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The Ruthless Approach of Danny Ainge Has Made the Celtics Great Again

Danny Ainge Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Although once a dominant team in the Boston market, the Celtics share the local spotlight with the Patriots, helmed by “The Hood” Bill Belicheck. Similar to Belichick, Celtics GM Danny Ainge isn’t afraid to take criticism. In a city where the Pats are expected to be great year in and year out, Ainge with his brash ways is very similar to New England’s football guru. Both men will cut or release a player, even a star it seems, without losing even a wink of sleep.

Thirteen years ago, Boston Celtics owner Paul Gaston decided to sell the franchise to a group named the “Boston Basketball Partner LLC” headed up by Irving Grosbeak, Wycliffe Grosbeak and Steve Pagliuca. Danny Ainge was already in-house as President of Operations continued to watch Celtics with then-GM John Wallace. A one time power house of NBA, Boston continued to underachieve showing no signs of the “old Celtics.”

Fast forward to 2007 … Ainge, already wearing the President’s jacket, decided it was time to throw on the GM cap.

During that summer, the Celtics executive wasted no time at all. He went into his first draft and started with a bang. With superstar Paul Pierce in the prime of his career, Ainge broke out his rolodex working the phones to get “The Truth” some needed help.

Holding the 5th overall pick in that year’s draft, Ainge made an offer to Seattle and the Sonic’s bit. By the end of call, Ainge swindled the Sonics for 3pt sharp shooter Ray Allen and a 2nd round pick for his 5th selection, Wally Szczrerbiak, and high-flyer Jeff Green and Delonte West.

With Ainge, “Friendship” Isn’t Friendly

The Celtics GM went back to the phones and came across former teammate, friend, and (at the time) Timberwolves GM Hall of Famer Kevin McHale. Ainge’s slick and slithery tactics, much like Belicheck, make him a lethal executive. He’s like a snake waiting to strike and strike he did. Once he got his foot in the door with McHale he looked more like a looter in a riot as opposed to a GM. He nabbed his friend’s prize possession, Kevin Garnett, for 5 players and 2 #1 picks in what ended up being a 7 for 1 deal. The picks turned out to be Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington. Former 76er Theo Ratliff was the only asset in the deal for McHale, and even Ratliff only held any value because of his expiring contract.

Ainge essentially round-house kicked his buddy in a trade that put Boston over the top. The Celtics finished the regular season with a whopping 66-16 record while improving upon the prior season by a ridiculous 42 games in the win column. They went on to win NBA Title in the “Boston Three Party’s” first year together with Ainge calling the shots.

The following year the C’s went 62-20 and were taken out in the Eastern Conference semi’s (2nd round) after KG suffered a knee injury sinking Boston’s chances to repeat. The next few seasons equaled out to a finals loss and a few playoff appearances. This lead Ainge to the conclusion that a change was needed.

Needing a “New Voice”

That 2013 offseason lead to a major overhaul. Doc Rivers, Ainge’s coach since 2004, didn’t want be a part of a rebuild. Behind the scenes, Rivers had a deal to coach the LA Clippers, a team that’s traditionally been a mess from the top down. With 3 years left on his deal, Doc walked away citing his voice wasn’t being heard in the locker room.

Ainge was suddenly in need of a captain to sail his ship. In a stunning move, he signed Butler University head coach Brad Stevens to a 6 year $22 million contract.

With his head coach now in place, his attention turned to the roster.

Ainge saw an opportunity to take advantage of the Nets and their new ownership. New Jersey gave up 3 first round picks, and the opportunity to swap positions in the first round on another, for the quickly-aging Celtics Garnett and long time Boston star Paul Pierce.

At face value, Brad Stevens was greeted to his job watching his boss blow his roster to smithereens. Losing the stars of team, the Celtics went through a stretch that saw 42 players don green over an 18 month stretch. Rajon Rondo was the only cog remaining from the better years.

That ended with Ainge robbing the Mavericks and sending Rondo to Dallas for an astounding 2016 first and second round pick, and a $13 million trade exception. It’s a deal that ended up being so lopsided that somewhere in Foxboro, Belichick must have smiled to himself.

Rondo was a complete disaster in Dallas. He was sent home during playoffs and never wore a Mavericks jersey again.

Ainge Knows When to “Sell”

One of Ainge’s standout skills is that he seems to know exactly when a player is about decline. He has no problem turning the page on a star, even if it’s not the popular choice. This calculated approach to his roster isn’t at all dissimilar to the neighboring Patriots.

Now with the 2017 draft looming, the Celtics sit in a better position than anyone. The Nets deal years ago is still paying dividends. The 2014 pick via Nets landed James Young, for the 2016 pick (#3 overall) Ainge went off the chart and selected Jaylen Brown (projected as a late first). It won’t stop at this draft either.

This upcoming draft, the Nets are almost certainly picking #1 (if not top 3). However, they gave the rights to Boston to swap picks this year. It’s a better bet than the sun rising tomorrow that Ainge doesn’t pass on that opportunity. The torture finally ends for Brooklyn after next the draft. The Celtics own the Nets 2018 first round pick (again).

Not unlike New England’s football team, Danny Ainge and his sometimes ruthless ways have Boston able to contend every year. It’s impossible to win every transaction but it sure seems, again similar to “The Hood,” that Ainge now always has a championship right on the horizon.

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