Since Danny Ainge became the Boston Celtics head of Basketball Operations in 2003, I haven’t been a fan. Early in his tenure, he chased off Jim O’Brien (who I really liked) as the team’s head coach. He traded away Antoine Walker. He set up a major tank in the 2006-07 season in order to draft either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, and ended up with the fifth pick instead because they lost the lottery.
I warmed to him for a while. He masterfully set up to trade for both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, who won Banner 17 in 2008. They very nearly won the title again in 2010 (damn you, Kobe Bryant).
Then, I fell out of love with Danny again. I was not happy when he traded Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. I was not happy when he gave Avery Bradley a big money contract and balked at giving a big money deal to a much better Rajon Rondo. I was even more unhappy when he traded Rondo.
When Doc Rivers left and Danny decided to hire his next coach from mid-major NCAA power Butler, I was skeptical. I liked what Brad Stevens had done with Butler, getting them to two straight national championship games, but college coaches very rarely have come to the NBA and succeeded.
But, Stevens has become one of the best coaches in the league in a relatively short period of time. Bradley learned to shoot the basketball and became a First-Team All-NBA Defensive Player. Rondo has never again played at the level that he did as a Celtic.
He outright stole Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns. Jae Crowder, who he got in the Rondo trade, turned into an excellent two-way player who worked incredibly hard. He landed three first-round picks from the Brooklyn Nets for trading aging stars Garnett and Paul Pierce.
I’ve been warming to Danny for a while. But, I got a little nervous this summer when he sent Thomas and Crowder, along with Ante Zizic, to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving. I wasn’t nervous about getting Kyrie, who is the most talented running mate LeBron James has ever had, by a lot. I was nervous about trading away the spark plug and fiery leader and my favorite Celtic since Larry Bird. IT became the heart and soul of the team last year. Not having him made me nervous about how things would go this year.
Well, a 15-game winning streak later, everything is just fine. Despite the catastrophic injury to newly-signed Gordon Hayward that is likely to keep him out for the entire year, the Celtics have the best record in the league. And, through the first month-and-a-half or so, they have been the best team. They held Golden State of all teams to only 88 points this week. No, Golden State didn’t shoot well, but a lot of that had to do with the Celtics defense.
The other thing that has won me over on Danny is his drafting the last two years. Jalen Brown is physical freak and is turning into a dominant NBA player in only his second season. He ascendance wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly. Ainge took a risk when he dealt away the first overall pick, but took the risk knowing the player he wanted, Jayson Tatum, would still be there for the third pick. And Tatum is probably the most NBA-ready player in last year’s draft class. Add Terry Rozier to the list of draft steals, and this team, for the first time in the Ainge era, has contributing players that were drafted and developed through the Celtics system.
I don’t know what the future holds for the Celtics. But, I do know it’s a fun team to watch play basketball. And I know, for the first time in 14 years, that Danny Ainge will make the right moves to keep the team competitive.