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|C’s Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge, above, watches intently at a recent NBA Summer League game.(Courtesy of NBA.com)|
Is Danny Ainge one of the best judges of player personnel in the NBA? Is he one of the worst? Fans of the NBA could debate these questions for hours. On the one hand, Ainge has done well in the draft, but on the other hand, Ainge has made some poor trades. Despite the disagreement, one thing’s for sure: Ainge is one of the most creative GMs in basketball, and during this past off-season he made the Celtics something from a lot of nothing.
The Danny Ainge Conundrum is interesting in that so many people feel one way or the other on him. Some support him unconditionally, and others, like those at Firedannyaingenow.com, would like to see him out of Boston as soon as possible. One blogger had an intriguing take: it was in an article written by John Karalis over at RedsArmy.com. He said that Danny Ainge’s off-season was all Plan B or C. Plan A was to land Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, and when that was not an option, Ainge moved to Plan B or C, which was to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. He argued that Ainge made these moves only because things didn’t fall into place as originally planned, making Ainge’s off-season success either a result of luck or destiny.
It was the first in a series of Danny Ainge’s plans “A” that didn’t work out, but in actuality put us in a better position.Getting that draft pick would have kept us in a “rebuilding” mode. We would have kept Al Jefferson and Danny would have drafted Kevin Durant (yes, he would have. Trust me on this one) to go along with Pierce and build a team for the future. But getting the 5th pick sent Danny into plan “B”… trade the pick for a proven veteran, perhaps a star.
Red’s Army provides an interesting take on Danny Ainge’s recent offseason performance. Perhaps it was luck or destiny. Either way, it only explains this past offseason. I’m here to try and analyze his career as a front office man with the Celtics. The best way to analyze Ainge’s performance in Boston is by his draft picks, major trades, and team performance. Only then can one draw up a conclusion.
Celtics Draft Picks (2003-2007)
1st Rd, Pick 16: Troy Bell
1st Rd, Pick 20: Dahntay Jones
2nd Rd, Pick 27: Brandon Hunter
Reaction: Ainge traded both Bell and Jones for the 13th pick (Marcus Banks) and the 27rd pick (Kendrick Perkins). This obviously was a good trade for the plain reason that Troy Bell hasnt played a game since his rookie season. Dahntay Jones has emerged as a solid role player for the Grizzlies, averaging 7.5 ppg last season. Perk is now the C’s starting center, and Banks has bounced around some, but is a much more worthy player than Troy Bell. Brandon Hunter, like many 2nd rounders before him, has barely played in his career, and hasn’t seen action since the 2004-2005 season.
1st Rd, 15th pick: Al Jefferson
1st Rd, 24th pick: Delonte West
1st Rd, 25th pick: Tony Allen
2nd Rd, 11th pick: Justin Reed
Reaction: It’s easily Ainge’s best draft. Al Jefferson will be a 16-point, 10-rebound man for years to come. Deltone West has proved to be a solid defender against guards, with the ability to play both the point and shooting guard positions. Tony Allen pre-injury was looking really good as the team’s leading scorer. His explosiveness alone was worth a late first round pick. Justin Reed was a solid defender in his days with the C’s…but now he’s spending more time as a defendant (subtle reference to Reed getting caught with weed).
1st Rd, 18th pick: Gerald Green
2nd Rd, 20th pick: Ryan Gomes
2nd Rd, 23rd pick: Orien Greene
Reaction: Another good draft here for Danny. Gerald Green was touted as the next Tracy McGrady out of high school. While he’s yet to realize his potential, Green was a solid late 1st round selection. Ryan Gomes was probably the steal of the draft, and maybe the best 2nd rounder in years for the C’s. He has become a great role player…and it’s too bad he’s not on the team, but that’s another story. Orien Greene played well in spurts for the C’s at guard, but has since left and joined the Indiana Pacers, where he played in 41 games last season.
1st Rd, 7th pick: Randy Foye
Reaction: This pick is confusing. The C’s traded it straight up for Brandon Roy (the 6th pick) then traded the future rookie of the year to the Blazers. They were looking for a future point guard. More on that later…
1st Rd, 5th pick: Jeff Green
2nd Rd, 2nd pick: Gabe Pruitt
Reaction: This is when Plan C took place. They Celtics didn’t get Oden or Durant, and they failed to trade this pick, Al Jefferson, and Theo Ratliff for Kevin Garnett. Instead, they traded the pick, Delonte West, and Wally for Ray Allen, which turned back to Plan B (trading for KG). Only time will tell with Pruitt, but he was a very solid point guard prospect coming out of USC, so it’s promising.
Key Ainge Trades
October 21, 2003: Celtics trade F Antoine Walker and G Tony Delk to the Mavericks for F Raef Lafrentz, G Jiri Welsch, F Chris Mills, and a 2004 1st round draft pick
Reaction: What? Antoine was my favorite Celtic, and while he had atrocious shot selection and a really ugly dance (The Wiggle), he still was the team’s captain and face of the franchise (along with Paul Pierce). The part of this deal that made the least amount of sense was inheriting Lafrentz’s remaining contract (6 years and a whopping $69 million) for an overrated center. Raef went on to play a few injury-riddled seasons with the team before getting the boot. I also have to note that Jiri Welsch was and is worthless. But, somehow, Ainge pulled off one of his best trades as a result. He convinced the Cavs that Welsch was worth a future first round pick in a Feb. 24, 2004 deal.
December 15, 2003: Celtics trade G/F Eric Williams, C Tony Battie, and F Kedrick Brown to the Cavs for G/F Ricky Davis, C Chris Mihm, F Michael Stewart
Reaction: Ainge was still in Operation: Blow up team. This trade made a bit of sense though, with the Celtics landing a legitimate second scoring threat to replace Antoine Walker. They also get a guy with promise in Chris Mihm (who turned out to be a big piece of garbage). The key to the deal was sending Eric Williams to help mentor LeBron James. Battie went on to be a really good role player with the Magic. Kedrick Brown went on to do nothing again, just with a different team.
August 6, 2004: Celtics trade C Chris Mihm, G Chucky Atkins, G Marcus Banks (later became F Jumaine Jones instead) to the Lakers for G Gary Payton and F Rick Fox
Reaction: At first, this trade looked awful. It was exciting to get an aging, but still good point guard in Gary Payton…if he ever decided to show up. His delay in reporting and Rick Fox’s retirement right after the trade forced the Lakers’ hands, and they agreed to take Jumaine Jones instead of Marcus Banks. Then, all of a sudden, GP was reporting to camp and actually played the entire season. This trade worked out too because the 2004-05 season was pretty enjoyable…and successful too. It also worked out because Chucky Atkins was old, Chris Mihm still sucked, and Jumaine Jones can ONLY shoot 3′s.
February 24, 2005: Celtics Trade G Gary Payton, F Tom Gugliotta, F Michael Stewart and a 2005 or future 1st round selection to the Hawks for F Antoine Walker
Reaction: It was probably the best day of my life. My Antoine jersey was wearable again. The great part about this deal was that the Hawks waived Gary Payton and he signed back with the team a few games later. With Walker, Lafrentz, Pierce, Payton, and Davis, the team won the Atlantic Division and lost a hard-fought series 4-3 against the Pacers. They haven’t been back to the playoffs since.
August 2, 2005: Celtics send F Antoine Walker to the Heat in a 5-team, 13-player deal
Reaction: The C’s got no return other than cap flexibility…and I guess the satisfaction of sending Walker to a real contender with a real shot at winning the NBA Title (which they did).
January 27, 2006: Celtics trade G/F Ricky Davis, C Mark Blount, G Marcus Banks, and F Justin Reed to Timberwolves for G/F Wally Szczerbiak, C Michael Olowokandi, C Dwayne Jones, and a future first round pick
Reaction: This trade didn’t make a lot of sense at first, but looking back it appears Danny was trying to take out the trash. Ricky Davis was a good player, and the was the reason the T-Wolves took the deal. But Mark Blount and Marcus Banks were overpaid, selfish players, and were a classic example of addition by subtraction for the C’s. Wally didn’t do much in his career, as it was marred by ankle injuries. Kandi-man and Jones didn’t do much either, and the C’s didn’t even keep the draft pick they received.
June 29, 2006: Celtics trade F Raef Lafrentz, G Dan Dickau, and Randy Foye (which later became Brandon Roy) to the Trailblazers for G Sebastian Telfair, C Theo Ratliff, 2008 second round pick
Reaction: Ainge did this trade for a few reasons. First, he was looking for a future point guard. He liked Randy Foye, or maybe even Brandon Roy, but instead opted to trade the pick to the Blazers. The Blazers then sent Foye to the T-Wolves for Roy. He finally got rid of Raef’s ridiculous contract, but acquired a ridiculous one in return in the form of Theo Ratliff. He would be a valuable trading chip the next offseason, but was useless during his one year in Boston.
June 29, 2007: Celtics trade #5 pick (Jeff Green), G/F Wally Szczerbiak, G Delonte West to the Supersonics for G Ray Allen
Reaction: At first, this trade made the C’s a fringe playoff team. Ainge answered the call by pairing Pierce with another veteran hungry for a title. Some fans predicted that this trade was a prelude to something bigger. Time will only tell to see how this impacts the team.
August 1, 2007: Celtics trade C Theo Ratliff, G Sebastian Telfair, G Gerald Green, F Ryan Gomes, F Al Jefferson, two first round picks (one of which is the T-Wolves’ original selection) to the Timberwolves for F Kevin Garnett
Reaction: Ainge pulled off the biggest one-player trade in NBA history; the first 7-for-1 deal. Garnett brings the Celtics they size they haven’t had since Robert Parrish was playing. This could prove to be one of the biggest moves in Celtics history. Again, only time will tell.
Overall Trades Reaction: Well, it would seem the trades occurred in waves. One second, Ainge had the C’s rebuilding. Then with the pressure of not winning, Ainge acquired Gary Payton and Antoine Walker to get back to being a winning team. Then there was another period of rebuilding, and if Ainge had it his way, this would’ve remained the game plan. Theo Ratliff was supposed to provide the C’s cap relief in two years. Instead, they spun him along with all their young talent into 10-time all-star Kevin Garnett.
Year-By-Year Team Record Under Ainge
Conclusions: The Celtics are currently on a two-year decline in the Ainge administration. Through trades, draft picks, and a few free agent signings (James Posey, Eddie House, and co.), the Celtics are quickly back in contention as they look to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 2001-2002 season. Ainge’s judge of talent will be on full display this season, and I’ll give credit where credit is due at the end of the season to determine Danny’s place among the league GM’s.