Ranking top 4 NBA General Managers: Where Houston Rockets’ Daryl Morey Lands
4. Danny Ainge-Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics’ General Manager Danny Ainge pioneered the best rebuild in recent NBA history. Ainge took over as the Celtics General Manager ahead of the 2002-2003 season and has been the only mainstay amongst a Celtics team that has undergone drastic change during that timespan.
For starters, Ainge was the starter of the “superteam” movement, as he acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to team with Paul Pierce. This led to a championship for the Celtics during the 2007-2008 season and an additional appearance in the NBA Finals during the 2009-2010 season.
But the Celtics never returned to the Finals after 2010, as Garnett and Pierce began to age and decline on the court. Ainge made the decision to blow up the team, as he traded away Pierce, KG and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. The Celtics received the Nets first round draft picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018. In addition, the Celtics swapped first round picks with the Nets in 2017.
The blow up didn’t stop there, however, as Ainge also traded coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers in the same offseason of 2013 in exchange for the Clippers first round pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. The Celtics landed Brad Stevens from the college ranks as their head coach, which was a great hire because he was viewed as one of the brightest young coaches at the time, in part because he led Butler University to two national championship appearances.
In Feburary of 2015, Ainge traded Marcus Thornton and a first round pick for guard Isaiah Thomas, and at the conclusion of the 2015-2016 NBA season, the Celtics signed All-Star Al Horford. The Thomas and Horford pairing led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, but they were ultimately defeated by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Prior to the start of the 2017-2018 season, Ainge traded away Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and a first round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. Irving was by far the best piece in the trade and Ainge was able to send away an injured Thomas to land Irving, which was a steal.
The true brilliance of Ainge as a General Manager is his ability to scout ahead of the NBA Draft and utilize his draft picks. This is where Ainge’s biggest strength rests, as he used the first round picks acquired from the Pierce and Garnett trade to draft Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
The Tatum pick was another example of why Ainge is one of the best General Managers in the league. The Celtics had the first pick in the 2017 NBA draft but traded it away to the Philadelphia 76ers, who were really high on Markelle Fultz. Boston swapped picks with Philadelphia, who had the third pick in the draft, and yielded an additional first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Ainge drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in 2017 instead, and Tatum has had career averages of 14.8 points on 40% shooting from deep. Fultz has since been traded by Philadelphia to the Orlando Magic and has only played in 33 games in the last two years combined.
The fact that Ainge was able to draft Tatum, the guy he wanted all along, at a lower position and get an additional first round pick is just brilliant. But not only that, the Celtics just lost Kyrie Irving to free agency, but were able to land three-time All-Star Kemba Walker to replace Irving. Thanks to Ainge, the blow of losing Irving isn’t nearly as significant as it otherwise would have been.
Next: No. 3