Celtics GM Danny Ainge told SI.com that one of the reasons he insists the Celtics aren't going to tank is because he doesn't see Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, or anyone else in what is expected to be a star-studded class, as a franchise-changer.
"That's harder than people recognize," said Ainge of losing as a strategy. "It's a really easy thing to conceptualize, and an easy thing to talk about and philosophize about. But it's a hard thing to live through -- for fans, for coaches, for owners, for sponsors, for our TV partners."
It was the pain of losing that forced his coach of nine years, Doc Rivers, to relocate, with great irony, to the Clippers.
"Right," said Ainge. "It's a really hard thing to do."
Without ever mentioning the name of the consensus No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, Ainge made it clear that he does not believe the Kansas freshman carries the value of Kevin Durant, with whom he is often compared.
"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," said Ainge. "I don't see that player out there."
Wiggins has been the presumptive 2014 No. 1 pick for over a year and is joined at the top of what is considered a great class by Kentucky's Julian Randle, Arizona's Aaron Gordon, Duke's Jabari Parker, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, and Australian Dante Exum, among others.
Ainge has insisted since trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on draft night that the team plans to compete and not tank, a strategy that could wind up putting them in the dreaded purgatory, not good enough to compete and not bad enough to acquire a meaningful pick. Even if Wiggins is not the star he's made out to be, there are enough other good players at the top to justify such a pursuit. And even if none of them are a Tim Duncan or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, if they're a Paul Pierce, is that so bad?
You have to get talent some way, and tanking is the most direct route to it for struggling franchises. But after watching how the disastrous 2007 lottery worked out for his team, Ainge has opted to go with the only model that's brought him success. He'll accumulate talented young players on flexible contracts and wait to trade for a star. That's actually as difficult a proposition as tanking, but then, the roster probably looks different from his spot than it does in ours.