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Danny Ainge stepping down from role leading Celtics basketball operations

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Ainge has run Boston’s front office since 2003

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations is considering stepping down from his role with the Boston Celtics, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:

Ainge has been in charge of Boston’s basketball operations since May of 2003.

In his 18-plus years leading the Celtics, Ainge was a major part of bringing home the franchise’s record 17th NBA championship. In the summer of 2007, Ainge swung a pair of deals to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to team with Paul Pierce to lead Boston back to glory.

In the years leading up to that big summer, Ainge made several other trades as well. On the heels of a six-year run with Garnett and Pierce, “Trader Danny” made a massive trade with the Brooklyn Nets to acquire a bundle of draft picks to set Boston up for the future. Two of those picks became Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who are the Celtics cornerstones.

Over the past year, Ainge has come under increased scrutiny for how he’s put together the team around his young All-Star duo. In successive offseasons, the Celtics have lost Al Horford, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Kemba Walker was given a max contract to replace Irving, and delivered an All-Star season in 2019-20. Unfortunately, Walker spent the latter portion of that year injured and missed considerably time in 2020-21 while dealing with the same knee injury.

This season Boston faced considerable expectations from most of the fanbase, but failed to deliver. Due to injuries, illnesses and inconsistency from the team’s young roster, the Celtics fell to 7th in the Eastern Conference. Boston battled Brooklyn in the first round of the playoffs, but the uber-talented Nets won the series fairly easily by a 4-1 margin.

There is a sense that the Celtics are facing some uncertainty moving forward. Brown and Tatum are both signed long-term, but several other key players are approaching the ends of their deals. Marcus Smart is entering the final season of his four-year contract in 2021-22. Walker has a player option for 2022-23, albeit one he is expected to pick up given its $37.6 million value and his health concerns. The rest of the roster is made up of role players on short-term deals and young players who are still a ways away from meeting their potential.

That makes this a key offseason for Boston, and one Ainge could either shepherd forward or step away from entirely. It’s been long-assumed that if/when Ainge leaves the Celtics, he’ll hand the reins over to longtime assistant Mike Zarren. Zarren is a lifelong Celtics diehard and has been instrumental in helping build the team up during Ainge’s tenure.

Zarren has been linked to openings to lead his own team in the past, but has remained with Boston. Many assume that’s because of his ties to the team and his position to eventually take over from Ainge.

The other option would be for Boston to go outside of the “family” and bring in fresh face to lead organization. There has been some criticism in the past that the Celtics are too tied to their own inner circle and their own past. Some have pushed the franchise to consider new leadership that doesn’t have previous ties to the team.

The Celtics are at a bit of a crossroads. They have some major roster decisions to make, while ensuring that their two young stars know the team is prioritizing winning. Now, for the first time in nearly two decades, there’s a question about who will make those decisions.