware of. You can’t manipulate it, you can’t make deals before hand and say we are going to trade you and you are going to come back. That is against all the rules and if you get caught it is a pretty severe penalty doing that. The fact that Ilgauskas has been there his whole career. I think that most teams that have heard that or read that are wondering and sitting on the sidelines and waiting to see what happens because he can help a lot of teams. But you can only play five guys at once. They’ve got Shaq, they’ve got Varejao, they’ve got the kid [J.J.] Hickson, who has been playing great. But I’m still more worried about LeBron.