Over the first 3 years of his tenure as GM, Danny Ainge took a lot of criticism. When he came to the job he said that he had a 5 year plan to rebuild the Celtics and get them back to contention. His plan was to gather "chips" and then trade them for established stars. Many fans were disillusioned with the "youth movement" and felt that the Celtics were years away from contending, if ever. But what most fans forgot was Danny's initial vision of gathering trading chips. Some of his moves were lateral but others were trading one chip for another just slightly more valuable financially or on the court or that would give us a draft pick he could parlay into a player or use as a chip. Here is a look at Danny's road to rebuilding the Celtics into a contender.
Danny's first moves as GM weren't the greatest. He traded Darius Songaila to Sacramento and received 2 second round pics in return. These picks were used to draft Brandon Hunter in 2003 and Orien Greene in 2005. This move didn't really amount to much as Hunter was taken in the expansion draft and Greene was placed on waivers so it was more or less a dead end move. In Danny's first draft, he picked Troy Bell at #16 and Dahntay Jones at #20. He then traded these two players for Marcus Banks, who was picked 13th and Kendrick Perkins, who was picked 27th. Obviously, Banks was a mistake because he didn't work out in Boston and has struggled in Minnesota, Phoenix, Miami and Toronto in his 7 years in the league. Perk, on the other hand, has become one of the best defensive centers in the NBA and was a key component to winning the title in 2008. In 2003, Danny signed Mike James as a free agent to a one year contact worth $640,000. James averaged 10.7 points and 4.4 assists while he was with the Celtics.
Danny traded J.R. Bremer, who had been with the Celtics for 2 seasons, and Bruno Sundov, who had played 23 games with the Celtics, to Cavs for Jumaine Jones and a second round pick. This pick was later traded back to the Celtics as part of the Ricky Davis deal and was used to take Ryan Gomes. Jones was injured and only played in 42 games for the Celtics in the 2003-04 season. Before the 2003-04 season, Danny made the biggest move of his tenure to that point when he traded Antoine Walker and Tony Delk to the Mavericks for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills and a first round pick that Danny would use to take Delonte West. Raef's knees gave out and he played in only 17 games that season before having knee surgery but he would go on to be the only Celtic who played in all 82 games the following season. Jiri Welsh didn't work out as Danny had hoped and would later be traded for a draft pick that would later be sent to Phoenix in exchange for drafting Rajon Rondo for the Celtics. In the middle of the 2003-04 season Danny once again made a major trade when he sent Tony Battie, Eric Williams and Kedrick Brown to the Cavs for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, Michael Stewart, and that second round pick that I mentioned earlier that would become Ryan Gomes. Ricky played some solid basketball for the Celtics and although there were rumors that he caused some problems in the locker room, he always played all out, giving 110% out on the court. Also in the 2003-04 season, Danny traded Chris Mills and Mike James to Detroit for Chucky Atkins and a first round pick that would be used to take Tony Allen. Chucky paid dividends in that he led the Celtics into the playoffs that season. These moves caused then Celtics coach, Jim O'Brien to resign in the middle of the season, leaving interim coach, John Carroll to finish coaching the 2003-04 season. After that season, Danny made another key move in hiring Glenn "Doc" Rivers to coach the team. Doc also took a lot of heat from the fans in the early years but now has proved that Danny did indeed pick the right man for the job.
After that season, Danny traded Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm, and Jumaine Jones for Gary Payton, Rick Fox (who chose to retire rather than play that season with the Celtics), a first round pick and cash considerations. Payton at first didn't want to come to the Celtics, but when he finally reported, he gave them a very good year and most importantly, he helped to mentor the team's young point guards.
Mark Blount had a great season in his contract year and at the end of the season, Danny signed him to a six year deal at over 6 million a year. At the time, this looked like a good deal because Blount had a great season previous to the signing and looked like he was going to be a very good offensively minded center. No one could envision the cancerous malcontent that Blount would become. But, it was one of the few big mistakes that Danny made in his tenure.
In the 2004 draft, Danny hit the jackpot when he picked Al Jefferson with the 15th pick, Delonte West with the 24th pick and Tony Allen with the 25th pick along with Justin Reed in the second round. Delonte was key in bringing Ray Allen to Boston and Al Jefferson was the key to the Garnett trade. Tony Allen spent 6 seasons with the Celtics, battling injuries through most of them, finally becoming a key player this past season. He chose to sign with the Grizzlies this off season rather than sticking with the Celtics for another championship run. During the 2004-05 season, Danny traded Walter McCarty to Phoenix for a second round pick. This pick would later be traded to Denver for the rights to Leon Powe. Leon's work ethic and character made him a favorite in Boston during his time there. He was a key player on the '08 championship team. While playing hurt in the 2009 playoffs, he tore his ACL and Danny chose not to re-sign him. It was a business decision but tore at the hearts of many a Celtic fan who hated to see a guy like Leon treated like that.
During the 2004-05 season, Danny traded Gary Payton, Tom Gugliotta, Michael Stewart, and a first round pick to bring Antoine Walker back to Boston for a second run. In an ironic twist, this pick was traded by Atlanta to Phoenix and would be used to take Rondo for whom we would trade the Cleveland pick. Payton was waived by Atlanta and resigned with Boston and the Celtics made the playoffs but the Celtics didn't have enough to make it out of the first round. At the end of that season, Walker was looking for a long term contract that Boston didn't want to give so they arranged a sign and trade with Miami that brought back a trade exception, a 2006 second round draft pick, a future second round draft pick, cash considerations, forward Qyntel Woods, the draft rights to Albert Miralles and center Curtis Borchardt. Woods and Borchardt were waived. Miralles stayed in Spain and the trade exception was used to sign free agent Dan Dickau.In the 2005 draft, Danny picked Gerald Green with the 18th pick and nabbed Ryan Gomes with the 50th pick along with Orien Greene at 51. Ryan was the steal of that draft. Gerald has never realized the promise that everyone has expected of him. But, he was another key to bringing Kevin Garnett to Boston. He is currently still trying to get his game to the NBA level playing in Russia.
Before the 2005-06 season, Danny signed Brian Scalabrine to a 5 year 15 million dollar contract.At First, Scal seemed to be another mistake. But, over the 5 years of his career in Boston, he became a fan favorite and always played his role without complaint and with the utmost professionalism. I'd love to see him come back as an assistant coach if he can't catch on with another team this season.
During the 2005-06 season, Danny pulled off the first blockbuster trade with Minnesota. Danny traded Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marcus Banks, Justin Reed and two second round draft picks for Wally Szczerbiak, Michael Olowokandi, Dwayne Jones, and a conditional first round pick (which returned to Minny in the Garnett trade). The biggest bonus in this trade was getting rid of Blount who had become a cancer and a malcontent on this team.
On draft night in 2006, Danny traded Raef LaFrentz, Dan Dickau, and the 7th pick in the draft for Theo Ratliff and Sebastian Telfair. This may have been the key to the trade for Garnett because without Ratliff's expiring contract, the Wolves may not have gone for the trade. They gave up the chance to draft Brandon Roy, but financially, this was a very good move for the Celtics and in the end was a brilliant move in that it netted Garnett and ultimately Banner 17. In that offseason , Danny traded Dwayne Jones, who came over from Minnesota with Wally and Kandi, for Luke Jackson and cash considerations. Jackson was waived after training camp but the Celtics did make a little money on the deal. Danny also got the deal done to re-sign Paul Pierce to a three-year extension at max money and signed Perk to an extension at approximately 4 million per year, which is an absolute bargain considering what bigs in the league were demanding and getting at that time.
On draft night in 2007, the Celtics had the 5th pick, the highest they picked since 1997 when they lost out on Duncan. Everyone in the Celtics nation was hoping for the first or second pick to pick either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, and when the Celtics slipped to 5th, most fans were prepared for several more years of mediocrity while the young players grew and learned and blossomed. But Danny's plan was coming together and he started trading in his chips. He traded Delonte, Wally and the #5 pick for Ray Allen and the draft pick that he used to pick Big Baby Davis. This move was crucial, because it was the key to getting Garnett to agree to come to Boston.
The biggest move came when Danny used most of his other "chips" to bring Garnett to Boston. He had been trying to get Garnett for a couple of years and finally had enough chips that Wolves GM, Kevin McHale, wanted to get the deal done. With those 2 moves, the Celtics went from the second to last team in the league to a contender. It was Danny's 5th season as GM and his long range vision for the team finally came together. During the season, Danny brought in 2 key veterans in Sam Cassell and PJ Brown to finish out the roster as the Celtics went on to win their 17th title.
When the team was brought together for that 2007-08 season, it was thought that they had a 3 year window. They came together much quicker than anyone thought they could and won the title in their first year together. Injuries have sidetracked their championship plans for the past two seasons. They came within 4 points of winning the championship last season and if it wasn't for Perk's injury and a ridiculous free throw disparity, they would be celebrating banner 18 now.
This season, Danny has once again made key moves in reloading the team with veterans to surround the returning players. He has built one of the deepest benches in the league on a tight budget. The Celtics are poised to make another run at the title again this season and it is because of Danny's vision for this team and his ability to turn the vision into reality.