Is Danny Ainge Still An Elite GM?

Jan 13, 2020; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Is Danny Ainge still an elite GM?

Questionable decision-making by Ainge often leaving the Celtics on the outside looking in. Above all, we investigate Ainge’s recent maneuvers and their impact on his legacy.

Becoming Boston’s general manager in 2003, Ainge’s controversial all-business approach to basketball “trader Danny.” Ainge’s ruthless approach caused disagreements and personality clashes with Celtics players and coaches.

The Defining Moments Part 1: ( Summer 2008)

May 14, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen (20), small forward Paul Pierce (34) and power forward Kevin Garnett (5) react as they take on the Philadelphia 76ers during the fourth quarter in game two of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics 82-81.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Ainge significantly shook up the NBA in the summer of 2008, acquiring superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to pair with star Paul Pierce. This explicitly established Ainge’s reputation amongst the elite NBA general managers. Boston went from winning 25 games to winning the NBA championship. Therefore accomplishing his goal since joining Boston in 2003 of becoming NBA champion.

Subsequent seasons had Boston firmly established as a contender amongst the NBA, ultimately reaching three NBA finals and numerous conference finals appearances. Ainge’s draft selections subsequently established themselves in the Celtics teams. Rajon Rondo chiefly amongst them, becoming a 4 time all-star in the process.

Ainge’s successful acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen ushered in a successful Celtics basketball era that lasted about six years. Whilst reading this, you may be saying, ” of course Ainge is Elite,” which would be a correct statement.

The Defining Moments Part 2: (Nets Trade)

Danny Ainge’s legacy in NBA history solidified itself as a result of this trade. The full details of the trade are as follows

  • Celtics Receive: Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans 2014,2016,2018 unprotected first-round-picks and right to swap picks in 2017
  • Nets Receive: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry

Initially, the reception to the trade was highly in favor of Brooklyn; however, in due time, many called the transaction the most lopsided in NBA history. Boston’s rebuild accelerated immensely due to this trade, spending only one season out of playoff contention. Boston’s return on their investment paid off spectacularly, as shown below.

  • 2014 First Round Pick: James Young (17th overall)
  • 2016 First Round Pick: Jaylen Brown (3rd overall)
  • 2017 First Round Pick: Jayson Tatum (3rd overall) (traded to Philadelphia)
  • 2018 First Round Pick: traded for Kyrie Irving

Danny Ainge’s highway robbery of Brooklyn ensured Boston has the brightest future in the NBA. It also enshrined the Celtics as a competitive team for years to come. Assets acquired from the Nets trade allowed Boston to sign both Al Horford and Gordon Hayward whilst trading Isaiah Thomas and the Nets 2018 pick for Kyrie Irving. Under these circumstances, the expectations for Boston became sky-high, with Danny Ainge making his last consequential transaction with the Kyrie Irving acquisition.

After reading this section, you may be thinking, “how is Danny Ainge anything but elite”? In 2018 trader Danny was on top of the world. Remember, it all comes crashing down eventually.

The Defining Moments Part 3: Beantown Blues

Nov 26, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (20) drives past New Orleans Pelicans forward Darius Miller (21) during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

“It should’ve been me”

This quote commonly associates itself with WWE Superstar Dolph Ziggler, but post-2019 playoffs, the quote would be associated with Danny Ainge.

2019 certainly had to be the Celtics’ year, but what could’ve gone wrong went horribly wrong. Chemistry issues, locker room disputes, injuries in addition to heightened expectations led to a season gone up in flames. The on-court fit between the big five of Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown never truly materialized.

Hayward’s return season from the devastating injury the season prior lead to inconsistent performance throughout the season. Kyrie Irving’s personality clashes with the team, Jaylen Brown’s unclear role, and Tatum’s stagnation lead to a disappointing season. Boston notably flamed out of the 2019 playoffs spectacularly, losing to Milwaukee in 5 games.

The aftermath of the 2019 playoffs leads to whirlwinds of change in the Celtics organization. Kyrie Irving’s departure being the start of a tumultuous off-season which ultimately changed the state of affairs in Boston. Boston’s glue guy and star center Al Horford would follow Irving in departing the Celtics.

Ainge executed a sign-and-trade to acquire Kemba Walker in exchange for RFA Terry Rozier, while subsequently failing to replace Al Horford, instead deciding to move forward with Daniel Theis.

Is Danny Ainge Still an elite GM?

The picture is much murkier now; Ainge’s failure to win it all in 2019 with Boston points to a much larger problem within the organization, a lack of loyalty shown by pending free agents to Danny Ainge.

The Defining Moments Part 4: “Nearly Danny”

Jul 5, 2013; Waltham, MA, USA; General Manager Danny Ainge talks about hiring new Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, center, as owner Wyc Grousbeck, right, listens in during a news conference announcing Stevens new position. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Boston’s 2020 season ended in heartbreak, ultimately losing the Eastern Conference champions to the Miami Heat in 6 games. The lack of an answer for Miami’s Bam Adebayo ended up as the killing blow to the Celtics’ finals hopes, exposing how Danny Ainge’s hesitancy to acquire a starting-caliber big-man cost the Celtics when it matters most.

The 2020 offseason provided Boston with the opportunity to acquire such a big-man from the Indiana Pacers. Gordon Hayward’s desire to join Indiana gave Boston a choice to acquire Myles Turner in a sign-and-trade. Indiana offered Turner, in addition to Doug McDermott, two players who fit Boston like a glove.

Ainge instead tried to acquire TJ Warren or Victor Oladipo in addition to Myles Turner. This meddling caused Charlotte to swoop in and steal Hayward, costing Boston their star big man.

Gordon Hayward’s loss resulted in yet another Danny Ainge “nearly trade,” a recurring meme amongst NBA Twitter. Ainge’s reluctance to part with assets led to the Celtics always being in pole position to land a star and failing at the finish line.

With the largest traded-player exception in history, the time is now for Danny Ainge to make a move, thus returning amongst the elite NBA GMs. The Celtics are involved in many trade rumors mostly centered around Aaron Gordon, and how Ainge responds will heavily influence his legacy.

Is Danny Ainge still an elite GM? At this very moment, I would answer no to this question. However, if Ainge’s legacy is anything to go by, “nearly Danny” can instantly become “trader Danny” once again and ultimately return to the NBA’s elite class of general managers.

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