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May 8, 2008

Shades of Red: With bold offseason moves, Celts architect Ainge took a page out of Auerbach's book

This year's Celtics team may not be the beginning of a dynasty, but it did have the greatest turnaround in NBA history.

Nobody would have believed that when a woeful 24-58 2006-07 club had the misfortune of missing out on franchise players Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in the draft.

When the pingpong balls didn't go Boston's way, and Celtics Nation wept, Danny Ainge went to work.

While Boston's executive director of basketball operations didn't have the wins, playoff appearances or luck before this season, he had young players who could play.

Al Jefferson was pegged as a future All-Star with his uncanny scoring touch around the basket.

The Celtics could have built around Big Al, the No. 5 pick in the draft and Boston's emerging young talent, but Ainge couldn't wait any longer.

He aggressively went digging for a franchise player. Allen Iverson was a target the year before, but the price was too steep — Jefferson, Delonte West, Tony Allen and a first-round pick.

This time he went to his good friend and former teammate Kevin McHale, vice president of the Minnesota Timberwolves, for the biggest available prize in the NBA.

Kevin Garnett.

Ainge called Paul Pierce with the news.

"I didn't believe it when he first told me," said Pierce. "I didn't want to get too excited because I got excited about Iverson maybe coming here. I basically didn't want to hear it, until it was done."

Ainge said he started talking to McHale two years ago. But last summer it became a possibility after the T-Wolves missed the playoffs.

The Timberwolves were frustrated with Garnett (and his $20-plus million a year contract) and vice versa.

Ainge, pulling a page from the great Red Auerbach, was given permission to fly across the country and meet alone with Garnett over lunch.

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