WALTHAM, Mass. >> It was the first thing Celtics general manager Danny Ainge told Kris Humphries on Monday when the two sat down to talk: “We’re not tanking.”
“It’s the first thing he told me, too,” said Keith Bogans, who came to Boston along with Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks and three first-round draft picks in the deal that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets. Boston also sent Jason Terry to Brooklyn and acquired Kris Joseph.
The deal followed the trade of coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers, and it continued the rebuilding process that has been seen — and, from many in Boston, welcomed — as an attempt to “tank” the season, racing to the bottom of the standings to land a top pick in next year’s talent-rich draft.
Not so, says Ainge.
“I’m not sure I used that word,” Ainge said, though both players said he was very specific with his expectations. “I think every player wants to know what the rules of the team are. I assured (them) we’re going to try to win every game.”
The three new Celtics — Wallace couldn’t make it, and Joseph was waived later Monday — met reporters in a news conference at the team’s practice facility. It was Ainge’s first availability since the deal to unload Garnett and Pierce that was agreed to on draft night and finalized on Friday.
“If it were my decision alone, their numbers would be hanging in the rafters,” Ainge said. “Their legacies have been made here in Boston. At the same time, we’re still going to try to beat them.”
The dismantling of the team that won the 2008 championship and returned to the NBA finals two years later actually began with the trade of Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City in 2011. Ray Allen’s departure for the Miami Heat last offseason broke up the new Big Three, and the team’s first-round playoff exit this season convinced Ainge that the time had come to rebuild.
Rivers was allowed to leave for the Clippers — bringing a first-round draft pick in return — and he was replaced by 36-year-old Brad Stevens of Butler, who had never coached or played in the NBA but could grow with a young team.
All that was left was finding a new home for Pierce and Garnett and their guaranteed contracts.
“Brooklyn showed a great deal of interest in putting a dream team together … at any cost, it seemed like,” Ainge said. “We felt like, where we were as a team, it was going to be very difficult to be a championship contender (had) we kept Paul and KG. The opportunity presented itself. It’s a situation we needed to do.”
Ainge said it was difficult to part with two players likely headed to the Hall of Fame.
“Those two guys are two of the greatest players who probably ever played the game,” Bogans said. “I’m not going to try to live up to what those guys did.”
Ainge praised the skills his new players will bring, saying Humphries will help the rebounding on a team that suffered without it. Bogans has been “highly regarded by every coaching staff that he’s been on.” And of Brooks, whom the Celtics picked in the first round of the 2011 draft and then traded away, Ainge said, “We should have kept him.”
Ainge said the team had not made a decision on what to do with Joseph, but about an hour later the team waived him. “We have a few too many guaranteed contracts,” he said before the decision was announced.