Early Monday morning, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor dropped an in-depth look at the luckiest general manager in the NBA, the Celtics’ own Danny Ainge. The 2,524-word epic breaks down Ainge’s rise from the NBA cellar to the belle of the ball dangling his shiny assets past fellow NBA general managers.
With insightful quotes from Ainge, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and GMs from around the league, O’Connor takes the reader from behind the scenes and into the middle of the Celtics war room.
Here are a few highlights of O’Connor’s piece from the Ringer, although the original is more than worth the 11-minute read.
Unbeknownst to the general public, Ainge was working on the KG Plan, concocted three or four years before the summer of ’07. Maybe if fans had known, they wouldn’t have marched down Causeway Street with pitchforks and torches in hand. “‘We’ll be ready. We’ll have enough assets to trade for him if he becomes available. I don’t know if Minnesota will renew him.’ That’s exactly what Danny said,” Grousbeck recalled. “So through all the tough times, the assembling of picks, playing the kids, Doc taking the losses on his record as we lost — it was all toward a goal of building those kids up so they’d become tradable assets where we’d keep some, trade others.”
The foresight of Ainge to target Kevin Garnett three to four years down the road leads me to believe he is far more than lucky. It spoke to his savvy when he later flipped Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for a haul of picks while they still had trade value. And it resonates now when they wouldn’t be bullied this offseason in a swap for the Brooklyn Nets picks and a potential superstar.
“Nobody has ever done it better in the history of the league than how Danny did it, ever. Nobody’s ever done that,” Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey told NBA TV’s Open Court this summer. “It’s unprecedented, the assets, from where that team would’ve been in 18 to 24 months and what it is back to today.”
That’s big praise from a rival peer. While Ainge’s contemporaries in Philadelphia turned heads for Philly’s tank-and-bank approach to high draft picks, Boston has been able to rebuild both through the draft and under-the-radar moves for blue-collar professionals. O’Connor highlights this strategy with the trades of Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas as well as the low-cost signing of glue-guy Evan Turner to go along with the drafting of Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown.
They have a perfectly viable Plan B that emphasizes talent development and building through the draft. The Celtics won’t settle for a double that drives in a few runs when they can load the bases and hit a grand slam. That’s a surprise to Kevin McHale, Ainge’s teammate of eight seasons and trade partner in the Garnett deal. “Danny is one of the most impulsive people I know, and I’m shocked he doesn’t make a trade every week,” McHale said during a recent conference call. “He’s a disciplined general manager, which is funny because he’s a very undisciplined person.”
This might be the most important—and my personal favorite—paragraph from O’Connor. Ainge could have made the splash Celtics fans have been waiting three years for with names like Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin and Paul George being tossed around the NBA rumor mill. But his discipline to sit back and watch things unfold, both within the TD Garden and around the NBA, is truly a position of power.
The Celtics will have the cap space to offer another max contract after a season where the expectation is a deep playoff run. They still hold the ultimate trump card in the Brooklyn picks for the next two NBA drafts and are developing young talent around a veteran core.
Is Danny Ainge the luckiest GM in the NBA? Perhaps. But it takes hard work to be that lucky. And O’Connor let everyone in to see how building a title contender occurs.