When Danny Ainge was a player, nobody ever questioned his “grit” or “burning fire” to win. Yet, I’m not sure that anybody predicted him to instill such a ruthless demeanor into his same goals as a GM.
In 2008, Danny Ainge pulled off what many believe to be his greatest accomplishment by acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen simultaneously while keeping Paul Pierce. The trio went on to win the 2008 NBA championship and came mere minutes away from doing it again two years later. The famous run by a group of Hall of Famers lasted five years before Danny did what many believed to be unthinkable. He traded them all away.
Boston went through a franchise overhaul as they hired Brad Stevens, stockpiled a bevy of draft picks and prepared to slowly turn the franchise around. A 25-win season turned into a 40-win season. This turned into a 48-win season and later turned into a 53-win season. Eventually, this led to last season which accumulated in 55 wins despite major injury losses. They became relevant again fast and it couldn’t have been possible without a few major decisions by Ainge.
For starters, the Brad Stevens hire was spectacular. Many were shocked when he decided to take a chance on a young college coach who had no experience coaching in the NBA, but he is now regarded as one of the best coaches in the NBA and was a finalist for coach of the year. He is known as the king of sideline drawn up plays that his players have said on the record just how shocked they get when some of them work. He is also known as one of the best in the NBA at maximizing talent and turned castaway players such as Evan Turner, Isaiah Thomas, and even Jordan Crawford into wanted commodities. Ainge may not have thought that this hire would have worked this well, but it has.
Another thing that has led to the Celtics being one of four title favorites going into the 2018-19 NBA season has been his masterful drafting. As many people call him, “trader Danny” has done his fair share since the 2013 trade with the Brooklyn Nets. That famous trade landed him three first-round draft picks and the combination of that trade as well as several other trades for draft picks has helped land Boston with some of the best young talents in the NBA. They boast a group that includes Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and rookie of the year finalist Jayson Tatum. Boston hasn’t hit perfectly on every draft choice; however, it is hard to ignore just how talented the players they have nailed are.
Beyond the coaching and the drafting, free agency and trades have been at the forefront of all this as well. Boston started it all by acquiring Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder and as Stevens maximized their talent, they became valuable enough trade chips to acquire Kyrie Irving. Other than this, they also used Stevens and a promising young team to convince Al Horford to join the team and this led to Gordon Hayward reuniting with his old coach to join the team.
It all has built up to this season. Many believed last season was the final build up but alas the fans were robbed of this opportunity. Major injuries to Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward forced the team to make due with their young pieces but they still did not disappoint. In a season that could have ended when Irving officially went down, the Celtics were still one game away from the finals. In the grand scheme of things, the season might have been for the best as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown developed and got far more opportunities then they would have ever gotten if the Celtics two all-stars had stayed healthy. Even when Ainge wasn’t trying to win, he still did.
Yet, upon us, is the season of all seasons for Celtics fans. Lebron James is officially a Laker and will be battling against the juggernauts of the Western Conference. The biggest threat to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference will most likely be the Philadelphia 76ers and that is the same team that lost in five to the Celtics last playoffs without their two best players. The Celtics could have up to four or five all-stars on the same team next year and if they stay fully healthy, the Eastern Conference should theoretically be a breeze for this team. Danny Ainge has done the impossible yet again just 10 years after doing it the first time. That “fire” to win remains and minus Golden State, is there anybody that can stop them this time?