Masai Ujiri
Masai Ujiri made enough mistakes to win an NBA Championship. HUH? That sums it up well. Let me explain. (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

There is a very popular narrative that’s going around the NBA today. Masai Ujiri is awesome and Danny Ainge sucks. I get it. That’s the easy thing to do. After the Raptors won an NBA championship and the Celtics seemed to disappoint at every turn, that narrative has become loud and clear. What if that really isn’t true? Let me explain.

I have been seeing a lot of people beat up Danny Ainge today. Again, I get it. The Celtics didn’t have the season everybody thought. However, I want you to do something. Look yourself in the mirror and tell me the mistake that Danny Ainge made. Was signing Al Horford a mistake? Nope. In fact, the alternate universe where the C’s sign Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard, or Bismack Biyombo (the other high price free agent big men in 2016) is not a better alternative.

How about the Nets trade that captured three first round picks and a pick swap that turned into the number one pick in 2017 for dinosaurs Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Was that a mistake? The alternate universe where that trade happens slows the Celtics rebuild by 4 or 5 years.

How about drafting Marcus Smart? Was that a mistake? How about paying Marcus Smart? Was that a mistake? Nope. He’s not only been a great Celtic but he’s lived up to his contract.

Masai Ujiri
What if the Celtics drafted Markelle Fultz OR Josh Jackson instead of Jayson Tatum? Is that supposed to be a better outcome? (Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty Images)

What about drafting Jaylen Brown 3rd overall in 2016. Was that a mistake? Nope. The alternate universe where the Celtics draft Kris Dunn instead is not a better one. How about drafting Jayson Tatum? Was that a mistake? The alternate universe where the Celtics just draft Markelle Fultz instead is not a better one.

Was trading for Kyrie Irving a mistake? Nope. The alternate universe where the Celtics max Isaiah Thomas instead is a horrible one. Was signing Gordon Hayward a mistake? Well, maybe in hindsight. However, it’s impossible to predict a guy will break his leg in the first game he plays. Several teams were willing to max Hayward. Ainge’s thought process was not an incorrect one. Was trading Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris a mistake? Again, NOPE.

Isaiah Thomas
Is the alternate universe where the Celtics max Isaiah Thomas a better one? HELL NO! Instead, the rest of the world realized what we already knew. IT sucks… (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

SHOW ME THE MISTAKE DANNY AINGE MADE! You can’t find one. Did he nail every single draft pick? Sure, he had a James Young thrown in there. Everybody misses in the NBA Draft where 90 percent of the picks flame out. Ainge has won virtually every trade and never handicapped his cap space. Show me another executive in the league that has done that? The list is Ainge. That’s it.

That’s just the way the cookie crumbled. Ainge was virtually perfect, yet things didn’t work out. I don’t have an explanation that makes sense. I guess that’s just the NBA.

Okay, now let’s look at Masai Ujiri. Before I begin, I want to state very clearly that Ujiri deserves praise. If you’re not first, you’re last. I truly believe that. However, in some weird way, his mistakes helped him.

Masai Ujiri
If Masai Ujiri was so smart, then why did he give DeMarre Carroll $58 million? Ujiri later gave the Nets two draft picks just to dump Carroll two years later.

Was signing DeMarre Carroll a mistake? Yes. Ujiri gave Carroll $58 million over 4 years. YIKES. In fact, Carroll was such a mistake that Ujiri later sent Brooklyn a first and second round pick just to get rid of his contract in 2017 just two years into the deal.

Was trading Terrence Ross and a first round pick to Orlando for Serge Ibaka a mistake? Probably debatable. However, when you factor in that Ujiri handed Ibaka a $65 million contract over three years, Orlando probably got the better end. Is there a team in the league that would take Ibaka’s $23 million salary for next season without demanding draft picks? Nope. It’s a bad contract.

Was signing CJ Miles to a 3-year deal worth $25 million a mistake? Oh, yeah. Miles quickly found his way off the roster. Was trading Cory Joseph for Emir Preldzic a mistake? Who???

Was signing Jonas Valanciunas a mistake? Duh. No Gm in their right mind would hand big Jonas a contract worth $64 million over 4 years. What does Jonas even do well? I honestly don’t have an answer. Was signing DeMar DeRozan a mistake? Hell yes. There’s not a GM in the league with a brain that should have wanted or given that contract out. DeRozan has proven that he’s a mid-range jump shooter that provides zero defense, zero 3-point shot making ability, and zero heart. This is a guy who was benched in the middle of a playoff series for quitting on his teammates. $139 million for a guy who quits on his teammates and can’t make a 3 is a bad contract. Not debatable.

Masai Ujiri wasn’t perfect. Far from it actually. Somehow, someway, his mistakes actually helped him. Ibaka became an asset in the NBA Finals against an injured Warriors team that couldn’t rebound. Brooklyn happily took Carroll’s contract off its hands. Jonas Valanciunas and CJ Miles magically turned into Marc Gasol. How? I’m not sure, but Memphis gladly bailed them out.

Then there was the ultimate cherry on top that eventually sealed a championship. Kawhi Leonard became available. From a Celtics point of view, it seemed crazy to give up Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and more for a rental Leonard who would have left in a year. That’s the only way Ainge could have acquired Leonard because that’s the only way he could have matched salaries. Should Ainge have done it? Maybe, but it’s hard to say how it all turned out. The Raptors smartly became the team that struck on a Leonard. Not only did Toronto land Leonard, they somehow convinced the Spurs to take on the hideous DeRozan contract. It killed two birds with one stone. Somehow a mistake turned into a no brainer win.

In reality, it doesn’t make sense. How could it be a better thing to make mistakes? I guess that’s the NBA. How in the world did the Raptors win a title while drafting just one player on its championship team? I didn’t even mention Kyle Lowry who has been more of a choke artist than anactual contributor. In what planet is he worth $30 million per year?!? Making mistakes is just part of the formula. Getting teams to bail you out to correct those mistakes is the key to winning a championship. Does it make sense? Nope, I’m sure Masai Ujiri doesn’t care, he’s an NBA Champion. Just remember, before you bang on Danny Ainge, he’s been virtually perfect. It just so happens that being perfect was a bad thing.