by Yagev Levi and Matt Rooney
BOSTON Mass. – Very few of the NBA elite have had the chance to bring championships to a city both as players and management. Daniel Ray Ainge is one of those few. After a 14 year career in the NBA, marked by two championships and an All Star appearance, he continued to follow his passion for sports. Danny had a stint in baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays as well as a head coaching gig down in Phoenix before he finally made his way back to the lucky green and white. In 2003, Danny became the Executive of Basketball Operations of the Boston Celtics, a move that ultimately hurled the Celtics into a path of success.
Throughout Danny’s playing career as a Boston Celtic, he learned the true meaning of grit and hard work through one thing and one thing only: the Celtic way. Ever since Danny took his position in the Celtics’ front office 15 years ago, he has been working to instill that culture in every Celtics roster he’s put together. This hard working, defense-first, gritty mindset created by the original Big Three of Bird, McHale, and Parish laid the framework for success for future generations of Celtics players. This helped Danny transform the Boston Celtics franchise from a team portrayed by the likes of Vin Baker, Chucky Atkins, Ricky Davis, and a young Paul Pierce into a franchise that terrorizes their opponents with Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Kyrie Irving.
That is why he dons the name: Trader Danny.
Let’s take a look at some of the moves that paved the way for Boston’s success.
2007 – The Boston Celtics acquire Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and two 2009 1st Round Picks.
This was a big move. Actually, who am I kidding, this was HUGE. Boston was coming off their second worst regular season record of all time at 24-58 and the organization simply looked lost. They had an upcoming star in Paul Pierce and a talented young point guard by the name of Rajon Rondo but they were surrounded, to put it bluntly, by sh*t. Danny knew this team wasn’t going anywhere or winning anything. So what does he do? He picks up the phone, calls Kevin McHale, GM of the Timberwolves, and trades for Kevin Garnett, arguably the best player in the league at the time. He almost literally flipped the switch on the entire team (similar to what he did last year with the Kyrie trade). He then brought in Ray Allen to put alongside Paul Pierce and KG, creating the first Big Three in decades. The KG trade ultimately ushered in a Golden Age for the Celtics organization which brought the city its first championship in 22 years. The Celtics undoubtedly won this trade as almost all of the players returned to Minnesota were no-names in a few years and the draft picks turned into Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn.
2011 – The Boston Celtics acquired Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, and 2012 1st Round Pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.
Here’s a perfect example of the saying, “Not everyone is perfect,” especially when it comes to NBA front offices. Essentially, Ainge traded away a rim protecting center in Kendrick Perkins just coming out of his prime and a very solid role player in Nate Robinson for two years of a good Jeff Green and a dude named Nenad Krstic. Don’t even get me started about Fab Melo that came out of the first round draft pick, a guy that was ineligible to play for Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament because of his grades. All in all, it was not the best trade on paper but the idea behind this trade was consistent with what Ainge set out to do in the next couple years: bring in some youth.
2013 – The Boston Celtics traded Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, D.J. White, a 2017 1st Round Pick and a 2017 2nd Round Pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks. Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, a 2014 1st Round Pick, a 2016 1st Round Pick, a 2017 1st Round Pick Swap, and a 2018 1st Round Pick.
Murphy’s Law states: “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” And voila, guess what, Billy King? You got fleeced by Trader Danny. Somehow, Danny Ainge was able to trade Paul Pierce at the end of his prime, Kevin Garnett out of his prime, and two old guys for FOUR first round picks! And, these were not just any first round picks. Three of the four picks became top ten picks and yielded the players Jaylen Brown, Markelle Fultz, which gave us Jayson Tatum, and Collin Sexton (We aren’t going to talk about James Young).
This trade ultimately laid the foundation for the Celtics organization today, and for years to come. Danny hit the rebuild button instantly and in turn, brought the organization key assets to reset. Today, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are cornerstones of the Celtics franchise and the 2018 1st Round Pick was the center of the trade that brought Kyrie Irving to Boston. This make up of assets and young players is also what made Boston so attractive to free agents like Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, and even Kevin Durant before he chose to sign with Golden State.
2015 – As part of a three-team trade, the Boston Celtics acquired Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko, and Gigi Datome from the Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons for Marcus Thornton, Tayshaun Prince, and a CLE 2016 Top-10 Protected 1st Round Pick.
Overall, this was the trade that happened. If you look into the details of the trade, you’ll see that Danny actually traded Marcus Thornton and that Top-10 Protected Pick straight up for Isaiah Thomas.
Yes, the guy who averaged 28.9 ppg, finished third in MVP voting, and was All NBA Second Team.
How he knew that Isaiah was going to turn out to be a player like that? I’m not sure he knew the extent to which Isaiah was capable, and did, become great but he saw something in him, something that no one else saw.
When Isaiah came to Boston at the deadline in 2015, he came off the bench for the remainder of that season and almost won Sixth Man of The Year, but he got snubbed to f*cking Lou Williams. Absolute BS.
Anyways, the next year was when IT started to break out. In 2016, IT was selected to his first All Star Game and became the lowest draft pick to be named an All-Star since 1989 when the draft was reduced to two rounds. It was already clear that IT was something special. In the beginning of February, he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week as he led the Celtics to a 4-0 week which included a victory against the King’s Cleveland Cavaliers all while averaging 20.3 ppg, 7.0 apg, and 4.5 rpg. IT’s excellence continued in the playoffs that year but unfortunately it wasn’t enough as the Celtics fell to the Hawks 4-2 in the first round.
The next year, Isaiah’s last year on the Celtics, was when he got serious.
IT led the Celtics to the top spot in the Eastern Conference and finished the season averaging 28.9 ppg, 5.9 apg and 2.7 rpg en route to being named an All Star starter, landing All-NBA Second Team honors, and finishing top three in MVP voting. IT really showed his true heart in the playoffs that year. His sister passed away on the eve of the opening game yet, he played anyway. He dropped 53 points in a second round win against the Washington Wizards while fighting through a torn hip. The season ended in a 4-1 series loss at the hands of Lebron and the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, but with his inspired playoff performance, Isaiah had stolen the heart of every Celtics fan.
2017 – The Boston Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 Unprotected 1st Round Pick
Rarely do you ever see trades made by two rivals who were fighting for control of the Eastern Conference, but this was just that. On August 23, 2017, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded the man who won them the 2016 NBA Championship with his Game 7 dagger, Uncle Drew, to the Boston Celtics for an injured midget, a mediocre wing and a draft pick.
This trade showcases one trait that every great GM must possess: fearlessness.
Ainge wasn’t afraid to make the move for a superior player even if it meant trading away the beloved Isaiah Thomas. He knew there would be backlash, but he honestly didn’t care. His one goal was to make his team better.
Kyrie Irving is a top 10 talent who has been there and done that. He can flat out ball, and the Celtics need him at his best to make it to the next level. If all goes as planned, one day, #11 will be hanging in the rafters of the Garden.
Danny Ainge is a bad, bad man my friends, and that is why he is the best GM in the league.
2017 – The Boston Celtics acquired the 3rd Overall Pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and the Sacramento Kings 2019 Top-One Protected 1st Round Pick for the 1st Overall Pick in the 2017 NBA Draft
This one was classic Danny Ainge. He ultimately traded down to select the superior player (who he was going to select at No. 1 anyways), and collect an extremely valuable future asset.
Coming out of Duke, Tatum was a skilled, long, athletic wing, but nobody was sure of just how good he could be. On the other hand, Fultz, a silky smooth guard from Washington, was the universal top propect in the draft. He was going to be a star. At least, that’s what they thought.
While Jayson Tatum is training with Kobe Bryant, Markelle Fultz is bricking free throws.
That right there basically sums up this blockbuster. Jayson Tatum is going to be a superstar for a long, long time and Markelle has the makings of a colossal bust.
This trade is firsthand evidence as to why other GMs are scared to return Trader Danny’s calls.