Danny Ainge is receiving a lot of praise right now as the Celtics General Manager. However, Danny should be receiving credit for his entire tenure as the Celtics GM. In this piece, I focus specifically on Danny's last 10 years with the Celtics, and how has been able to transform two different lottery teams into championship contenders.
It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon right now if you’re a fan of the green and white.
How can you not?
Not only does this team have the best record in the NBA at 21-4, but they are also fun to watch.
Led by Brad Stevens, the Celtics play the game the right way. Whether it is excellent rotational help-defense, finding the open cutter or taking a charge (usually Marcus Smart), the Celtics are not your typical NBA team.
With an average age of just over 24 years old, we are slowly watching young players develop into stars. Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown are fantastic two-way wing players who are lights out in transition.
Terry Rozier is coming into his own as a scoring guard off the bench. Marcus Smart does whatever Marcus Smart does (After shooting just 26 percent from the field for the season about a week ago, it made sense that Smart made six 3-pointers against the Pistons).
Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are playing at very high levels and their chemistry is on point. Daniel Theis and Aaron Baynes have been excellent rim protectors and rebounders, skillsets the Celtics have lacked in prior years. Marcus Morris gives the Celtics an athletic power forward who can shoot from the outside and he is a perfect fit for Brad’s system.
All they are missing is one more consistent scorer who can shoot: Gordon Hayward.
The team is constructed perfectly this season and for years to come.
And who else deserves the credit but “Trader Danny.”
Let’s take a step back for a second.
It all started in 2007. The Celtics just finished with the second-worst record in the NBA and their team was filled with young role players, Paul Pierce, and big man Al Jefferson.
They had players like Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo, Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins and Gerald Green.
But on June 28, 2007, Ainge traded Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and a 2008 second round pick (turned out to be a no-name player) for Ray Allen and Glen Davis.
Then, on July 31, Ainge made another bold move and traded Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and two 2009 first round picks (Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn) for Kevin Garnett.
Those trades look like ideas from the “intelligent” Boston sports fans who call into the sports radio talk shows to give their “fair” trade proposal.
Danny then signed James Posey and Eddie House in free agency and the rest was history.
In one year, Danny changed a team that was one of the worst in the league to immediately raising banner 18.
Now fast forward to 2010. With their 19th overall pick, Danny selects Avery Bradley. A young kid out of the University of Texas, Bradley was an athletic guard who was a great defender, but not much of a shooter.
I think everyone would agree that turned out to be a great pick.
Now jump ahead to 2013, also known as the end of the big three and Doc Rivers era.
On June 25, Danny traded beloved coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a 2015 1st round pick. Unfortunately, the pick resulted in R.J Hunter, so the return was not great.
But on June 3, Danny Ainge made arguably his best decision as general manager.
He hired Brad Stevens.
In a story on Boston.com, Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca revealed that Danny had his eye on Stevens for a long time. He then described a conversation he had with Danny when they went to a Duke-Butler game together in 2010.
“Danny and I were up in the stands watching the game,” Pagliuca said. “Before the game started, Danny said to me, ‘Look down at the court. The best coach in college basketball is down there.’ I said, ‘Of course, it’s Coach K.’ He said, ‘No, it’s Brad Stevens.’”
Danny’s pick of Brad Stevens for the head coach is one of the best coaching hires in a long time in any sport.
Recognizing and hiring the right leader is essential to any organization or business, not just sports, and Ainge absolutely nailed it with his choice of Brad Stevens.
On July 12, Danny heartlessly traded KG, Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J white for a variety of Nets role players and, most importantly, three unprotected first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018.
Celtics fanatic Bill Simmons, like many of us at the time, did not like the trade.
Although it was devastatingly sad to see the Truth get traded, the deal looks unbelievable in hindsight.
The year KG and Pierce got traded, the Celtics went 25-57. Sound familiar? Just like in 2006 with Doc as head coach, the Celtics were again one of the worst teams in basketball in Brad Stevens’ first year as the man in charge.
And just like in 2006, Danny Ainge began his rebuilding model. Could he do it again?
Trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and creating a championship in one year is very rare. It becomes even trickier given the fact that so many players do not want to play in Boston.
On June 26, 2014, Danny’s rebuilding process began when he drafted Marcus Smart with the 6th overall pick. Given the players in that draft class, that was a successful pick, even with Smart’s low shooting percentages.
That offseason, Danny signed Evan Turner as well as trading Rondo and Dwight Powell to the Mavericks for Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, Brandon Wright, a 2015 first round pick and a 2016 second round pick.
On February 19, 2015, the Celtics traded Marcus Thornton and Tayshaun Prince in a three-team deal with the Suns and Cavaliers to obtain Isaiah Thomas.
Another trade proposal a Boston sports fan would call into Felger and Mazz about and be immediately ridiculed for the suggestion.
In 2015, the Celtics drafted Terry Rozier with the 16th overall pick (Mavericks pick from the Rondo Trade). Similar to Avery Bradley, Rozier was an athletic guard who was not much of a shooter out of college. But just like how Bradley developed a jump shot, Rozier is developing into quite a scorer as well.
In 2016, Danny selected Jaylen Brown (Brooklyn pick) with their third overall pick. This was not exactly a popular pick at the time because not many people knew Jaylen Brown.
Chalk it up as another win for Ainge. That offseason, Ainge also signed Al Horford to a max deal.
Then this year, he traded the number one overall pick (potentially Markelle Fultz) for the third overall pick (Jason Tatum) and a future Lakers first round pick if it falls between two and five.
Danny also traded Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris, signed Gordon Hayward, and to top it all off, traded Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, their Brooklyn first rounder in 2018 and a 2020 second round pick for Kyrie Irving.
Now the Celtics, once again, are the best team in basketball. Have you followed all of this?
In a span of 10 years, Danny took two totally different teams that were the worst in basketball, got rid of basically his entire roster twice and built championship caliber teams shortly after the massive overhaul.
Two completely different rebuilds.
The first time around, he stole Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen from their prospective teams for Al Jefferson and a bunch of bench players.
The second time, he got rid of beloved veterans like Pierce and KG (I’m still not emotionally over that trade), Rondo, potentially Markelle Fultz (first overall pick), Isaiah Thomas and Crowder and obtained Brown, Tatum, Irving, and future draft picks, along with having the cap space to sign Hayward and Horford.
All of this while drafting Terry Rozier (Rondo trade) and Marcus Smart in the process.
The rebuild is not completely over in Boston. Ainge is typically aggressive and is always looking to improve. Who knows, maybe the Celtics will try to acquire Anthony Davis.
But for now, at 21-4 and with the best record in the NBA, this Celtics team looks very impressive.
Doc Rivers has even admired the job Ainge has done in Boston.
In a story in the Boston Herald, Doc said that Ainge and his staff have “done the best job I’ve seen in sports in a long, long time of rebuilding. Maybe ever.”
Bill Belichick is often termed the genius in Boston. “In Bill we trust” is what Bostonians proudly say.
But by now, we should start saying: “In Danny we trust.”
We all know Danny has made mistakes. Every general manager does. The task of drafting players is difficult, and most teams struggle.
I have solely focused on his successful moves. He has made many terrible draft picks, and do not get me started with that horrible Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins trade many years ago. That may have cost them a championship.
But when you look at Ainge’s successes, especially his trades, it is unbelievable. Like Belichick, Ainge is heartless. He traded beloved players like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Isaiah Thomas. It is always sad to see your general manager trade your favorite payer.
But look at the end result.
People are giving Danny credit right now because the Celtics are playing well. He looks brilliant for drafting Tatum because Tatum is playing great, Fultz is hurt, and Lonzo Ball has struggled to shoot from the outside.
But more importantly, Danny deserves credit for his entire tenure as a Celtics General Manager, not just this past offseason. As they say in Philadelphia, it is important to "trust the process." But more importantly, it is important for Celtics fans to trust Danny Ainge. In the past 10 years, he has earned it.
In Danny I trust.