Season Ticket Holder Conference Call With Danny Ainge

Celtics Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge talked live on Friday morning with Celtics' season ticket holders about Thursday's trades and recapped the first half of the 2004-05 season. To read what Ainge had to say about the acquisition of Antoine Walker, the development of the C's rookies, Paul Pierce and more, read below.

Shawn Sullivan: Good morning. I'd like to thank everybody for calling in to the season ticket holder conference call this morning with Danny Ainge. Danny, good morning.

Danny Ainge: Hey. How are you?

Shawn Sullivan: Not too bad. It's - obviously we had a flurry of emails and activity overnight after the Antoine trade so we'll hop right into the questions at this point.

Question number one, why bring Antoine back at this point?

Danny Ainge: You know, I talked with Doc and we talked with management and ownership and everything, and we just felt like it was a good time to bring Antoine here. You know, Antoine has skills that we don't have. He has experience that we don't have on the front line and we just felt like his game could complement some of our younger guys.

And you know, there's a lot of talk about is Antoine going to make Paul play better? You know, I don't know so much about that other than Antoine, I think, has a chance to help us be a better team, if he conforms to the way that Doc wants to play. We know that Antoine has holes in his game but he also has the talent that can help us. And we felt like the risk was very low if Antoine comes in and helps us and we go to the playoffs and he is able to conform. Doc feels very comfortable and confident and can trust Antoine on the court, and we also have the best opportunity to retain him in the off season at a reasonable number.

And if Antoine does not conform and does not fit into Doc's plans and coaching style, then we have an asset that we could do a sign and trade, which is probably more valuable than the pick that we gave up to get Antoine. And the worst-case scenario is Antoine comes in things don't work out and he does not do a sign and trade and goes somewhere else to play then we think the risk was very minimal.

Shawn Sullivan: Now have you had a chance to talk to Antoine at this point?

Danny Ainge: Yes, I have. I basically told Antoine that we need him to come in and I need him to do whatever Doc needs him to do. He's probably not going to get the same kind of minutes that he's been used to down in Atlanta, and that the only factor that we care about is helping us win.

I told him that one of our biggest weaknesses as a team is fighting through adversity with our youth and inexperience and the emotional state of our team. We do not do a good job when things start going south and battling back. And I thought that his experience could help us a great deal. And that's the number one thing that I needed him to do, is to help us be a tougher mental team in fighting through adversity - when we lose a game, to help us bounce back the next night. Or you know, in the middle of the game when we lose a 16-point lead, we just have not been able to deal with those issues very well and a lot of it is the inexperience.

Shawn Sullivan: What was his reaction when...?

Danny Ainge: His reaction was that he was very excited. He is very enthusiastic to be coming back to Boston. He couldn't wait to get to Utah and hopes he can play tonight. And we hope he can play tonight. And he was very, very excited about coming back.

Now, we didn't get into any discussion about long-term arrangements; those are things that are just going to be handled in the summer. We'll see how this whole experiment works.

Shawn Sullivan: What was Doc and the coaching staff's reaction to the deal?

Danny Ainge: Oh, Doc was excited. He thinks that, obviously, a coach is always under stress in trying to manage these issues. And how can he best utilize Antoine? But he was very excited about Antoine coming in. He's coached against Antoine. He's a tough guy to match up and he's a versatile player and I think Doc likes that versatility and has some things on his mind, which he can try to implement. Doc and the coaching staff are very excited.

Shawn Sullivan: Speaking of Doc, can you take a minute or two to touch on your evaluation of Doc during the first half of the season as well as his assistant coaches?

Danny Ainge: Well Doc has done an excellent job. I think it's been a very difficult roster to manage because he's got a group of veterans and he's got a group of young guys that we're trying to develop and it's always hardest to try to win and try to develop at the same time. And that's what Doc is trying to do and that's what a lot of teams are trying to do.

And it's just so much easier to develop young players and not worry about winning but when you have veteran players that are young and that are part of your future like Paul Pierce and Raef and Ricky and so forth, you know, they don't want to lose. And so it's very difficult.

And I think Doc has done a good job. He's also had some logjams and we've tried to help eliminate that. It was very difficult for Doc because Walter was a fan favorite and a guy that had been here for a while and yet he kind of felt like he needed to play Walter minutes and he felt like with Jiri that he wanted to give him minutes, but he also really wanted to play Tony Allen some more minutes.

And so he's had some tough, tough, things to deal with throughout the course of the year. He wants to develop Marcus and Delonte and that's probably been his toughest challenge since Delonte has come back. And is trying to figure out who's going to get those leftover minutes behind Gary because they've both shown signs of being very good but they've both been inconsistent because of the inconsistent opportunities, I think.

Shawn Sullivan: Was, you know, was Tony Allen the thinking behind the Jiri trade? Because of his emergence over the last month and a half?

Danny Ainge: Well, here was the thinking behind the Jiri trade - we knew going into training camp there was going to be some wars for minutes. And it became clear to Doc that Paul and Ricky were our two best players and they are playing down the stretch in most games. And you know, Ricky has really won a lot of games for us down the stretch, and Tony had beaten out Jiri. Not necessarily that Tony is a better player than Jiri, it's just that he's different for what we need.

And then because those guys are really all two guards, and they were playing some small forward and two, we didn't have a bigger three. When we drafted Justin Reed the thought was that he might be able to develop into that guy. Well what we've seen in practice is we think that Justin can play some of those minutes that Jiri was getting and provide us with that 245 pound, 6 foot 7 beast of a player, a more physical guy to defend the Artests of the league. And so a more of a contrast at that two-three position to Doc - to Paul, Ricky, and Tony. And so that was going to limit Jiri's minutes even more.

I still feel the same way about Jiri as when we got him. He's a good player. He's going to go to Cleveland. He's kind of a player that you can fit into the piece they need and they need him a little bit more than us. They're going to give us a first round pick and we create less of a logjam and make it easier on Doc.

Shawn Sullivan: How do you and Doc project the lineup with the addition of Antoine to the rotation.

Danny Ainge: You know, I talked with Doc last night and they were going to have a coaching meeting again today. They had one yesterday but he hasn't decided on - and he might experiment a little bit, whether Mark or Raef or - I thought he was leaning a little bit last night maybe starting Raef and bringing Mark and Al off the bench in the four and the five. And starting Raef with Antoine but I'm not sure what he's going to decide. And it might - he might tweak it here and there. But that's probably what he was leaning towards last night. That could change today.

Shawn Sullivan: Gotcha. And with only eleven players on the roster, what are your thoughts now on rounding out the team for the stretch?

Danny Ainge: We feel like we need more of a veteran or just an experienced point guard just in case things go wrong. We really like Delonte. Matter of fact, it was interesting, Doc would probably share this with you if he were here this morning but he had an opportunity to talk with Jiri and with Gary yesterday with the trades and with the other guys too. But two interesting things they said... Doc does a good job when guys are moving on and he wants to know what he can do to be better and what our team can do, and what their perception of our team is and so forth.

And they both said that Tony and Al are getting a lot of attention as being these good young guys that they are developing. But both Jiri and Gary felt like Delonte may be the best of all of them.

When it's all said and done just because of his approach. His mental toughness. His ability to see the floor. He's not a flashy player like Tony Allen and he's not an inside scorer like Al Jefferson but he is just stable. And competent. And you know, we haven't seen that. It might be time to take the training wheels off for Delonte. That's been the instinct from Doc and I from the beginning of the season and he had a set back with his injuries but we really think that he has a chance to be a really good one. A really solid one I should say. He's not flashy enough to be superstar type of guy but just a really solid leader slash playmaker.

Shawn Sullivan: Now who would you compare Delonte to that's in the league right now or maybe somebody that you had played with?

Danny Ainge: You know, I think that Delonte has a pace about him like Bibby. He's not the ball handler that Bibby is. I think he has a chance to become a shooter like Bibby. And I think he's a much better defensive rebounder than Bibby.

Bibby is a little bit better off the dribble right now than Delonte and probably always will be. Mike played point guard forever and but I like the pace at which Delonte plays like Mike. And he's poised and under control. I mean, you see a guy that hasn't played but 50 minutes all year come in and play that fourth quarter like he did against Orlando that night that we were down and he led us back to victory. I mean Delonte, in my opinion, was the only guy that showed up with his sneakers that laced them up and played...

...through adversity against Denver the other night. On a bad night, I mean, he was still fighting all the way to the end. And he's just one of those hard nosed guys that knows how to play. And I think he's a great complement to the kind of players that we have too. I think he'll complement Al and Paul and because he can shoot and people don't guard him. And he makes smart, heady plays.

Shawn Sullivan: Now on the talks with Atlanta... the Antoine deal had been rumored probably for over a month but did those talks heat up more after Philly went out and acquired Chris Webber?

Danny Ainge: Not from my perspective. My thing all along was that I think Antoine can help us. It's kind of exciting. It gives us a little bit of a jolt. I respect Antoine's talents and what he has. I worry a little bit about some of the other things that Antoine brings to the table, quite honestly. But because of the fact that we didn't have to give up any of our future pieces, I say we gave up our worst pick over the next couple of years.

We've got five picks in the next three and we'll give up the worst of them. I don't think it's a high risk because again, we do acquire an asset in Antoine whether it is him as a player or as a sign and trade. So it might be more valuable than a first round pick. It probably is.

So I just don't think the risk was high. I say let's go for it. Doc wants it. Everybody on the staff wanted it. Let's just - let's give it a try because there wasn't - whereas, you know for the last month, I haven't felt comfortable with the price tag...

...that's been asked. So anyway I'm excited about it. I think it's worth a shot. I respect Antoine's talent. We need some of the things he brings to the table. And I hope that he can conform to what Doc wants him to do and make players better around him.

Shawn Sullivan: Now there was obviously a tremendous amount of trade activity that happened over the last day and a half. Can you tell us a little bit about what your last 48 to 72 hours were like?

Danny Ainge: Well, we were up until one in the morning. And we had discussions. You know the trade - there's so many things that are complicated. You might hear things like base year compensation and poison pill and those kind of things. And so it makes the math very difficult. We had two computer programs, Bill Reissfelder was here and Daryl Morey here and they were dueling computers trying to figure out all the different formulas that might work for trade possibilities as we were going through all of them.

And some of them we just do on computer. Some of them we were actually receiving some phone calls. Some we were instigating on our own. Ideas that we think would work. That we present to other teams and then there's a lot that we get calls and that we want to make counter proposals and so forth. There's a lot of that kind of discussion that's going on. And it's very complex and very complicated with salary cap and luxury tax, escrow tax. It's very, very complex-- much more so than people think. And so it's probably worse than draft day.

Shawn Sullivan: Really?

Danny Ainge: Honestly. With all the different possibilities that are going on. But you know, we were making a strong effort at Baron Davis. And he's had back problems for the last couple of years and so that was a little scary. But we were still, if the price was right, we were still making an effort to acquire him. We think he's a special player. And a lot of fun things were being discussed and possibilities.

Shawn Sullivan: Now does it go right up until three o'clock? The phone activity?

Danny Ainge: I got a phone call at five minutes to three with a trade proposal. It was kind of funny. I won't tell you the team but they said are you interested in trading Paul Pierce? I said no, and they said, okay, thought we had to... So anyways, well I heard you were trading him to Seattle. I said no that's just a rumor that someone started. It was never, never even discussed.

But no, it's interesting what happens.

Shawn Sullivan: Now we've touched on Delonte but can you take a couple of minutes to touch on the other young guys on the roster-- Al, Tony, Marcus, Kendrick, and even a little bit more about Justin because fans haven't had a chance to really see him.

Danny Ainge: Well, we really need Al to develop into a good player, because he's a low post presence that is really hard to find. And he's shown signs of great rebounding and scoring instincts that are really hard to teach.

I actually think lot of people are worried that we are bringing Antoine in and it's going to slow his development, but I think the exact opposite is true. I think that what Gary brings to Marcus and Delonte, even though it stifles a little bit of their playing time, I think that what he teaches them about how to play and the veteran tricks of the trade - I know when I came into the league to a championship team with the Celtics, I mean, man, I learned so much in practice from guys like Chris Ford who had just been around for so long, and all the little tricks.

All the holding and grabbing and cheating and things that happen. And I see that happening to Al every night on the court. I mean he just gets "out veteraned" I call it. And so, I think that the presence of Antoine - playing against him in practice and watching Antoine and the little tricks that he's able to get away with out on the court, and just some of those things can rub off on Al. And I think that it can maybe even speed up Al's process of learning the little tricks of the trade.

Delonte West, we've talked about him. Tony Allen. Tony - you know, when we drafted Tony, I felt like if he could become a consistent shooter, that he has a chance to be a star. I mean he is our best defender, our best rebounder, and the best player on the open court right now. And he brings a lot of intensity to the game.

Tony is a little bit of a free spirit, and we need to get him more focused. And that's why Tony wasn't just given the keys to the car early in the season, because Doc needed to teach him some things about work ethic. Tony loves to play and plays hard, but he doesn't really like to practice hard. He didn't like to work off the court hard, and that has really risen over the last few months. And he's starting to pay the price. And he's starting to recognize the rewards as a result of that hard work. And so we're really excited about what Tony can bring.

And then Justin Reed - Justin Reed, I'll tell you what. You know, Paul Pierce came up to me a couple of weeks ago and he just said, "When is Justin going to get to play"? And that's because Paul has to go against him in practice everyday. And I think he feels like he's playing against Ron Artest everyday in practice.

This kid is tough. He can defend. He can rebound. He's not a great athlete kind of like Artest. He's more to the ground. He's not a high flying act, but he can knock down open shots. And we think that Justin, because of that tenacity and that strength of his, we think he has a chance to be a really nice role player for us for years to come.

Shawn Sullivan: And how about Perk?

Danny Ainge: Perk was kind of the question mark coming into the year because what I see in practice, I've always been encouraged by Perk, even last year when our coaches just didn't think he could help us. I thought he could from what I saw in practice. But then again, I thought Chris Mihm could help us too.

And nobody else did. But Perk has really been a positive for us this year. I still think Perk has a lot to work on his game. I think he still feels like he needs to score too much instead of just doing the dirty work. We've had to have some talks with Perk recently about, "Hey, quit trying to be this enforcer. I mean, yeah you've got to guard the basket, but quit snarling at people and throwing them down on the ground." You know, the last thing I want him to do is be labeled as a thug early in his career, like a Danny Fortson who just gets fouls for touching people.

And we think he's got a better future than that. We think he's got a chance to be a better basketball player. But Perk has shown that he can rebound and block shots at the NBA level. But these guys are 20 years old and they still have a lot to learn, and you can see the inconsistency. And again, when they play against some veteran players, they get tricked a lot. And it's been difficult for Doc playing Al and Perk even though they've shown signs individually as being really bright spots for us. I don't think we have to speed that process up with Perk as much as with Al, because Al's unique ability to score on the post is something that we desperately need and we can't - we need to speed that process up a little bit maybe but not so much with Perk.

Shawn Sullivan: Now speaking of the veterans, how have you and Doc felt about Ricky's performance the first half of the season?

Danny Ainge: Ricky is maturing all the time. I think the biggest thing that we need to work on with Ricky is just getting him to conform to the whole team concept. Not just so much on the court, because Ricky has played extremely well especially in the fourth quarter. I think he's the second leading clutch shooter in the league right now. And if you keep clutch stats and percentages down the stretch of games. But one thing that people have to realize is that a lot of the success that Ricky has in the fourth quarter is because of the presence of Paul. And Paul is demanding the other team's best defender, and usually a defender and a half on him.

Whereas Ricky - like for example, in the Memphis game where Ricky hits the game winner. You know, Ricky has Mike Miller on him. He's a significantly less defender than the guy that is guarding Paul and so forth.

And then in Chicago... he's got Nocioni and Luol Deng on Paul and they are kind of hedging on the strong side on him and Ricky's able to go against Ben Gordon who's six foot one. So, Ricky has a great fourth quarter. And because of Paul's presence, Ricky is able to have a lot of that success. And that's why you need more than one. And I hope that people don't start saying, "Oh, Ricky is the guy that needs to have the shots instead of Paul".

If Paul has the tough match up and we can use him as the decoy and Ricky can get those shots, that's great. We don't care who gets the last shot. We just want the best opportunity and the highest percentage to make them.

But Ricky is still not grasping constantly. He's still a little bit immature. And some of the things that Ricky came with about just dealing with the adversity. Just maybe he doesn't get the minutes he wants. Maybe he doesn't get the shots he wants. And it's only when we lose. I mean when we win, Ricky's good. But when we're losing, he just thinks, "Dang, give me the ball more." And he's got to just conform a little bit better. And he's made great strides, and he's still just 25 years old. And so if Ricky can just think team basketball at all times, we have a very special player.

Shawn Sullivan: Which is definitely good to hear. I'm amazed. You forget with how long he's been in the league that he's only 25 years old.

Danny Ainge: No question.

Shawn Sullivan: How about Raef?

Danny Ainge: Raef has played well for us. I think, since the All Star break-- I don't think he played very well in Denver. I thought he played okay in LA. A lot of it, you know, we had some breakdowns inside and then their offense and rebounding just destroyed us. But watching the tape, I didn't think that much of it was Raef's fault. I thought he was playing pretty well. But Denver, I didn't think Raef played well at all. I think he's had an excellent, excellent year for us. And you can see the progress that he's made.

When we went on our nice little winning streak there, Raef was the catalyst. He was making big shots for us in the fourth quarter as the defenses were gearing toward our guards. And Raef can really stretch the defense. He's rebounding the ball well, and we were very happy with Raef.

Shawn Sullivan: Speaking of Paul, you touched on the trade speculation with him. But a lot of season ticket holders have emailed in. It really does seem like he's playing his best basketball over the last month, month-and-a-half of the season.

Danny Ainge: Right... and so I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't entertain all calls. Because no player is bigger than the franchise. And so we entertain everything. But there have been no serious discussions regarding trading Paul. And that is just because the value that we have on Paul is higher than what everyone else. The players that have been offered for Paul never come close to doing anything for Paul yet. But, I have to obviously entertain things for every player incase it can help the Boston Celtics be better.

Shawn Sullivan: Well that wraps it up for this morning. Danny, I'd like to thank you for joining us and thank all the season ticket holders for calling in this morning.

Danny Ainge: I'd like to thank our season ticket holders for their support. And we're trying to do this. Be patient with us and let's hope that we can make a good playoff push here.

Shawn Sullivan: All right. Fantastic. Thank you.

Danny Ainge: Thank you.