It was a different time, and a different kind of basketball.
But no matter how the issue is painted, Red Auerbach‘s daughter, Randy Auerbach, is adamant about this: Her father would not have traded career Celtic Paul Pierce, and he probably wouldn’t have let Kevin Garnett go, either.
Randy Auberbach spoke with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports about the Celtics’ big offseason moves, wherein president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sent Pierce and Garnett to the Nets. The reasoning was that the Celtics need salary cap space and the development of younger players more than they needed another failed run at an NBA title, and that Ainge did not want to make the same mistake Red Auerbach did at the end of the careers of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.
Bird and McHale both ended their careers with injuries, and the team turned down trades and did not try to get any value back when they were healthy out of loyalty to the stars. But the Celtics also went 22 years without a title after that point, a stretch that included some of the worst seasons the team has ever seen.
“I would have bet money that he wouldn’t have done it,” Randy Auerbach said of her father trading Pierce and Garnett. “I don’t know everything that has happened of late, but what I knew of my dad, I don’t see him making that trade.
“I would guarantee he wouldn’t have traded them. I’m definite in that.”
Randy Auerbach said her dad’s belief in Bird, McHale and others led him to stick with the players, no matter what happened to the franchise.
“Knowing my father, I don’t think trading them was an option,” she said. “If you look at his track record, he had more players start and finish their careers with the Celtics than any other team. That’s Celtic pride. Players didn’t come and go then. I don’t recognize half the team now.”
Randy Auerbach’s second point, though, is what puts her larger point in question. While Red Auerbach was fiercely loyal to his players and his team, he was also known as one of the most innovative minds in basketball. He adjusted with the times, and he likely would have adjusted when the NBA moved into its current era of flipping players while working around cap space.
Ainge’s defense has been that trading Pierce and Garnett was best for the Celtics, and he reiterated that to Spears, saying the type of deal he got for Pierce and Garnett is “hard to find.” The Celtics not only received players and financial maneuvering room in return, but also have a stash of draft picks.
Randy Auerbach would concede on one point — that the right type of trade may have been right. But she doesn’t think this was the right kind.
“Given [Red Auberbach's] track record and philosophy of life, not in his lifetime would that have happened,” Randy Auerbach said. “He really took a lot of pride in players finishing their careers with the Celtics. That was something very important to him. If it was for Chris Paul, maybe. We got nothing [for Pierce and Garnett]. You don’t trade laterally, and we didn’t even get laterally. But I hope it works. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to be wrong.”
There’s rarely a bitter taste when a Red Auerbach victory cigar gets lit, after all.