Danny Ainge: Prior Personal Relationships 'Increase Odds of Making a Deal'

Brian Robb@CelticsHubFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2015

PORTLAND, ME - JUNE 21:  Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Operations, speaks at a press conference in Portland, Maine on June 21, 2012 announcing that the Celtics and Red Claws have entered into a single affiliation partnership beginning with the upcoming 2012-2013 NBA D-League season. Making the announcement at the headquarters of the Maine Red Claws in downtown Portland were Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Operations, Dan Reed, President of the NBA D-League, and Bill Ryan, Jr., Team Chairman of the Maine Red Claws. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012  (Photo by Rich Obrey/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rich Obrey/Getty Images

WALTHAM, Mass. – Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has lived up to his “Trader Danny” nickname in recent months, having made nine trades with nine different teams since the start of the 2014-15 season. The continual maneuvering is no surprise for a team in the midst of building for its future. However, a closer look at Ainge’s recent trade track record reveals another intriguing pattern.

In just the last two months, four of the five trades Ainge has made included teams that employ front-office executives who have directly worked with Ainge in the past two decades. Some coached under him with the Phoenix Suns in the mid-1990s (Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson). Others had been former front-office lieutenants in Boston (Suns GM Ryan McDonough, Los Angeles Clippers GM Dave Wohl, Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace).

In a exclusive interview ahead of the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 19, Bleacher Report sat down with Ainge to discuss his recent dealings with former colleagues, and whether trading with someone you know is an emerging trend around the league.  

Bleacher Report: In the past few months, you have made trades with a variety of teams (Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers) that employ executives you have worked with, either in Boston or at other stops in your career. How much of an impact do the relationships you have formed with those guys have on making the deals?  

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Danny Ainge: I think it’s easier to talk to people you know. The better you know them, the easier it is to deal with them. Ultimately, still, in most deals, it’s all dependent on the transaction involved, more than any personal relationship. A personal relationship is not necessary or mandatory in any dealings, but I think it does help and increase the odds of making a deal, if there is a deal [to be made], sure.

B/R: Do you feel like it’s becoming a trend around the league for executives to trade with people they know well to eliminate risk? Obviously, any deal that is made comes down to the players involved most of the time, but are teams more sensitive to getting burned in trade talks, whether it’s due to leaks in social media or leaking information to other teams?

Ainge: I think it is a concern. There are a lot of leaks in a lot of organizations. We take notice of what gets out when we talk with other teams and how those things are leaked, so that might prevent us from making a phone call in a sensitive situation until we know for sure. There are all sorts of exploratory conversations and then there are real conversations.

B/R: Would those kinds of concerns with teams keep you from having exploratory conversations? 

Ainge: They could, if we thought it would get out. Listen, you don’t ever prevent yourself from doing a deal you want to do, but it might prevent you from exploring it more if you feel like they are a team that talks to the media.

B/R: So heading into the trade deadline, is every team fair game as far as you are concerned? 

Ainge: Absolutely. There’s no team I will not talk to. You just have to deal with the [outside factors].

Danny Ainge's 2014-15 Trade Partners
ExecutiveTeamConnectionTransactionDate
David GriffinCavaliersVideo Coordinator with Suns under AingeCeltics sent Keith Bogans to Cleveland in five-player deal9/25/14
Donnie NelsonMavericksAssistant coach with Suns under AingeCeltics deal Rajon Rondo to Mavericks for three players, picks12/18/14
Ryan McDonoughSunsAssistant general manager with Boston under AingeSuns acquire Brandan Wright for protected first-round pick1/9/15
Chris WallaceGrizzliesGeneral manager with Boston under AingeGrizzlies acquire Jeff Green in three-team trade 1/12/15
Doc RiversClippersHead coach with Boston under AingeAustin Rivers traded to Clippers in three-team deal1/15/15
Various news reports.

B/R: Are there any precautions you take in those kinds of situations?

Ainge: Sometimes I may preface anything by asking them to not put things out. For some people, you don’t have to say those things.

B/R: Given the sensitive nature of discussing trade information, what’s the role of front-office assistants when it comes to trading? In the evolution of a trade, how involved are they in discussions? Is it important for them to have a familiarity with other assistant general managers around the league?

Ainge: We have a staff that has a lot of contacts in the organization, from coaches to front-office assistants. With assistant general manager Mike [Zarren], director of player personnel Austin [Ainge], director of scouting Dave [Lewin] and Brad [Stevens], there seems to be connection with somebody in another organization. Trade conversations could start that way, and do often start that way.

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 5: Danny Ainge President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics attends a game with the Brooklyn Nets against the Indiana Pacers during the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 5, 2014 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOT
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

B/R: How exactly are those relationships built over time?

Ainge: It’s a small world, the NBA. You are with guys sitting at games around the country, as you travel. You go out to dinner with guys on the road, working for other teams. There are summer leagues. You work with people that go to other teams to work. There are all sorts of ways relationships develop.

B/R: Do you see a common thread in the deals you end up passing on, just in the sense of the personalities of the teams you are dealing with on the other side? Whether it’s the leaks, or the negotiating tactics by the individuals involved? Is there a pattern or is every situation unique?

Ainge: Every situation is unique. Again, most deals don’t happen just because the team doesn’t want to do a deal. The deal is not good enough for whatever reason, that’s what it ultimately boils down to. All this other stuff, it may affect the chances of deals getting done. Relationships, talking with the media, I think those are smaller portions [of getting a trade done] than just having what another team wants. 

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 9: General Manager Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics chats with Team President Larry Bird of the Indiana Pacers during the 2013 Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League on July 9, 2013 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.NOTE TO USE
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Maybe if you don’t know a guy, you give up on a deal sooner than if you know a guy. If you know someone well, you may have another conversation, then another conversation to keep a deal alive, possibly, potentially. Ultimately, I’ve done deals with people I knew and done deals with people I didn’t know as well. I’ve been around so long I think I know people everywhere.

B/R: That’s what it seems like. If you look at your trading in the past year, there are just so many connections with other executives. There’s Phoenix with the Brandan Wright deal, you worked with Donnie Nelson while coaching Phoenix…

Ainge: Rick Carlisle in Dallas as well. Kevin McHale and Daryl Morey [in Houston].

B/R: Chris Wallace in Memphis...

Ainge: Dave Griffin in Cleveland. He was my video coordinator while I was coaching in Phoenix. Doc Rivers and Dave Wohl with the Clippers, we did that deal with them.

B/R: That’s quite an impressive network. In the midst of the reconstruction process, when you are continually looking to make changes to your roster, how much of an asset is having that network spread out and having so many people you can talk to comfortably?

Ainge: Those relationships can help, but ultimately I think those [deals with executives I know] are more coincidental than they are relationship-driven. Most of the trades I see in the league are not one-sided. Trades are mostly just teams with different agendas, different places in their path to a championship. Trades are not just about player-for-player these days. They are about creating cap space. When you are one piece away from winning, you may give up a little bit more to another team. Some teams have cap space that they use for acquiring young assets. Some use it for getting top-notch players and paying big dollars for top-notch players. Every team is sort of in a different place. I see most trades as being fair for both teams.

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