NEW YORK — At first aghast, I figured Danny Ainge must be using Rick Pitino as his consigliere.

What other explanation could there be for the Celtics’ new tribal boss squandering the surplus skill of Antoine Walker (and Tony Delk) on the acquisition of Raef LaFrentz (Jeri Welsch, Chris Mills — an original free agent pull by Pitino — and a 2004 first-round pick) from the Mavericks?

The parcels in parenthesis are not much more than salary cap fodder and improbable visions of sugar plums.

I shuddered to imagine other plausible possibilities.

Is Ainge secretly a member of Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s cult?

Check it out; in 1998, the Suns donated Steve Nash to the Mavs for the draft rights to Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells and a 1999 No. 1 choice.

Sound familiar?

Guess who was coach of Phoenix at the time?

Then again, if I’m going to allow facts to get in the way of a premise, I’m bound to disclose the Suns turned that No. 1 into Shawn Marion.

Jerry Colangelo was prepared to take Jonathan Bender at No. 9 despite strong opposition from son and team president Bryan Colangelo, Ainge and the rest of the staff. There was much inner celebration in the Suns’ draft room when the Pacers picked Bender at No. 5.

So, what is it then?

What would possess Ainge to swap a quadruple double threat (points, rebounds, assists and turnovers) on a nightly basis for a guy whose only chance of averaging double figures (9.3 points and 4.8 boards per game last season) is to become a classmate of Vin Baker in a 10-step program?

Surely, I must be overlooking the obvious here.

Maybe Donnie Nelson, a Suns assistant under Ainge and currently the Mavs president of basketball operations, threatened to reveal Danny Boy really didn’t quit coaching so he could spend more time with his or Michael Jordan’s kids.

Maybe Nelson was going to divulge Ainge actually bailed (before being officially asked to leave) because he preferred to play golf all day rather than go to work.

Who knows, maybe the trade was simply an uncontrollable Caucasian Persuasion impulse. Maybe Ainge simply wanted the best available white player, excluding Europeans.

Maybe Ainge was never assigned to work TNT’s sidelines for a Dallas game.

Obviously, I’m at a pained loss to shed some intelligent light on the absurd.

You don’t suppose Ainge dealt for LaFrentz because he thinks he can play?

You don’t suppose he believes the 211-cm center can be a factor in the East as a starter? (That certainly clarifies why Tony Battie, say sources, is being shopped enthusiastically for a veteran point guard).

You don’t suppose Ainge is convinced the lefty’s shot-making/shot-blocking ability somewhat substantiates (it’s certainly not his see-through defense and spongy glass job) the $62.7 million guaranteed salary he has coming?

If not that, then what?

Naturally, Ainge is going to swear his undying love for LaFrentz now that he’s not going anywhere for the next six seasons.

At the same time, there’s no denying Boston’s new owners were disgusted by Walker’s undignified act — wiggling after scoring, taunting, trash talking opposing coaches, confronting abusive home fans — and Ainge was repulsed by his sorry shot selection and negligent care taking of the ball.

In reality, maybe this is purely your standard addition by subtraction transaction

There are only two surprises: It took until a week before the start of the 2003-04 season to expel Walker; and the Celtics got so little superficially in return; on Walker’s worst day, LaFrentz can’t favorably compare to him.

Or did they?

Due to the loathsome luxury tax, the majority of moves these days are made or not made based primarily on economics. This is definitely one of those cases to extreme.

While the rate of exchange between Boston and Dallas is basically even for this season (for salary cap purposes), the Celtics get massive financial relief next season.


Mills’ pay ($6.6 million) comes off the Celtics’ cap, they hoard an additional $1.3 million on the difference between Delk’s and Welsch’s deal and, because LaFrentz earns $9.087 million in 2004-05 and Walker pockets $14.625 million, an extra $5.5 million can be saved.

(FYI: Walker owns an escape clause after this season; no way were the Celtics going to re-invest had he opted out. It certainly means Antoine will be on his best behavior for this season in an effort to drum up interest in his services around the league, much less the Mavericks.)

In dollars and sense, that adds up to an alluring $13.4 million. Bearing in mind, the Celtics’ payroll next season would have been almost $59 million, well above the luxury tax, the trade saved them double the above amount.

As they say, it was a trade that helped both teams.

Ainge is breaking up the Celtics, getting fiscally sleeker, stockpiling draft picks, creating shots and minutes for Kendrick Perkins, Welsch and Marcus Banks, and not looking to compete for a title any time soon.

Paul Pierce must be thrilled he’s locked into the Celtics through 2007 when he’s free to opt out of his contract.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks run by a bozo billionaire, have greatly enhanced their chances of dethroning the Spurs, a team they came exceedingly close to beating in last season’s Western Conference finals . . . essentially without an injured Dirk Nowitzki.

Recently, Cuban secured Antawn Jamison, the Warriors’ leading scorer and Danny Fortson for backup point guard Nick Van Exel because he was willing to assume their mega long-term commitments.

Now Waker is in Don Nelson’s rotation along with Nowitzki, Jamison, Michael Finley and Nash.

Who says you can’t buy a championship?

Not George Steinbrenner.

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