Danny Ainge is done in Boston. Hell, he might be done in the NBA. It is unclear whether he ‘retired’ on his own or if he was not-so-gently nudged out the door, but he is no longer a part of the Celtics franchise.
It’s easy to look at the past few years with frustration and displeasure towards Ainge. He failed to bring in a superstar center that the team desperately needed, insisted on hoarding second-round picks to select the likes of Ben Bentil and Jabari Bird, and won a single NBA Finals.
But that does not mean Celtics fans should wish Ainge good riddance. In fact, Danny Ainge is a Celtics legend. He may have slightly overstayed his welcome, but even the most beloved of kings go out of style.
There are three moments that should define Ainge’s tenure as Boston’s GM. They all symbolize bigger picture characteristics of Ainge’s success and managerial style, but the specific examples give a brief yet accurate summary.
Building the Big Three (Four?)
If asked to choose the single greatest team that Ainge built, it would undoubtedly be the ’08 Finals winning squad. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and then your choice of either Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen created the greatest trio of the 2000s.
After the second-worst seasons in franchise history in ’07, Celtics legend Paul Pierce demanded either a trade or a supporting cast. Ainge responded in spades. He acquired Allen for Jeff Green, Wally Szcerbiak, and Delonte West and Garnett for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, Wayne Ellington, and Jonny Flynn.
That team, admittedly, won just one ring and appeared in only one other Finals.
Obviously, this move represents a savvy tradesman, but more importantly Ainge’s desire to keep his players happy. Rondo did, ultimately, become unsettled as the third/fourth option, but when Pierce made public his displeasure Ainge addressed it accordingly.
Since then, there aren’t many memories of players being openly unhappy within the organization. Ainge loved his guys and kept them happy as needed.
Killing the Big Three*
The Celtics won a ring in the first year of the Big Three*. They would return just once over the next five years, making the Finals once and the Conference Finals twice. So Ainge knew when to blow it up.
Garnett was 37, Pierce 35. He traded them, alongside Jason Terry (36 years old), D.J. White and a 2017 second-rounder (Sasha Vezenkov) to the recently moved Brooklyn Nets from a (Billy) King’s ransom. While a myriad of other players such as Will Bynum, Kris Humphries, and MarShon Brooks were involved, the Celtics ultimately walked away with:
A few years of Kyrie Irving
While Ainge may have lost a little bit of value with the other assets, Tatum and Brown are the faces of Boston for the coming years. Ojeleye, Edwards, and Langford all play roles off the bench. Kyrie was fun while it lasted, but that was a mistake.
The key takeaway from this move is Ainge’s eye for the future. He saw KG and Pierce wasn’t working, so he sold his two best cattle for loads of calves.
This mentality can be seen in other moves, including his trade of Keith Bogans or MarShon Brooks (interestingly, both were acquired via the Brooklyn trade).
You Believed the Story About Wanting to Confront Kyrie
Following the Celtics’ Game 4 loss to the Nets in this year’s playoffs, Boston anti-hero-turned-villain Kyrie Irving stomped on Lucky, the beloved leprechaun adorning Boston green and gold.
Soon after the game, Bleacher Report’s Tyler Conway tweeted this fake screengrab of an ESPN article:
The tweet was later taken down because, according to Conway, “too many people… could not recognize [satire].” I was one of those “too many.”
But do you blame those that fell victim to the prank? Ainge was a grit and grinder during his playing career; hockey fans would equate him to their sport’s enforcer.
Hell, he once fought Wayne Rollins, a man so tall they called him ‘Tree,’ in the Garden.
Danny loves this city, and it is hard to quantify why or how much. But his undying loyalty to the city both during and after his playing career is a testament to that.
You believed that Ainge wanted to incite a brawl because a rival disrespected a mascot already on the floor. Is that not enough evidence?
So thank you, Danny. You served this city with loyalty, love, and a passion for the team.
A few years ago, I had exchanged a few words with Boston culture icon Brian Scalabrine. Jokingly I asked Scalabrine when Boston will retire his number, 44. He shared a laugh briefly, but in all seriousness replied “They better do it for Danny.”
At the time I smiled along, but putting more thought to it, the idea makes sense. Nick Collison didn’t make a single all-star appearance, but OKC retired his number. Ainge made one and contributed so much to the city of Boston. He contributed two titles as a player, directly caused one as a GM, and has set the team up for great success in the future. He was, and is, a fan favorite.
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