Thank goodness for Danny Ainge: why #44 deserves to be raised to the rafters

“Danny Ainge needs to shut the fuck up and manage his own team.  He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing, and I know that because I coached against him.” -Pat Riley of the Miami Heat in 2013

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Anyone who followed the Celtics prior to Ainge's arrival in mid 2003 knew of the recent bleakness that surrounded the team and any move they made.  A tired Dave Gavitt; "Thanksdad;" an overzealous ML Carr; an inept Evil Emperor and an incompetent Buffoon. [TB Tangent: just thinking about Paul Gaston makes me remember why I'm so thankful for Wyc and company].  One after the next tried to leave their fingerprints on the organization, failing miserably.

Danny Ainge helped change that.

Before commenting on his recent contributions to the club, we should remember his past.  The memorable coast-to-coast shot at BYU.  The up and coming baseball prospect with the Blue Jays before having to go to court to get out of that contract and suit up for the Celtics.

As a kid growing up, trading Danny Ainge really devastated me.*  He embodied Celtics Pride back then.  He was the most athletic guy on that famed 86 bunch, a fearless guard who could handle the ball, take it to the hole, play tenacious defense and shoot.  Next to Bird (and maybe Scott Wedman) he was the best shooter on that team, not hesitant to take and make a gutsy 3 pointer back when they weren't in vogue.  He would get up in your face and defend and wouldn't back down from anybody.  Ask Tree Rollins. Or Dennis Rodman. Or Mario Elie.  Or Michael Jordan.

[*TB Tangent 2: Getting Pinckney and Kleine, two guys who never lived up to their potential, didn't help either.  I had always wondered why it couldn't have been Wayman Tisdale acquired for Ainge, who was coming off an all star season.  Instead, the Kings got Tisdale for Randy Wittman and LaSalle the Tank Thompson, right around the same time. Wittman was solid, but more of a poor man's Ainge.  Tisdale was a better player than both Pinckney and Kleine, and could've really helped that Celtics' group].


Other teams hated him but he was "our guy."

All these years later I realized something: that intransigent trait has followed him, from a player to an executive.  Basically, he doesn't give a shit what you think about the moves he makes. Just like he didn't care what you thought of his playing style.

And that's not the worst thing to have in a basketball executive.

I spoke recently with a friend who is a big Knicks fan about the Irving trade.  My words were "Ainge is nuts but I rather have him than any gm the Knicks have basically ever had."  His response?  "That's an understatement."

Teams around the league would be lining up to get Danny to run their team, really clamoring for him.  He has a solid eye for young talent but he's had far from a flawless track record.  He has the guts to make a big trade. And his ability to accumulate assets is unparalleled.  I think he's recognized that over the years of being in his position that predicting how young players pan out won't ever be an exact science.  Instead, it's easier to identify the transcendent stars who have made their mark in the league.  And go get them.  The Kevin Garnett.  The Kyrie Irving.  The Anthony Davis.

I think that's why he moved the #1 pick in this year's draft.  He didn't think there'd be that much of a difference between Markelle Fultz and Jayson Tatum and if the separation is so slight, why not get another asset that can be used?  You don't think Danny saw Jae Crowder last year, realizing that two of his up and coming players in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum would need time?  He did.  He was one step ahead in thinking of that.  Same with drafting Semi Ojeleye, who may be a younger version of Crowder.

He'll continue to make moves that may surprise you.  Right now, as you read this, he's probably thinking about some other type of tinker to the roster.  That's who he is and what he does.

And let's face it: he made the Boston Celtics relevant again.  For that, his #44 deserves to be in the rafters, for bridging the former successes with the present.  For being cognizant of all-time titles, knowing LAL is just one behind Boston, and keeping that in his mind (I'm still convinced him helping Detroit land Rasheed Wallace who then beat LA was Danny's way of helping where he could in a season that the Celtics were going nowhere).

Jerry Buss and Kobe Bryant were aware of those all-time titles.  It motivated them.  They both wanted LA to surpass Boston.  Buss is dead and Bryant's now retired.  Don't think it didn't drive them both crazy that they're one title short.  Pat Riley's another guy that would love to see LA pass Boston.  Don't think his rivalry with Danny Ainge isn't the realest of things.  It is.  You saw the quote to start off this article. Don't think Riley hasn't passed that vantage point onto Erik Spoelstra, who will likely carry it moving forward, long after Riley has passed.

Danny has made enemies.  But he continues to impress us and make us proud.  The innocent looking Mormon kid is really a cold-blooded killer, that will do anything to win.  He did it as a player and he's doing it as an executive.

And he's made me proud.  He should be commended for his abilities and contributions to the Celtics as a franchise.

The Celtics have a lot of retired jerseys and are criticized for that by many, including many right here on CelticsLife.  You can read about that here and here and countless different articles.  I don't disagree in that it's probably overdone.  But the precedent has been set.  The Celtics are a successful sports franchise and have established that many guys get their numbers retired, even if it's too liberal for some.

Don Nelson averaged 11 ppg during his time in Boston. While he helped win 5 titles, he never averaged more than 27 minutes per game and never made an All Star team.  Dennis Johnson played 7 full seasons in Boston, and helped win 2 titles and made 1 All Star game during his time in Boston.  However most would argue his peak was really in Seattle and Phoenix, where he played prior to arriving in Boston. 

Reggie Lewis only played 6 seasons and never won a title; he only made one Eastern Conference Finals and that was as a rookie that barely played.  Ed Macauley also never won a championship in his 6 seasons; to his credit he made 6 All Star games and was the key piece in the Bill Russell trade. Cedric Maxwell played 8 seasons in Boston, won one Finals MVP and 2 titles but never made an All Star game.  Many teammates say he quit on the team when he failed to rehab his injury in 1985. Walter Brown and Red Auerbach, both enormous influences in Boston's stability and success, never played a game.  Yet #s 1 & 2 are retired in their memory.

Danny's the only non-HOFer in this group, but deserves his number to be retired. Btw a great t-shirt pick one up if you want!

With that said, Ainge played 7 1/2 seasons in Boston.  He won two titles, one as a starting guard. He made one all star team in 1988.  He was traded, in a controversial move at the time, to open up playing time for Lewis.  Beyond his stay in Sacramento he kept on winning, going to two Finals with both the Blazers and the Suns.  He then came back to Boston, in 2003 following a disastrous 10+ seasons in franchise history which saw poor drafting (see Earl, Acie; Montross, Eric), botched free agent signings (see Wilkins, Dominique; Barros, Dana), foolish trades (Sherman Douglas for Todd Day anyone?), unfortunate luck (the Tim Duncan draft) and terrible tragedy (Lewis dying).

And after a few early rough stretches, he proceeded to turn the Celtics around.  He got them back into contention with the Garnett-Allen acquisition.  Those Celtics only won one title, easily could've should've won a second, and maybe even a couple more with some breaks.  Then after trading franchise icons Pierce and Garnett, he has gotten the Celtics to the #1 seed and now, more optimism, four short years after.

By my count, he's been affiliated with the Celtics as a player or general manager for almost 22 years.  That's almost a quarter century.  He has helped bring 3 titles to the Celtics while magnificently keeping the future in mind.  Along with Wyc and company purchasing the team, he has re-instilled a winning culture and made it a desirable destination spot for free agents, something it absolutely never used to be.

Have some of Danny's moves been questionable?  Absolutely.  Is he as successful as Red Auerbach was?  No, unequivocally not. But in a day and age where there's more competent general managers than there's ever been and a stickler of salary cap regulations to abide by, Ainge has been a master.  He's kept the best interest of the franchise in mind at all times.

Does that mean we as fans can't question or criticize his moves?  By all means, no.  I'm still devastated by the fallout from the Kendrick Perkins-Jeff Green trade.

But Ainge's greatness and contributions to the Celtics should no longer be questioned.  Nor should the retirement of his #44 to the rafters.

A job well done, Danny. Congratulations, you deserve it.