Most Polarizing Decisions of Danny Ainge's Career as Boston Celtics GM
This summer marks 10 years since Danny Ainge was hired as the Boston Celtics' Director of Basketball Operations. That is 10 years worth of moves that led to eight playoff berths and a 2008 NBA championship.
It hasn't always been rosy, but Ainge has never been one to shy away from making a polarizing move. He'll probably never be the most popular general manager in New England sports, but those moves have kept him in that chair for a decade now. In NBA years, that is as impressive as that Larry O'Brien trophy he manufactured five years ago.
To make a polarizing decision is to essentially create dissent. When the basis of one's career is that term, a 10-year run is pretty miraculous.
Boston fans love to debate sports. They support two full-time television stations and two radio stations that cover little else outside the five major professional teams in the area. Ainge has given all those media outlets plenty of leash with which to field debate from fans.
Ainge has been a polarizing man since returning to Boston, out of his Celtics uniform but with just as much affect on what it means to wear one.
9. Eric Williams and Tony Battie for Ricky Davis
December 15, 2003 - Boston Celtics trade Eric Williams, Tony Battie and Kedrick Brown to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm and Michael Stewart
Just two months before, Danny Ainge had pulled the trigger on a huge deal sending Antoine Walker to the Dallas Mavericks; now he was wheeling and dealing yet again.
Ainge sent tough-as-nails fan-favorites Eric Williams and Tony Battie, both starters for the 2002-03 playoff team, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a package around Ricky Davis.
So, within the first eight months of his tenure in Boston, Ainge traded away three starters from the Celtics roster a year before. He cleaned house to set up his own operation, something that can be frustrating, but understandable at the same time.
With this move, it was easy to see both sides. While Williams and Battie were important cogs for Boston, neither were star players. Davis, at the time, was a big name guy. He was having a so-so year, but coming off a 2002-03 season where he averaged 20.6 points and 5.5 assists per game for Cleveland.
Still, Davis was a gunner who had just reached stardom with an outlier year. Those 20.6 points took him 18.6 field-goal attempts, for a clip of 41 percent from the field. Davis finished out the year with Boston, helping them to a No. 8 seed and first-round sweep at the Indiana Pacers' hands.
8. Bench Turnover After 2007-08
Summer of 2008 - Celtics lost James Posey, P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell in favor of Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore
Granted some of this is defensible for financial reasons, but it deserves to be mentioned.
The bench Danny Ainge put together for that 2008 NBA championship run was one of his most impressive feats with the Boston Celtics. However, that quickly disintegrated into a string of less-than-stellar decisions.
James Posey was a dynamite sixth man all year long. Sam Cassell was the perfect leader for Rajon Rondo to learn under. P.J. Brown was the exact late-season addition Boston needed to get over the hump. None of those players returned for the title defense.
Instead, Ainge had to bring in Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore, quick fixes that didn't mesh. Boston played Glen Davis and Eddie House more minutes, but something was still off.
This led to more of the same with Rasheed Wallace, Michael Finley and Nate Robinson. Even bringing in Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal just didn't seem to work. Big, polarizing names that sold tickets but didn't contribute to many wins.
Ainge lost something special in the summer of 2008. He has been trying to get it back ever since.
7. Brad Stevens Hire
July 4, 2013 - Boston Celtics hire Brad Stevens to replace departed head coach Doc Rivers
Danny Ainge can occasionally make a habit of doing things behind the curtain. In the case of Brad Stevens being named the next head coach of the Boston Celtics, that is exactly what he did.
There was a long list of possibilities for the Celtics to employ next season as a replacement for Doc Rivers. Stevens wasn't even on the list. Yet, just as everyone in New England was settling down for their Fourth of July cookout, news broke that Ainge had plucked the former Butler University head coach out of nowhere.
It isn't really the way this happened that makes it somewhat polarizing, though. Instead, it is because of who and what Stevens is as a coach.
For starters, college coaches don't have a wealthy history of NBA success. For two jobs with the same title, they hold vastly different responsibilities. Stevens will no longer be using his recruiting guile to convince players to attend his small school. Instead, almost all his responsibility will focus on coaching a basketball team and dealing with media on a grander scale. He is also only 36 years old at this point.
That isn't to say Stevens doesn't have experience as an actual in-game basketball coach. On the contrary, he led Butler to two NCAA tournament championship games. That feat comes against the immeasurable odds of coaching a mid-major program through two 64-team tournaments.
Many love the move and think Stevens is the right candidate to try and lead this young team through a probable rebuilding year. He is an exciting hire and a guy who seems generally thrilled to be there.
Others still have the bad Rick Pitino taste in their mouths. They are thus worried that Stevens won't be able to handle the high sports standard in Boston and will wash out in a year or two, leaving the Celtics in no better shape than they are now.
6. Jeff Green's New Contract
August 22, 2012 - Boston Celtics sign Jeff Green to a contract worth $35.2 million over four years
In the grand scheme of polarizing moves Danny Ainge has made, Jeff Green's current contract may seem like small potatoes. He could very well wind up living up to the deal, but at the time it certainly seemed a bit strange.
Ainge traded away Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to get Green from the Oklahoma City Thunder. After an uninspiring 26 games to finish out the 2010-11 season, Ainge deemed Green worthy of a one-year deal worth $9 million. That was a trial contract to see how Green could mesh with the roster given a full training camp and regular season.
Unfortunately, Green had a heart ailment that required surgery and a year off from basketball. The Celtics were allowed to void his one-year deal, saving the $9 million. However, Green remained around the team after his surgery, even sitting on the bench for a few games in street clothes.
Due to that voided contract and year off, Green became an unrestricted free agent before the 2012-13 season. Since it took until August 22 for him to be signed, we know he wasn't exactly being highly pursued. Maybe that is because everyone assumed he'd go back to Boston, maybe not. Either way, Ainge inked him to that $35.2 million, four-year deal.
Yet, one year and a major heart surgery ago, Green was only worth one year and $9 million to him? Ainge seemed to see something little others did when bringing an unproven player back for that price.
On the plus side of the move, Green is locked up long-term if he blows up next season. He also made Paul Pierce's $15 million contract for next season become expendable, saving the Celtics millions in luxury tax.
5. Al Jefferson and Gerald Green for Kevin Garnett
It is hard to believe this trade was polarizing at this point, but at the time there were some question marks.
Boston Celtics fans had been sold a bill of goods by Danny Ainge over the prior few years. The team was young and building around future cornerstones like Al Jefferson, Gerald Green and Rajon Rondo. They went and got some veteran leadership in Ray Allen, who would also help Paul Pierce shoulder the scoring load.
Now, just a month after that deal to bring Allen in, Ainge was mortgaging Boston's best young asset, Jefferson, a player as talented as he was becoming beloved. Along with young role players like Green, Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair, Jefferson was used by Ainge to bring in Kevin Garnett.
While he was and is a huge name, Garnett was in the scary zone of becoming synonymous with gaudy stats on a bad team. During the 2006-07 season, Garnett registered 22.4 points and 12.8 rebounds, but his Minnesota Timberwolves finished 32-50, missing the playoffs for the the third straight year.
There were reasons to be against this move. Jefferson showed tons of promise, and Garnett seemed hesitant about joining Boston after spending an entire career in Minnesota.
Those who supported the trade within seconds wound up being correct in the long run. As they expected, bringing in the hugely talented and experienced Garnett to top off a Big Three with Pierce and Allen ultimately brought the Celtics back to prominence.
Ainge and the new Big Three were celebrating a NBA title about 10 months later.
4. Antoine Walker for Raef LaFrentz
October 20, 2003 - Boston Celtics send Antoine Walker and Tony Delk to the Dallas Mavericks for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills
It didn't take long for Danny Ainge to make a polarizing move, waiting just a few months into his tenure before dealing the Boston Celtics' second-best player.
Antoine Walker was a frustrating basketball star. He never played in the paint as much as fans would've liked, and enjoyed shooting from the perimeter a bit too much. His 7.2 rebounds per game in 2002-03 were the lowest of his career at the time. He had also just shot 32.3 percent on 7.5 threes per game.
Those are frustrating numbers from your wide-bodied power forward. However, Walker had also averaged 20.1 points and 4.8 assists while playing a superhuman 41.5 minutes per game. His play helped the Celtics to a No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round upset over the Indiana Pacers.
Walker, 26 that season, had been in Boston for seven years at that time. He had earned the love and respect of many fans, particularly the young kids who wore No. 8 jerseys all the time. Between him and Paul Pierce, the Celtics had two star players, presumably still in their prime.
However, Walker frustrated a lot of older fans who didn't like his approach to the game. Everything from the threes to the infamous wiggle were for the younger crowd. As many people as there were against bringing in LaFrentz for Walker, there were those who saw the move's necessity.
3. Jeff Green Package for Ray Allen
June 28, 2007 - Boston Celtics trade Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and the No. 5 overall pick (Jeff Green) for Ray Allen and the No. 35 overall pick (Glen Davis)
It's tough to remember how this trade was viewed at the time in a vacuum. We all know now what it helped facilitate, but for roughly one month, this move was a standalone deal.
Danny Ainge used some of those assets he had been stockpiling, the No. 5 pick and a 23-year-old Delonte West, to bring in a big name shooting guard. Ray Allen was a bigger star than the Celtics had ever had alongside Paul Pierce. He was more important to basketball than Antoine Walker or Ricky Davis could ever hope to be.
At the same time, Allen was about to be a 32-year-old shooting guard with shaky ankles. Everything about Allen's game was polarizing at that time. In 2006-07 he averaged a career-high 26.4 points, shooting 37.2 percent on 8.1 three-point attempts. However, that was in only 55 games.
While Jeff Green wasn't Kevin Durant or Greg Oden, the Celtics had gotten their top-five pick and he was a promising young stud coming off Big East Player of the Year and Tournament MVP wins for a Final Four Georgetown team.
West was also showing some significant promise, going for 12.2 points and 4.4 assists in his third NBA season.
How this trade is viewed now is very different than how it was viewed for the month of July 2007. If Kevin Garnett had not been in near future, this trade would have brought the Celtics out of last place in the Eastern Conference. However, it would have most likely ended in a first-round playoff exit. This move wasn't getting Boston anywhere real.
Not on its own.
2. Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson for Jeff Green
February 24, 2011 - Boston Celtics send Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic
When it comes to Danny Ainge's tenure with the Boston Celtics, there may still be no more polarizing move than sending Kendrick Perkins away for Jeff Green.
Perkins represented the Celtics' resiliency and toughness. He was a kid fans were watching grow into a man before their eyes. Thanks to the shepherding of Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett, he was becoming one of the best defensive centers in the league.
His presence allowed everyone else on defense focus on his own thing. That includes Garnett, who had to worry less about protecting the rim, allowing him time to organize the defensive sets.
The team always held tight to that quote: "We've never lost a playoff series with the starting five together." After Perkins' injury may have cost them Game 7 of the 2010 finals, that was the battle cry.
Still, Ainge saw a first-place team he thought could improve. So he pulled the trigger on a deal to bring back Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Perkins had a big extension upcoming that Ainge had little interest in paying.
The trade became more polarizing as Green struggled to fit in with Boston. Playing behind Paul Pierce isn't easy, and Green was nonexistent for many games. The Celtics bowed out unceremoniously in five games to the Miami Heat in Round 2.
Celtics fans have become more numb to the trade over time. Perkins has struggled to live up to a big contract and Green showed signs of life late last season. At the time it was pulled, however, polarizing was the only word that came to mind.
1. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for Three First-Round Picks
July 12, 2013 - Boston Celtics trade Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn Nets for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks and three future first-round draft picks
The freshest of Danny Ainge's polarizing moves will be on the minds of Celtics fans until the Brooklyn Nets first visit TD Garden.
When that happens, they will have to deal with seeing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce playing in different jerseys for the first time in a long time. This summer, Ainge made the future cost-cutting move of his career. He sent two of the biggest Celtics names in history to Brooklyn for Kris Humphries' expiring contract, a couple role players and future draft picks.
Boston fans won't get to see Pierce finish his entire career in green, and they won't get to see Garnett go out with his buddy as a Celtic. Instead, they have a future windfall of numerous first-round picks upcoming, along with the hope that Ainge isn't yet done dealing.
It is easy to see how this move would polarize folks. Many Celtics fans grew up with Pierce, and to a lesser extent Garnett. The two brought this franchise back to relevancy and beyond. Many will hate to see them go, even if bringing them back meant another mediocre season and first-round playoff exit.
In many ways, these are the deals that make or break a GM's career. Theo Epstein had to trade Nomar Garciaparra and let Pedro Martinez walk. Bill Belichick moved on from Richard Seymour, Ty Law and countless other fan favorites.
Now, Danny Ainge has left the comfy confines of a Pierce and Garnett-led team. Epstein and Belichick moved on and continued winning. Will he be able to do the same?