The great Ian Thomsen elicited not one, but two of the best quotes on the tanking issue facing the Celtics  this season in his latest for Sports Illustrated  — both from C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
Here’s the first important phrase from Ainge, addressing what many believe is the strongest NBA draft class since the 2003 edition that produced eight All-Stars (including a guy by the name of LeBron James ) — headed by potential franchise players Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart and Julius Randle.
“If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar  was out there to change your franchise forever, or Tim Duncan  was going to change your franchise for 15 years? That might be a different story. I don’t see that player out there.”
Interesting. If this isn’t some strange attempt at a Red Auerbach -esque bluff, then tanking doesn’t concern these C’s — not only because of the historically poor Ping Pong luck of the Irish, but because Wiggins isn’t LeBron.
Besides, even if Ainge wanted to tank, it’s not like he’s gathering his coach and players around the locker room and delivering an anti-motivational speech. (Which, by the way, would be great: “Great draft picks are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One season. If we played 82 games, they might win 41. But not this season. Not this year. This year, we tank them. This year, we lose all of them. And we shut it down because we can! This year, WE are the worst basketball team in the world.” And a slow clap, of course.) Anyhow, as for real Ainge quotes, here’s that second important one.
“Those guys are all trying to win. They don’t want to go out there and play for a draft pick. Brad Stevens  in his first year as coach — he’s going to give a big pep talk about coming together as a team. How do you fake that? There’s not one thing fake about Brad Stevens. I think that’s why he’ll be able to sell it.”
Of course Stevens will sell it, because — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — coaches are ultimately measured on wins and losses, but the real question is whether his players will buy it. More from Ainge.
“I’ve experienced that, where you win a game, but [there]’s not as much joy as you would like it to be because there’s three or four guys who are not happy with their roles. In a lot of ways you’re managing corporations, because how you play them and how many minutes they play and what roles they play have a great deal of effect on their career earnings. That’s going to be a tough deal for Brad this year, the logjams at the different positions.”
Ah, yes. Here’s where the Celtics could potentially tank without trying to tank. As Jeff Green  said, the success of this team is more on the players than their coach. And the C’s two best healthy players play the same position. Gerald Wallace  already hinted at his displeasure in rebuilding, so how’s he going to feel when he loses minutes to Green? Likewise, the Kris Humphries histrionics and Jared Sullinger saga both have distraction potential, and Avery Bradley  is starting a contract season out of position — not to mention he’s one of five guys vying for shooting guard minutes (six if you include Green), and one of them is named Jordan Crawford.
In other words, the ingredients for tanking are there. Whether or not they boil over remains to be seen. Regardless, Ainge’s plan remains the same as it was when he accepted the Celtics position a decade ago: draft well, acquire assets and trade Al Jefferson  for Kevin Garnett , or whoever their equivalents may be in the future. It’s no secret Ainge would trade anyone on the roster, including Rajon Rondo , to acquire a Kareem or Duncan down the line.
“Rondo is a player that has value in our league, and there are teams that like him; there [are] questions about his injury. People like Jeff Green: He has great character, he has a decent contract for the kind of player that he can be. Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk — all these guys have value. So that’s the good news. But you still need some breaks along the way. You still need to draft well and develop your players, and those players have to be wanted commodities around the league.”
And, hey, if Andrew Wiggins falls into their lap, then tank you very much. Hence, Ainge’s final words to Thomsen.
“If all of a sudden Rondo’s out for the year and a couple other key guys, and maybe goals change over the course of the year. But starting the season out, we’re starting out full blazes. And see what we can do.”
You’ve gotta love Ainge just randomly dropping, “If all of a sudden Rondo’s out for the year,” out of the blue. Didn’t realize that was a possibility. Just one of the many reasons this SI article from Ian Thomsen  is a must read.