The rafters of the TD Garden—home of the Boston Celtics—are lined with the retired numbers representing the storied history of the NBA's most successful franchise. Bill Russell's No. 6, Larry Bird's No. 33 and a whole host of other distinguished numbers hang with distinction.
Well, those numbers might be getting another friend soon in Danny Ainge's No. 44, per The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes:
Like Tommy Heinsohn (No. 15), Ainge's case for enshrinement in the Celtics' ring of honor goes well beyond his playing career. Yes, Ainge played eight seasons in Boston, winning two titles as a bench player with the legendary Bird teams of the '80s. He even made an All-Star Game, in 1988. But his per-game numbers with Boston (11.3 points, 4.4 assists) normally wouldn't merit such an honor.
In Ainge's case, the Celtics are also taking into consideration his decade-long tenure as the team's general manager. Since taking the reins in 2003, Ainge has engineered a basketball renaissance in Boston, culminating with the 2008 NBA championship. He won the NBA Executive of the Year award for the 2007-08 season after his trades of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett helped spur the Celtics to the title.
Boston returned to the finals in 2010 but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
Beyond assembling the Celtics' veteran Big Three, Ainge can also take credit for drafting star point guard Rajon Rondo with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2006 draft.
But Ainge's tenure as Boston's GM hasn't been totally free of controversy. The Celtics failed to get back to the finals after 2010, and in 2012, Dan Guttenplan of WEEI.com cited Ainge as being part of the problem:
Four-plus years after the Celtics' championship run, Ainge has failed in repeating that feat with nearly the same exact core. Dissecting the president of basketball operations' track record over the last four seasons, it is fair to say Ainge has missed more than he's hit since the Celtics hoisted the championship trophy.
Following a first-round loss in the 2013 playoffs, Ainge traded Celtics legend Paul Pierce (along with Garnett) to the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason. It was a stark contrast to the great Red Auerbach, who steadfastly refused to trade Bird and Kevin McHale even as they passed their respective primes.
But none other than Bird himself defended the actions of his former teammate to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:
Believe me, Danny Ainge knows what he's doing. He won a championship. I never doubt Danny Ainge. I only doubted him when he had the ball in his hands and three seconds to go. Not in the position he is in now. Danny does a good job. You know you do get older. You can't beat Father Time and I'm sure things will work out.
If Ainge is indeed honored with a number retirement ceremony, even his critics will have to applaud. He hasn't been perfect as GM, but he did break the Celtics' two-decade title drought. He wasn't a star as a player, but he was a valuable contributor for some great teams.
No matter how his tenure as GM ends, Ainge will be forever known as a great Celtic.