Is Danny Ainge’s Master Plan a Failure?

John Burke ‘23

Sports Editor

While appearing on 98.5 The Sports Hub last Thursday, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge finally said what Celtics fans have been thinking for months. Ainge frankly stated that “Our roster is obviously not good… there’s no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.” Ainge also remarked upon the fact that many of the Celtics’ faithful want to assign blame for a team that has struggled to remain .500, and he was willing to offer himself as the scapegoat for the Celtics’ performance. 

Danny Ainge has been long considered one of the premier executives in the NBA. Known as the type of general manager who likes to swing for the fences, Ainge is no stranger to either scrutiny or success. Ainge has been long adored by the fans of Boston, who have always trusted him and his “master plans.” 

Ainge’s most recent plan began on June 28, 2013, the night that he traded a package based around future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for a myriad of players and unprotected draft picks. Danny Ainge had just closed the door on a prosperous, championship era of Celtics basketball, and the fans of Boston were going to have to endure a rebuild. 

The man chosen to lead this rebuild was Brad Stevens, the coach who had taken NCAA mid-major Butler to multiple Final Fours while building his reputation as one of the best coaches in the collegiate ranks. Stevens’ first season resulted in a pitiful 25-57, but this was to be expected for a rebuilding team. Ainge took the 6th overall pick that the Celtics received following the 2013-14 NBA season and drafted Marcus Smart, a player that has since proven his place as an essential player for Boston. The next season Ainge acquired his first major piece in building a contender when he traded for point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas proved to be an offensive spark plug and exactly what the Boston fans needed to reinvigorate their love for the proud franchise. The Celtics were able to sneak into the playoffs that season, and though a first round loss to Lebron James and the Cavaliers was inevitable, Ainge and Stevens had seemingly made the Celtics a competitive team in one short year. 

Photo Credit: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

After a 48-34 campaign the next season that resulted in another first round playoff loss, all eyes were on the off season. The first of the prized Brooklyn picks was going to be the 3rd overall in the upcoming draft, and it was one of the strongest free agent classes in recent memory. In the draft, Ainge opted to take Jaylen Brown, an athletic wing from the University of California. This was a controversial selection at the time, as better known prospects like Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Kentucky’s Jamal Murray were still available. However, Brown has since silenced the doubters, as he has proved to be a talented scorer and defender who is going to be rewarded with his first All Star award this current season. During free agency, the Celtics were able to make a major splash with the signing of Atlanta big man Al Horford. More telling than the Horford signing was the progress that Boston made with the crown jewel of that summer, Kevin Durant. Though he ultimately signed with Golden State, the legitimate interest he showed the Celtics validated this up and coming team. 

The 2016-17 was a resounding success for the Celtics. Isaiah Thomas finished 5th in the MVP vote and was dubbed the “King in the Fourth” for his electrifying late game performances. Al Horford seemed to be exactly what the Celtics needed as a rock solid presence in the paint, and roll players like Smart and Jae Crowder were surpassing expectations. The Celtics ultimately made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and had seemingly arrived as dark horse contenders. 

Then Danny Ainge struck again. 

The 2017 offseason is one Celtics fans will never forget. Ainge traded away the 1st overall draft pick, awarded through the Brooklyn trade, in order to move back and secure additional assets. The Celtics drafted Jayson Tatum out of Duke at 3rd overall. Ainge then shocked the world in a blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston sent Isaiah Thomas, the last of the Brooklyn picks, and several role players to Cleveland for superstar point guard Kyrie Irving. He then signed coveted free agent Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract. A team that had made it within four games of the NBA Finals the season before seemingly had gotten much better. 

For the next two seasons, this Celtics roster should’ve been the crescendo of Ainge’s great plan set in motion 5 years before. The starting five of Irving, Hayward, Horford, Brown, and Tatum was supposed to be one of the most talented and exciting in the league. Marcus Smart had made the jump to a tenacious defender and rebounder. The Celtics were supposed to be the team to dethrone the Golden State Warriors. 

They were not. 

Gordon Hayward blew out his ankle in his very first game as a Celtic, and has never been the same since. His $160 million contract is now considered one of the worst in NBA history. 

Kyrie Irving left the team after two seasons in order to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. He was injured several times and was considered a locker room problem who was not willing to work with his teammates. 

Al Horford was considered a let down for the amount of money he was paid, and has since left the team for the Philadelphia 76ers. 

The Boston Celtics currently have Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, two elite, young wings that are among the best tandems in the league. Brown and Tatum are championship caliber

players, and Ainge has failed to build a championship caliber team around them. He has failed to address glaring weaknesses that plague the Celtics, including a rim protecting big man and point guard depth. 

Though it resulted in quality pieces, Danny Ainge’s master plan has failed the Boston Celtics. If Ainge fails to make a major move at the upcoming trade deadline, the Celtics are going to continue to be a team that can not get over the hump. 

The people of Boston want someone to blame, and that someone is Danny Ainge.

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