Danny Ainge is one of the best General Managers (GMs) in the history of the NBA, and one of the reasons why is that he’s never afraid to make a big move (hence his nickname, Trader Danny). Ainge has great insight into who can develop into an All-Star (and who can’t), and knows when it’s time to blow up a team. He’s made some great moves throughout his career as an executive, so let’s break down some of his finest.
On June 27th, 2013, Ainge traded Lucas Nogueira and two 2014 second-round picks to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Kelly Olynyk. This was a great move, because while Nogueira would spend a total of four years in the NBA and the second-round picks didn’t amount to much, Olynyk became an important part of a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. One could argue that the Celtics wouldn’t have made it past John Wall, Bradley Beal, and the Washington Wizards in the second round if it weren’t for Olynyk’s heroics in Game Seven. Olynyk had 26 points in 28 minutes, and helped the Celtics to a 115-105 win, while Isaiah Thomas put up 29. Who knows what could’ve happened to that team if they didn’t make the Conference Finals; maybe Ainge would have blown up the team sooner, seeing their new ceiling.
Jayson Tatum/Derrick White
This trade is twofold, because one led to the other. In 2017, Boston had the first overall pick of the draft (we’ll get to how later). Ainge knew that the guy he wanted was Tatum, but Magic Johnson had tipped his hand when he revealed the Lakers were going to draft Lonzo Ball, and it was pretty much a done deal. The Philadelphia 76ers, on the other hand, really wanted Markelle Fultz. However, they didn’t know who the Celtics wanted, and were worried Fultz still wouldn’t be on the board. Ainge knew this, and traded from the 1st to the 3rd pick while receiving an additional 2019 first-round pick. From this trade, the Celtics got a member of the All-NBA First Team, and while Fultz is doing a decent job reviving his career in Orlando, he didn’t have a large impact for the 76ers.
Fast forward to 2019, and the Celtics had three first-round picks. With their 14th pick, from the 76ers, the Celtics drafted Romeo Langford. Then, they drafted Matisse Thybulle with the 20th pick (where unfortunately, Ainge made one of his less brilliant trades by trading the future All-Defensive wing to the 76ers for Carsen Edwards and Ty Jerome), and Grant Williams with the 22nd pick.
While it’d be clear to most how Williams helped the team out (and how trading Thybulle didn’t), what does Langford have to do with any of this? While he wasn’t much use on the Celtics roster, Ainge put together another great trade during the 2022 trade deadline, giving up Langford, Josh Richardson, a 2022 first-round pick (who became Blake Wesley), and a 2028 first-round pick for Derrick White. Much like Jrue Holiday was for the Bucks, White turned out to be the piece the Celtics were missing, as he provided additional scoring off the bench and great defense. While the Celtics wouldn’t win the Finals, they came awfully close with this group, and because of these two trades, are on the brink of a championship.
Kyrie Irving/Isaiah Thomas
Even though this trade didn’t pan out well for the Celtics or Cavaliers, it was still a great move by Ainge. The Cavaliers traded Irving in exchange for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 first-round pick (who became Collin Sexton), and a 2020 second-round pick. The Celtics became a legitimate title contender with Irving, and they were one game away from the 2018 Finals without Irving or Gordon Hayward playing! While in that case LeBron James had his way with rookie Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, everyone was thinking the same thing; what happens when Hayward and Irving get healthy?
Much like the Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, the Celtics had multiple homegrown stars, then got another player who was supposed to put them over the top. In theory, these Celtics could have won every title in the interim between the Warriors dynasty; I don’t doubt they could’ve beaten Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, or an older LeBron and the Lakers. Unfortunately, Irving proved that he wasn’t the most consistent player, missed a lot of time, and the team had horrible chemistry. They made it to the second round of the 2019 playoffs before losing to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (the series where Paul Pierce infamously said the series was over after Game 1). It didn’t end well in actuality, but the trade was great for the Celtics, and if a few people could have gelled just a little bit better, then the Celtics might have Banner 18, and maybe 19 as well.
As for the Cavaliers, they lost their All-Star point guard, and expected to get another one back. Unfortunately, Thomas’ medical situation was far worse than the Celtics had let on, and it wasn’t long before Thomas was on his way to the Lakers. Crowder and Zizic wouldn’t spend much time on the Cavaliers either. So, while 2022 doesn’t have lasting effects, the Celtics still definitely won this trade.
Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce Blowup
By 2013, the Celtics knew that their time frame to win with Garnett and Pierce was over, especially after Ray Allen left the team in 2012. So, in typical Ainge fashion, he decided to rebuild the team and start over. Ainge traded Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry, D.J. White, a 2017 first-round pick, and a 2017 second-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, an unprotected 2014 first-round pick, an unprotected 2016 first-round pick, an unprotected 2017 first-round pick, and an unprotected 2018 first-round pick.
This was a horrible trade for the Nets. Four unprotected first-round picks was way too much to give up for Garnett and Pierce, especially with both past their primes. The 2017 first-round pick the Nets got turned out to be Kyle Kuzma; but he was traded to the Lakers along with Brook Lopez in the D’Angelo Russell deal. As for the picks Ainge got, he made the most of them. While the 2014 pick became James Young, and the Nets weren’t horrible yet, by 2016 they were the worst team in the league. They landed the third overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, where the Celtics selected Jaylen Brown. The next year with Brooklyn’s pick, they took Jayson Tatum, and the 2018 first-round pick (Sexton) was used in the Kyrie Irving trade.
This trade was Ainge’s best haul as a GM…until the 2022 NBA offseason.
Ainge pulled off the mother of all trades in Utah by moving Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick, a 2026 pick swap, a 2027 first-round pick, and a 2029 first-round pick.
The players themselves aren’t that bad; Beverley is a defensive minded point guard who has a positive impact on most teams he goes to; Beasley has shown the ability to score 20 points per game, and Kessler is a seven-foot shot blocker coming out of Auburn. But then, there’s the picks.
The 2023 first-round pick probably won’t be worth much, just like how Ainge’s 2014 first-rounder from the Nets wasn’t worth much. But if the Timberwolves have a problem or decide to blow it up or trade away Gobert if the experiment isn’t working, then Ainge has hit the jackpot. Chances are, he’ll get at least one future All-Star from this trade, likely two. Either way, the Jazz have so many assets now, and with a superstar never having been traded for this much, they completely messed up the market. It’s one of the reasons I think Kevin Durant won’t get traded this offseason.
Which of these moves by Trader Danny was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!
One thought on “Trader Danny’s Best Moves as a GM”
Looks like he is excellent at recognizing talent. I don’t have a favorite, but you need to respect a GM who is not afraid of making risky moves.