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As Pierce was maturing into one of the NBA's finest all-around players (with career averages of 23.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.66 steals), his supporting cast was growing progressively younger and becoming less supportive with each passing year.
The Celtics' 24—58 record last season was their worst in 10 years and included a franchise-record 18-game losing streak while a demoralized Pierce watched from the bench with a left foot injury.
"I had pretty strong thoughts that I wouldn't even be here this year," Pierce says now.
"I was wondering what the plan was, and I was wondering if I was in the plan." A new ownership group, which had taken control in September 2002, hired former Celtics guard Danny Ainge as executive director of basketball operations the following May, and over the next four years Ainge shrewdly drafted Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes and Rajon Rondo without benefit of a lottery pick—only to undermine that strategy with questionable trades for Raef La Frentz, Ricky Davis, Wally Szczerbiak and Sebastian Telfair.
By acquiring shooting guard Ray Allen from the Seattle Super Sonics and power forward Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves without relinquishing Pierce—forming an unparalleled trio of still-in-its prime NBA talent, with a cumulative 21 All-Star appearances and career scoring average of 65.6 points—Ainge made the Celtics relevant again."Larry's got casts on his feet [from surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels], Kevin's got a screw in his foot [to repair a stress fracture]—you've got to trade these guys." Everyone laughed at Ainge's typical audacity, but he wasn't joking."We're going through 10, 11, 12 games in a row lost, 13," recalls Pierce, who missed the first 16 of those losses. " • MORE NBA: Rubio Q&A | Teams with worst summers | 30 best contracts Yet Ainge was not discouraged.Despite taking heat in Boston for his regular overhauls of the team, he felt he had accumulated enough assets to pull off a blockbuster trade.
At the time Boston was reportedly considering trades that would have sent Bird and Mc Hale to the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively."Look at these two guys," Ainge told Auerbach, over the surrounding conversations of other players and their families.