WALTHAM — Technically speaking, the Boston Celtics will have the 58th selection in tomorrow night's NBA Draft.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge met with the assembled media yesterday to "discuss" the draft possibilities.
But the dozen or so TV cameras and three dozen reporters in attendance at the Celtics workout facility in Waltham told a different story.
Something is brewing.
The Celtics, let's be honest, overachieved in 2008-09. They lost Kevin Garnett in late March pretty much lost any chance at repeating for a championship. Losing Leon Powe was probably the official nail in the coffin.
The fact that they almost beat the Orlando Magic, losing in seven games in the Eastern Conference championship series, was good enough for the masses around here.
Apparently, it wasn't good enough for Ainge.
With a healthy Garnett, maybe they are favorites next year along with the Lakers or Cavaliers.
"If we don't do anything (major), we are contenders, yes," said Ainge after yesterday's press conference. "So we're OK if that's the case. But if there is a chance to make our team better than we are now, of course I would consider it."
He's not talking about dealing away Brian Scalabrine or Eddie House. He's talking about at least one member of The Big Three, probably Ray Allen. He's talking about his talented young point guard, Rajon Rondo. And he's talking about his rugged center, Kendrick Perkins.
Basically, everybody outside of Garnett and Paul Pierce is fair game.
Allen's contract is expiring after the 2009-10 season, which means he is a prized commodity in the NBA. It means after one season, a team could open up some room on their salary cap for a younger free agent.
The fact that Allen is a Hall of Famer who can still pump in 20 points a game is the cherry on top.
Many deem trading Rondo ludicrous, but the Celtics guard has intimated he would like a new contract paying him near $90 million.
In an interview with The Eagle-Tribune a few weeks ago, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Rondo isn't an all-star quite yet because of his poor shooting, which probably means the Celtics aren't quite ready to sign Rondo to a "maximum" contract.
So when it is reported the Celtics are considering trading Allen and Rondo to Detroit for Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey, it's not as preposterous as people might think.
Why break up a contender? Look no further than the painful end of the Larry Bird Era.
After losing in the finals in 1987 to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, the beginning of the end was near. Like now, there was an aging Big 3.
"I lived it. I was there," said Ainge. "In 1988, I sensed that the era was over. Larry had two Achilles' heel injuries. Kevin (McHale) had a bad back and screws in his foot. And Robert (Parish) was nearing the end."
Then-Celtics president Red Auerbach either didn't sense the same thing or let his loyalties get the best of him. Or both.
"The funny thing was that at Christmas Party in 1988, I remember talking to Red, with Larry and Kevin right there, saying 'Why don't you make this deal for Larry? Why don't you make that deal for Kevin?''' recalled Ainge. "I even brought up my name. But that was a difficult time. The (death of 1986 top pick) Len Bias still was a little bit of a cloud on the organization."
By the time the 1990s started it was too late. The Big Three were The Old Three and ushered in a 15-year era in which the C's were perennial also-rans.
Ainge is looking at 2009 as 1988.
"I never feel we're good enough," said Ainge. "I obviously don't want to do bad deals. But we're always looking to get better and we'll make a deal if we believe we can."
The Celtics may be trying to create cap space for the 2010 offseason, when Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James will be free agents.
LeBron to Boston, sure, it sounds crazy. But so was Garnett.
The moral of the story is Ainge is not sitting on his laurels.
"I wasn't afraid of taking the last shot when I played and I'm not afraid to do something if I think it will help us in the long run," said Ainge. "The goal is to win championships."
If recent history is our barometer, don't we have to trust him?
E-mail Bill Burt at email@example.com.