Danny Ainge made quite a splash last week with the second of his two significant trades as CEO of the Utah Jazz. The former Boston Celtics president of basketball operations sent All-Star Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal reminiscent of one of his biggest deals with the Celtics.
The Mitchell deal came after Ainge sent former Utah center Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves for five draft picks. Ainge is never afraid to make a move. During his 18 years in the Celtics front office, Ainge made plenty of moves. We took a look at them and came up with his five best.
No. 5: The Boston Celtics acquired Isaiah Thomas in a three-team deal
Isaiah Thomas was the last player chosen in the 2011 NBA Draft. Selected by the Sacramento Kings, Thomas played three seasons with them before being dealt to the Phoenix Suns after the 2013-14 season. Thomas played 46 games for the Suns before he was on the move once again.
The Celtics, Suns, and Detroit Pistons engaged in a three-way deal. Ainge traded Tayshaun Prince to the Pistons. He also sent Marcus Thornton and a first-round pick in 2016 to the Suns. The Celtics received Thomas from Phoenix, and then got Gigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko from Detroit.
Thomas was far and away the best player in the deal. The 5-foot-9 point guard spent two-plus seasons with the Celtics, earning All-star honors in his two full seasons. With the Celtics, Thomas averaged 24.7 points and 6.0 assists. He became a leader of the team and a fan favorite.
No. 4: Ainge wouldn’t part with point guard Rajon Rondo
Ainge’s fourth-best move with the Celtics was a move he didn’t make. Before the 2007-08 season, Ainge knew change in Boston was needed. He went out and flipped the franchise around with a pair of deals, acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in separate trades.
In both instances, Ainge refused to part with second-year point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo was the 21st player selected in the 2006 NBA Draft but wasn’t overly impressive as a rookie, averaging 6.4 points and 3.8 assists in 23.5 minutes.
Still, ainge refused to let go. In the Allen deal, the Seattle SuperSonics wanted Rondo, but Ainge refused and eventually sent Delonte West instead. For Garnett, The Timberwolves sought Rondo, but Ainge, again said no. Minnesota settled for Sebastain Telfair.
While Garnett, Allen, and Paul Pierce get most of the credit for the 2008 championship, it was Rondo who made that team go. He made four straight All-Star appearances from 2010 to 2013 and is one of Boston’s best point guards in franchise history.
No. 3: Ainge and the Celtics get Jayson Tatum and a pick for Markelle Fultz
In 2017, the Celtics had the top pick in the draft. The biggest debate that year was who would be the top pick, Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball. The Celtcs looked beyond those two.
Ainge sent the No. 1 pick to the Philadelphia 76ers who had the third pick. In return, Boston got that third pick and a future first-round selection.
The Sixers selected Fultz, who has struggled with injuries and is now playing for the Orlando Magic. Ball was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers. He now is with his third team, the Chicago Bulls.
The Celtics went in and snagged Jayson Tatum at No. 3. He’s become the foundation of the current Celtics who reached the NBA Finals last season for the first time since 2010.
No. 2: Ainge trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen
The Celtics had two subpar seasons, and Ainge had enough. In the 2005-06 season, Boston went 33-49, but the following year was the real disaster when they finished with just 24 victories.
That’s when Ainge went to work.
He made two separate trades prior to the 2007-08 season, snagging veterans Garnett and Allen and turning the Celtics into instant contenders. Ainge started by sendig Jeff Green, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and a second-round pick for Allen.
Then Ainge lured Garnett to Boston for five players and a pair of first-round draft picks. Garnett and Allen teamed with Paul Pierce to form Boston’s first Big Three since Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. The Celtics won the NBA title in 2008.
No. 1: Ainge set up Boston’s future in deal with the Brooklyn Nets
Ainge saw the writing in the wall in 2013. He had an aging Garnett and Pierce who still had some game left. He also had a desperate Brooklyn Nets team in win-now mode.
The Celtics and Nets swung a deal, with Pierce and Garnett, along with Jason Terry, heading to Brooklyn. The Celtics received five below-marginal players but collected a bevy of future draft picks. Boston acquired first-round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018. They also had the right to swap picks in 2015 and 2017.
That ’17 pick swap is what gave Boston the first pick in the draft that was traded to select Tatum. In 2016, they selected Jaylen Brown. Ainge briefly bit the bullet by trading his two veterans to the Nets, but it paid off handsomely for Boston’s future.
Jazz fans hope Ainge’s recent Utah trades can bring similar results.