Does Feared Ex-Celtics Boss Give His New Team an Edge at Trade Deadline?

A. Sherrod BlakelyContributor IJanuary 28, 2022

Danny Ainge reacts while he looks on as he arrives prior to their game between the Los Clippers after being appointed Alternate Governor and CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball during an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

They had the best record in the NBA last season, only to flame out in the second round of the playoffs by losing four straight to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite having the fourth-best winning percentage among NBA franchises all-time with at least 1,000 games played, they have never won an NBA title. They haven't been to the Western Conference Finals since 2007. 

This season, the Utah Jazz have again been an enigma when it comes to figuring out how far they can go. But now they have a secret weapon in the front office whom executives have long viewed as a tough, shrewd negotiator and the architect of some of the most lopsided deals in recent memory.

This past offseason, former Boston Celtics boss Danny Ainge was hired as CEO of basketball operations for the Jazz. He is expected to have a voice in the decisions made by Utah's brain trust, at the very least. 

Utah is having yet another solid season in which its record (30-19) ranks among the best in the Western Conference, but the usual postseason slump seems to have come a bit earlier than usual. The Jazz have now dropped nine of their last 11 games, including losses to Detroit, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers—all teams with losing records at the time.

And the timing, just weeks before the Feb. 10 trade deadline, puts even more pressure on Utah to either figure out how to get more from its current roster or change things up via trade. 

If the Jazz are to get back on track prior to the trade deadline and reverse their fast-start-but-feeble-finishing ways, the newest addition to the Utah front office is going to have something to do with it. 

Ainge is quick to say that his input and role with the Jazz are very different from what he did as an executive with the Boston Celtics.

"I'm a sounding board to what everyone else is doing," Ainge told Bleacher Report. "I'm not driving the research, watching every single player on video. I'm a piece of the puzzle here, not the leader of the group."

Considering his experience as an NBA player, head coach and a longtime league executive responsible for building multiple title contenders during his time in Boston, Ainge's insights on potential deals should hold significant weight.

That voice will be critical for the Jazz, who came into this season on the short list of potential title contenders.

Because this is a new role for Ainge in a position created by the Jazz, the feeling-out process for all involved is ongoing. 

"We haven't done anything, any big decisions yet," Ainge said. "I'm involved in the organization. I have an owner [Jazz governor Ryan Smith] I have a great relationship with. He listens to me. There are a lot of people here he listens to that are very qualified and competent. I'm just another one. I like that; I like my relationship with him, and we get along well. I'm not spending 20 hours a day this time of year. I'm working, but it's different. I like it."

Ainge remains committed to winning every trade, just as he was in Boston when he had the final say on basketball-related matters. 

And it is that part of the Ainge resume that the Jazz should want to tap into. 

In 2013, when the Celtics' window to compete for a championship was all but closed, Ainge began the process of shedding core players and future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Ainge received a treasure's trove of future first-round picks in a blockbuster deal with Brooklyn that sent Garnett, Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White to Brooklyn in exchange for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and Keith Bogans. The players Boston got in return were just roster fillers. Boston was more excited about acquiring unprotected first-rounders from Brooklyn in 2014, 2016 and 2018 plus the right to swap picks (which the Celtics did) in 2017. 

Those picks landed Boston the following players:

  • 2014: James Young (17th overall selection)
  • 2016: Jaylen Brown (3rd overall)
  • 2017 (swap): Jayson Tatum (3rd overall)
  • 2018: Traded to Cleveland as part of Kyrie Irving trade; wound up being Collin Sexton

In 2017, Ainge was able to flip the No. 1 overall pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the No. 3 pick in that draft and a future first-rounder. 

Along with adding Tatum with the No. 3 overall pick, a two-time All-Star who has arguably been the best player in that draft class, Boston also received a future first-rounder that wound up being Romeo Langford in 2019.

Danny Ainge's trade-deadline savvy eventually netted him the pick that brought Boston Jayson Tatum.
Danny Ainge's trade-deadline savvy eventually netted him the pick that brought Boston Jayson Tatum.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press/Associated Press

Meanwhile, the Sixers selected Markelle Fultz, who was traded to the Orlando Magic in February 2019, less than two years into an NBA career marred by injuries. 

Ainge's best trade deadline deal while in Boston was in 2015, a move that was literally minutes away from not happening at all. 

Recognizing the team's need for another scorer off the bench, Ainge had expressed interest in acquiring Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns in the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Less than an hour before the deadline, Ainge got a call from then-Suns general manager Ryan McDonough (a former assistant GM in Boston) that he was willing to trade Thomas, who would become a two-time All-Star in Boston as well as finish fifth in the league's MVP voting in 2017.

In exchange for Thomas, Phoenix received Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick that Boston had acquired from Cleveland.

While Ainge had a number of draft-day misses in Boston, he tends to be at his best making trades that pay off in both the short and long term for his respective teams. 

The Jazz have not made a significant move at the trade deadline since 2018 when they were involved in a three-team deal with Cleveland and Sacramento that ultimately landed them Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose.

Both were good players, but neither moved the needle enough to catapult the Jazz from their current state of being a solid team that can't get over the hump. 

But by bringing Ainge into the fold, the Jazz have hope that this trade-deadline season will be a more active one—the kind that can elevate this franchise to heights it has not seen in quite some time. 

"Like I said, I'm another set of eyes and ears that the owner of the Utah Jazz can trust," Ainge said. "That's why he brought me in. And so, I honestly don't know how this is going to work out. I don't know how this is going to transpire at the trade deadline and drafting and stuff."