Danny Ainge has wheeled and dealed all summer, from inspired draft picks to stunning trades, but his best move, even in light of the latest rumor broken by Eric Pincus yesterday, may have been keeping Mark Blount. Here's why.

Ainge's vision is a talented and versatile team that can score in a variety of ways, including fast breaks. He wants most of the players to be able to shoot, pass, dribble, and rebound. He wants a team of masters-of-all-trades, a team of five Kevin Garnetts or Lamar Odoms.

Where does such a vision naturally lead?

What position in basketball tends to have the most versatile players? Point guards tend to be too short to also rebound and be able to score in the low post. Centers tend not to be able to handle the ball well or pass. Power forwards tend to be poor passers and ball handlers while shooting guards tend to either be too short to rebound or just small forwards in disguise.

Such a vision naturally leads to a team of small forwards. And that's exactly where the Celtics would be right now if it weren't for the signing of Mark Blount.

Look at the roster without Blount:

C: Raef LaFrentz/Kendrick Perkins
PF: Tom Gugliotta/Al Jefferson
SF/SG: Paul Pierce/Ricky Davis/Jiri Welsch/Walter McCarty/Tony Allen
PG: Gary Payton/Marcus Banks/Delonte West

McCarty had been played at the power forward last year but he's probably a bit of a tweener. Pierce is listed as a shooting guard but he rebounds like a small forward.

With this lineup you have arguably your best players all on the wing. Big Al is not ready for major minutes yet and Gugliotta is a decent backup at best. LaFrentz is still a bit wobbly and Perkins, who may be the most versatile of the bunch, is utterly untested in non-garbage minutes.

Without Blount, you'd have times where Pierce, Davis, and Welsch are all on the court at the same time, with none of them at point guard. That means either Davis or Pierce is playing the power forward. It's a fun, fast-paced, and talented team, but it's not going anywhere.

Now add in Blount. He's this team's only true, reliable center, someone you can count on night in and night out to man that position and not have to worry about being outmatched every time.

With Blount, this team has a chance to compete with anyone. Blount is not a future Hall of Famer and he's not likely to be an All-Star, but without him, this team has no core and no future.

Blount is to Boston's Pierce and Davis what Bill Cartwright was to Chicago's Jordan and Pippen. By no means even the best player on his team, but a solid option in the middle who can mitigate the size advantage of other centers and can get his share of rebounds on both ends of the floor.

With the latest trade rumor of LA sending Luke Walton and Devean George to Boston for Marcus Banks and Yogi Stewart (who I intentionally did not include in the roster above because he will not see any minutes), that would make this team nearly entirely small forwards. Again, consider what it would be without Blount:

C: Raef LaFrentz/Kendrick Perkins
PF: Tom Gugliotta/Al Jefferson
SF/SG: Paul Pierce/Ricky Davis/Jiri Welsch/Luke Walton/Devean George/Walter McCarty/Tony Allen
PG: Gary Payton/Delonte West

That is the danger of looking for versatility: you end up with a team of swing players. Such a team needs to be anchored at both ends, with a reliable center in the post and a decent ballhandler at point. Chucky Atkins would have been fine. Gary Payton is better. But point guards are a lot easier to find, especially if you are not looking for versatility, than centers.

Without Mark Blount, playing the five best players together would mean playing Paul Pierce at center.

Congratulations to both Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge for being able to bring Blount back after he was 99.9% sure after the first round of the playoffs last year that he wasn't returning. It's a little move with a big man but it may have been the most important move of the entire offseason.


p.s. Now, to analyze this potential trade of Walton and George for Banks and Yogi on its own merits, and in the real world where Blount is around: Banks is or will become one of the best defensive point guards in the league. There is no question about that. Even in his rookie year he led the league in steals per 48 minutes. He can blow by his man at will and get to the hole, though unlike in college, he can no longer finish as freely as he used to be able to do. He needs to learn the drive-and-dish, which will make him an unstoppable force. The Celtics had two chances to get Luke Walton in the first round of last year's draft but they went with Banks and Perkins instead. If Walton had fallen all the way to the end of the second round (unthinkable), Boston would surely have picked him up instead of Brandon Hunter. Yet the fact that Walton was a second-rounder makes his contract slightly less attractive: he is in his last year and Boston has no guarantees that they would be able to bring him back after next year.

The positives about Walton are obvious: he's a pass-first power forward who would probably play better at the small forward. He can bring a stabilizing impact to the game. He can hit the threes. He can rebound. He's even a good locker room presence. If there was a way to trade e.g. McCarty for Walton, that would be a layup.

Give up Banks? To the Lakers? Again?

It's a tough call. Walton would have to play power forward for the C's, and he could be quite good there. But where's the upside? The more minutes he plays, the more other teams will be interested in him come next offseason.

Perhaps it would be better to just keep this interest in abatement and wait until next offseason, then swoop in with an offer the Lakers can't match. That way you keep Banks and you don't need to burden your roster with yet another small forward (George).