ORLANDO — Three decades ago, they were on opposite sides of the NBA’s longest-running blood feud — Lakers vs. Celtics.
For the past decade they’ve held similar positions in Boston and Miami, dueling for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
But Celtics general manager Danny Ainge says he’s taking no joy in watching Heat president Pat Riley on the horns of the free-agent dilemma with LeBron James.
“I don’t take any pleasure in anybody’s pain,” Ainge said Thursday at the Orlando Pro Summer League. “This is a tough business and free agency is part of what we all go through. I certainly don’t take any joy in seeing great players leave organizations that have been good to them.”
Never mind that Ainge might have helped grease the skids for James’ departure from Miami by aiding the Cavaliers in their bid to clear out salary-cap space.
The three-team trade also involving the Nets that sent guard Jarrett Jack to Brooklyn and guard Marcus Thornton and center Tyler Zeller to Boston along with a first-round draft choice became official at the end of the free-agent moratorium.
Ainge says his only motivation is to help the Celtics improve for the upcoming 2014-15 season, though he is known to be still searching for a way to swing a deal that might land Kevin Love in Boston. At this point, the Love scenario is a very long shot, because the Celtics simply do not have the goods to interest Minnesota in a trade. But that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to try.
In the meantime, Ainge and Celtics coach Brad Stevens both see Thornton and Zeller as contributors to their team right away.
“Ty Zeller is a big strong center that can also stretch defenses with his skill and really run the floor,” Stevens said. “I thought it was all positive from our standpoint.
“First and foremost, he’s a great transition rim runner, can really get out and fly up and down the court. He showed that at North Carolina. He’s got skill and can score on block. He handles and is savvy and can play facing basket.”
“Marcus can bring scoring, probably as a bench scorer,” Ainge said. “He can get hot. He had a 42- point game last season and can shoot from the 3-point line.”
Ainge’s only comment on the James affair was to say: “Wherever LeBron goes, the team’s a contender. That’s how good a player he is.”
Stevens was hired just days ahead of summer camp a year ago and was still learning which door to walk through when he arrived in Orlando. Now he is getting his first up-close view of the entire free-agent process.
“I’m probably more knowledgeable about our situation than maybe I sound, but don’t understand it to Nth degree,” he said. “As far was watching free agency, it’s hilarious. I just sit back and enjoy it.”