Volk steadfastly defends the team's decision to stick with the Big Three: "It's not fair to look back, because you have the benefit of hindsight. We believed then, and we still believe, that great players deserve to have their loyalty reciprocated."
Still, for two seasons Gavitt basically stayed the course, eschewing trade offers, watching the Big Three grow old, and making just one deal, in 1991: Shaw to Miami for fellow malcontent point guard Sherman Douglas. ("An Excedrin deal - one headache for another," quips Ryan.) The team still had valuable players, yet Gavitt stood pat and refused to change the mix. After Bird retired, the team signed veteran Xavier McDaniel to fill his position, a curious signing considering McDaniel's age (31) and declining ability. The whispers grew louder about Gavitt, and when he skipped the 1993 All-Star game weekend in February (where all executives appear and talk trades) for a golf trip, Jackie MacMullen finally wrote an article in the Globe questioning his work ethic.
"I had a lot of history with Dave," says MacMullen now, "and I really respected him. I think he had no idea what it would take, that the NBA was just a different world from college. He had the most incredible support staff at the Big East, but in Boston the old guard always considered him an outsider; the minute things went bad, they all distanced themselves from him. Dave's a purist. He just didn't like the NBA glitz, or schmoozing, or trying to figure out salary caps, or working the phones for trades every night."
For everyone who followed the team during this time, Gavitt's era remains the most discouraging, puzzling experience of all. Ryan calls Gavitt's reign "one of the biggest personal disappointments I've ever had. Here's one of the most respected guys in the sport, but I have to come to the reluctant conclusion that he just didn't work hard enough in Boston. I mean, it's hard for me to digest the notion that he came in and said, 'Oh, what a way to make easy money,' but that seems to be the case."
The three-year span from 1991 to 1993 was a turning point for the franchise. Bird retired in 1992; McHale after the '93 season. Parish was hitting 40. Something needed to be done, but nothing was done. The front office gambled on the health of Bird and McHale and lost miserably. They put their faith in Shaw and ended up giving him away for Douglas and his untradeable eight-year, $27 million contract. They thought they found a potential All-Star in Brown, who won the slam-dunk contest and played spectacularly in the '91 playoffs, but he injured his knee the following season and has never fully regained his confidence. Another young hopeful, Rick Fox, was harangued by coach Chris Ford for on-court mistakes and quickly lost his confidence. Call it bad luck, call it bad management, call it bad timing, but the Celtics were falling and nobody was stopping them.
Lenny Bias's curse loomed again in the summer of '93, maybe the darkest period in Celtics history. On July 27, one month after Auerbach suffered a near-fatal heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery, Reggie Lewis dropped dead while shooting baskets at Brandeis University.