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Danny Ainge, the Boston Celtics, and the Master Plan

Danny Ainge’s master plan is ‘The Process’ Boston-style, and so far it seems to be working.


Alongside piles of papers detailing data and analysis, amidst a tumult of stat sheets and development charts, buried somewhere in this chaotic clutter, a phone sits on a desk. The desk is surrounded by walls adorned in green and white regalia, decorated with historic pictures of living legends sitting side by side with photos of children and grandchildren. Various images of a tiny cartoon leprechaun are engraved, chiseled and printed onto several keepsakes and trophies littering displays around the room.

A man sits in the office. He is not idle but busy, ever-busy. Yet despite his constant motion there is an element of his manner that could be described as expectant, as if he is in fact waiting for something. Not that he is tense or nervous but rather that his manner is in some way anticipatory. Danny Ainge, General Manager and President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics, is not prone to patience, although he has had to exhibit an almost infinite amount of late. He has done every deal with an eye towards the future and made every move in anticipation of the next. Now he and his team sit poised on the precipice, ready for the last domino to fall in a lengthy and intricate arrangement.

The phone rings and a smile creeps across Danny Ainge’s face, the time has come.

That time isn’t here, yet. In reality, Danny’s still working away, waiting for that revelatory phone call, for the other shoe to drop, for something to give to change the future of the franchise. But the moment will come. It has already been planned and accounted for, the wheels have been turning for some time now, everything has been building towards it, that moment. But the true beauty of Danny Ainge’s plan is there are several ways for that moment to happen and for the plan to succeed.

A perfectly executed plan coming to fruition is rare. Most plans rely a lot more on happenstance and opportunism than their architects would care to admit. Simple plans tend to play the law of averages and are heavily dependent on luck. Complicated plans, if done correctly, require more planning than would seem possible.

Danny Ainge has masterminded an exceedingly complicated plan when it comes to Boston’s rebuilding path. It’s a plan in which he has attempted to account for all the volatilities of the market, navigate the complexities of the draft and meet the challenge of moving toward contention while staying competitive.

It’s ‘The Process’ Boston-style, and so far it seems to be working, even though there’s plenty who might believe it isn’t.

Rumors for a reason

I know we’ve all been waiting for fantastical phone calls and figurative fireworks for what seems like forever now. But the reason everyone in Boston is persistently perched on the edge of their seat is because Boston is constantly right on the edge of every major deal, draft move and signing in the NBA right now.

The Celtics’ envious position on the inside of every negotiation didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen easily. It was worked for and fought for, because it’s all part of the plan. When Danny Ainge blew up the championship crew that included Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, he made moves with an eye toward the future. But more importantly every move since then has been as forward thinking as the now infamous/famous #netspick deal.

With the assets Danny Ainge has at his disposal, he has given himself and the Boston Celtics a significant edge on the trade market. The Celtics are in a unique position of being able to offer plenty to other teams around the league, while still not having to sacrifice too much. Essentially the Celtics are in a position where they can make seemingly lopsided trades and still not lose out.

By design, The Celtics are involved in every trade talk, every draft deal discussion and every scrap of any kind of half-reputable rumor around. The Celtics have guys up and down their roster of varying abilities and pay scales that could help almost any team in the NBA right now. There’s rookie, mid-level and veteran guys ranging from starting caliber, to solid rotation players, to young guys still looking for minutes, and there’s a couple of All-Stars and possibly some future All-Stars to boot. Plus the Celtics are stacked with all kinds of sweeteners in the form of draft picks acquired from all over the league. Not only would every GM in the NBA be interested in at least one of the Celtics assets but the Celtics themselves have plenty of talent and versatility to toy with on their own roster.

“We have plans that we would like to do and we’ll do, everything we can to try and do, but there are no guarantees in any of that.” Danny Ainge, CBS Local

Chicago Bulls v Boston Celtics

Versatility is key

The Celtics roster is stacked, maybe even over-stacked, but really that’s one of those good problems. There are first-, second- and third-tier players for almost every position. This gives the team options on and off the court. Such a stacked roster can deal with injuries, entertain trades or try some unconventional lineups in-game.

Not only are there capable players for every position but there’s plenty of potential still to be developed. The Celtics boast one of the youngest rosters in the league, and with rookies and draft picks galore the Celtics have plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the future. The players they have starting right now have played above and beyond expectations, feeding a narrative that Boston is a place to go to play competitive basketball.

A glut of guards and Center-less basketball

In stating that Boston’s roster has backup guys at almost every position, I’m also wholly aware that the Celtics currently have a glut of guards and virtually no true center. The reason this isn’t concerning is because this is also by design, and it’s all part of the plan. Guards are at a premium right now, a trend that Danny saw coming. In fact Danny’s had an eye towards playing small ball ever since he traded Kendrick Perkins. The small-ball revolution is another trend Danny saw coming, one that he planned for and accounted for meticulously.

Again, there’s a reason the Celtics were able to beat both Cleveland and Golden State this past regular season, and it wasn’t just the luck of the Irish. Danny has taken time and patience to find diamonds in the rough on the trade market. Alongside one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, Ainge has crafted a team that is perfectly in tune with the modern NBA. The Celtics roster is stacked with perimeter guards deliberately—guys who were selected for their versatility and ability, not place-holders that fell onto the roster by accident.

Meanwhile some fans are still dreaming of a big, beat-’em-up, box-‘em-out, brawler to play at Boston’s center spot. But Boston doesn’t have a traditional big man despite almost endless opportunities to acquire one because—and this may seem shocking—they don’t really want one. Al Horford gives Boston depth and talent in their front court, which will offer Stevens new configurations and line ups. While Horford isn’t a traditional NBA center, he certainly fits the mold for a small-ball center, which more and more seems like what the Celtics have been going for all along.

The next Celtics star could come from almost anywhere

Boston’s commitment to its own style of defense-oriented small ball as a part of Danny’s long-term vision has, to an extent, dictated who they’ve gone for in the draft, in free agency, and in trades. It’s as much Danny’s long-term planning as Brad’s excellent coaching that allowed Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas to become breakout stars in Boston.

It’s this combination of short- and long-term thinking that has dictated draft picks as well, which is why Boston has ended up with players that fit the system like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and this year’s Summer League sensation, Terry Rozier. The preference for players that offer versatility is also what guided the choice to pick Guerschon Yabusele. The big man whose draft position was heavily scrutinized might be stashed in China for now, but he seems like he’ll have a lot to offer the Celtics in a few seasons.

But the sheer brilliance of Danny’s master plan is in its versatility and flexibility. There are players who have been added that can contribute now, there are players who will be able to contribute in the future, and there are players who have significantly increased their value. Boston is in a position where the team’s next star could come from one of their young players stepping up, via a favorable trade deal, or from one of the many future draft picks Boston still holds.

That fateful phone call alluded to at the beginning of this piece could be to tell Danny that Marcus Smart has stepped up and is ready to make an even bigger impact. Or it could be that Jaylen Brown was the missing piece, or that Al Horford has worked out better than expected and the Celtics are already there. Or it could be a call from another GM finally succumbing to Danny’s tireless efforts and giving up a highly coveted trade target. The plan has anticipated each and every one of these possibilities and could come to fruition any number of ways. (To be clear, I’m not advocating trading any of our key players or anything like that, although the versatility of the team and the plan make trades a constant possibility.)

Or as Danny said himself,

“If it’s something that gets us to being a true championship contender faster, we’re all for it. As long as it’s a sustainable formula and not a one-year quick hit, sacrificing future assets.” Danny Ainge, CBS Local

Boston Celtics Introduce Brad Stevens

Staying competitive and staying the course

It’s not an easy feat, what the Celtics have accomplished: rebuilding a team while staying competitive and angling toward contention. Just ask the Sixers or any other rebuilding team around the league. It’s something that has taken careful planning and almost prophetic vision. For me, it took a little while to recognize the overall plan at work, and I still feel like I only understand the general outline. I‘m only able to describe the edges of this plan, and its true genius lies in its intricacies.

I, like others, questioned some of the decisions made on draft night. I, like others, had dreams of Durant pushing Boston over the edge. I was also hungry for more trade deals to be made last season and continue to get excited at every whiff of a rumor. But when things don’t seem to work out it’s comforting to know that it’s all part of the plan.

I trust in Ainge, I trust in the master plan, and I know that every move is bringing Boston closer to Banner 18. Some of the players on the roster now might not be the ones to finally deliver that championship glory, but they’ll all have been part of it. The diabolical Danny Ainge has calculated the odds, he’s assessed the variables, and he’s planned for every contingency. It’s a strategy that has reaped rewards so far as Boston is undoubtedly a better team than they were. Perhaps more importantly, however, the Celtics may be even better set up for the future than they ever have been in the past. The Celtics are a team with a lot of options.

Right now though Boston sits on the edge of contender status. They remain equipped with a host of rookies and future draft picks, as well as a number of players on team-friendly contracts and a recently signed All-Star. After a relatively short rebuild Boston is already angling to be back at the top of the Eastern Conference while maintaining flexibility and versatility to make any changes necessary. Plans take work and patience and foresight. Danny has mustered all his abilities and acumen to try and turn Boston into a championship team while staying competitive.

The master plan hasn’t succeeded yet, and it won’t until there’s another banner hanging in the rafters in Boston, but at least so far everything seems to be going according to plan.

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