The Celtics’ Danny Ainge is the NBA’s Most Underrated Executive

Running the show for an NBA franchise that has won 17 championships is no easy task. Following in the footsteps of the all-time great Red Auerbach, is equally daunting, but Danny Ainge is more than up to the task. As the Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations, Ainge is regarded as one of the best executives in the NBA if not in all pro sports.

The Celtics are a franchise that does not take losing very well. From the 1985-86 season to the 2007-08 campaign, the team never made it past the Eastern Conference semifinals in the NBA playoffs. The team went through six coaches and five general managers in that time frame in search of the right formula for renewed success.

Danny Ainge’s gritty play, 3-point shooting made him indispensable

The Celtics drafted multisport athlete Danny Ainge in the second round of the 1981 NBA draft after an All-American season at BYU. He started as a role player coming off the bench. By the time of the team’s championship year in 1985-86, Ainge was a starter. The shooting guard was noted for his 3-point shooting and free-throw accuracy and his tenacity on the court.

After being traded to Sacramento in 1989, Ainge went on to play for the Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, and Phoenix Suns. As a member of the Suns, Ainge played a key role in the team’s run to the NBA finals in 1992-93.

Ainge moves to coaching and the front office

Before joining Boston in the front office, Danny Ainge had been the head coach for the Phoenix Suns for parts of four seasons before leaving to become a color analyst on TNT. Ainge’s skill at drafting players and his prowess at making important — sometimes daring — trades have been a hallmark of his success with the Celtics.

Ainge began as the head coach of the Suns in 1996 after retiring from playing. While the on-court leader for Phoenix, the team boasted a 136-90 record with a style of play that resembled his brand of hard-nosed basketball. In 1999, without any warning, Ainge resigned as head coach to spend more time with his family.

“I love coaching, but anybody can coach,” Ainge said, according to ESPN. “My wife has just one husband and my children have just one father. Some of you may think I’m jumping ship. I don’t believe I’m jumping ship. I’m diving overboard to save my family.”

After some time as an analyst for NBA games on TNT, Ainge’s love of the game brought him to Boston where he took over as general manager. The Celtics offered Ainge the job twice, and after he initially rejected the job, he talked it over with his family and finally said yes.

“I didn’t jump at it. It wasn’t anything I was looking to really do,” Ainge told NBC Sports. “As time went on, they had come a second time and a third time while I was broadcasting … Eventually, I said yes.”

Danny Ainge has a daring approach to leadership


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Ainge’s management style is a risky one. His tenure has been marked with numerous trades with an ability to determine when a player is past his maximum value and then trading him for draft picks or role players. That approach is marked by what is considered one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.

In 2007, Ainge traded Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, and draft picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. That move was made, in part, by Ainge’s relationship with Timberwolves GM and former teammates Kevin McHale. Ainge pulled off the trade against the advice of members of his staff, per NBC Sports.

Another of Ainge’s skills was his ability to evaluate talent. In the 2016 draft, the Celtics chose Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 pick much to the shock of fans and NBA pundits. As the Celtics record has proven, the pick was right on the money, despite the initial negative reaction from fans.

“Like, let’s see. Let’s wait a year, then boo me. Let’s not boo the kid when his name is announced,” Ainge told the Boston Globe. As far as criticism in my position, I expect it, I’m used to it, and I don’t think [the media] can offend me. You can try, but I don’t think it’ll work.”

Another one of Danny Ainge’s master strokes as a general manager was adding Kevin Garnett to the roster. On the flip side, he let 2008 championship lynchpin Ray Allen and fan-favorite Al Horford leave via free agency, moves that demonstrate Ainge is a shrewd talent evaluator.

As the Celtics march through the 2020 NBA playoffs, with Brown as one of the team’s emerging stars, Ainge, as usual, was right, proving he is one of the sharpest — and perhaps most underrated — NBA executive.