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Four years later, Celtics reaping biggest benefits of Danny Ainge’s brilliant Garnett-Pierce coup 05.17.17 at 10:16 am ET
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Danny Ainge remade the Celtics in the 2013 offseason.  (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Danny Ainge remade the Celtics in the 2013 offseason. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

It all seems silly now, but four years ago, it appeared as if Danny Ainge had repeated Red Auerbach’s mistake and held onto his aging nucleus for too long. A lethargic-looking team was bested by the lowly Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett laboring up the court in all six excruciating games. 

The Celtics passed the mantle to the Heat the previous season, when Miami ousted them in a thrilling seven-game Eastern Conference Final. Faced with a 3-2 series deficit, LeBron James scored 45 points in Game 6 at T.D. Garden, asserting himself as the dominant force in the conference for years to come. 

But yet, Ainge elected to keep Pierce and Garnett around for one more run. Then Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in January, missing the remainder of the season and destroying the Celtics’ hopes at playoff advancement. 

That offseason, it seemed like it would be a tall task for Ainge to acquire value for his two old and depleted Hall of Famers. But then a Russian oligarch intervened. Desperate to win, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov surrendered four first-round picks and a boatload of other assets, including a trade exception, for Garnett and Pierce’s services. It may go down as the most lopsided deal in NBA history. 

The Celtics reaped the fruit of the Nets’ haste Monday night, when they won the draft lottery secured the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft for the first time in franchise history. There’s a star-studded crop of prospects on the board this year, including guards Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. While James Young (No. 17 in 2014) is a project and Jaylen Brown (No. 3 in 2016) is a solid rotation player, the Celtics have a chance to bring in a bonafide star. They also own Brooklyn’s first-round pick in 2018. 

What makes this situation so unique, of course, is the fact that the Celtics are in the Eastern Conference Finals. Assuming they keep the selection, they’ll be adding the No. 1 overall pick to a team that’s on the edge of championship contention. 

And the man who’s most responsible for that, Isaiah Thomas, can be tied back to the Garnett-Pierce blockbuster as well. 

The Celtics acquired Thomas from the Suns at the deadline in 2015 for the Cavaliers’ 2016 first-round selection and guard Marcus Thornton. The C’s scooped up that pick and Thornton along with starting center Tyler Zeller two summers ago in a three-team trade with the Cavaliers and Nets. They were able to facilitate the deal by using their aforementioned $10.4 million trade exception. (In the NBA, a trade is only OK’d if the salaries going both ways match up.)

So even before Fultz or Ball even come to Boston, the Celtics can already thank the Nets for helping them acquire a potential franchise cornerstone. And another one may be on the way in 2018. 

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett
Celtics win NBA draft lottery, will choose first overall for first time in the lottery era 05.16.17 at 8:59 pm ET
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Washington guard Markelle Fultz (left) and UCLA counterpart Lonzo Ball (right) are considered the two best prospects in the NBA draft. (Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports)

Washington guard Markelle Fultz (left) and UCLA counterpart Lonzo Ball (right) are considered the two best prospects in the NBA draft. (Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports)

The ping pong balls finally smiled on the Celtics.

Snakebitten in previous trips to the NBA lottery, the Celtics on Tuesday finally cashed in some major luck when they claimed the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft on Tuesday night.

This is the first time in the modern draft era that the Celtics have earned the No. 1 pick.

“This is pretty good,” Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck told ESPN. “It’s a good time to be a Celtics fan.”

The C’s entered Tuesday night’s lottery as the team with the best chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick via their trade with Brooklyn, and they cashed in. The C’s have never moved up in the lottery, but there was no possibility of that this year, since the best they could hope for was remaining steady at No. 1.

The Celtics entered the lottery with a 25 percent chance of picking first and a 46.5 percent chance of choosing in the top two. They could pick no worse than fourth, thanks to a trade that allows them to swap draft positions with the Brooklyn Nets, who finished with the worst record in the NBA.

This is considered a deep draft with no shortage of talented players in the top five or six positions. The consensus No. 1 pick is Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, an explosive 6-foot-4 scorer and floor general with the most complete game in the draft.

Beyond Fultz, there’s UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, who might be the best pure passer to enter the NBA since Jason Kidd left Cal nearly 25 years ago. Beyond those two are forwards Josh Jackson of Kansas and Jayson Tatum of Duke. (For more on this quintet, click here.) Kentucky guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are also expected to go in the top 10.

What this means for the Celtics is they now know what options they have this summer. One option is to sign a free agent like Utah’s Gordon Hayward to a max contract and then augment that acquisition with a young piece in the draft such as Fultz.

The other is to push their chips to the center of the table and attempt to trade the pick for a player like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler or Indiana’s Paul George, thereby accelerating the rebuilding process.

What’s clear is the C’s have options, and that’s never a bad place to be.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Markelle Fultz, NBA Draft
Two years later, Rajon Rondo trade goes down as one of Danny Ainge’s greatest deals 03.13.17 at 4:47 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo seems to be in the twilight of his career. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Rajon Rondo seems to be in the twilight of his career. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

When the Celtics finally traded Rajon Rondo in December 2014, his value was at a nadir. The mercurial point guard was in the final year of his contract and coming off a mysterious hand injury that took longer to heal than anticipated. With that in mind, Danny Ainge was lauded for extracting any value from the Mavericks in return for him. 

But as it turns out, the trade was a heist. 

The Mavericks’ package for Rondo centered around a 2016 first-round pick (Guerschon Yabusele), 2016 second-round selection (Demetrius Jackson) and a then-little-known forward named Jae Crowder. Though the picks received much of the attention at the time, Crowder has turned into perhaps the team’s best all-around players. This revelation is hardly breaking news, but it was especially on display Sunday, when Rondo spent the majority of the contest on the bench while the Celtics shellacked the Bulls. 

Despite only being 1.5 games out of the playoffs, the Bulls are preparing to rebuild. Maybe the most telling moment of their futile season came in late January, when Rondo called out his running mates, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. In an Instagram post, Rondo lambasted their leadership style after they had publicly called out some of their teammates. 

“My vets would never go to the media,” he wrote. “They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off. My vets didn’t care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn’t have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn’t change the plan because it didn’t work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can’t win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”

Playing for his fourth team in three seasons, the 31-year-old Rondo is far from being the max contract player he once thought he was. That was obvious Sunday. He logged just 18 mins in the Celtics’ 100-80 victory, scoring two points with six assists, three rebounds and three steals. Even though Rondo is healthy, he hasn’t started a game since Nov. 30. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jae Crowder, Rajon Rondo
Danny Ainge explains why Celtics didn’t make any moves at deadline: ‘Nothing that was good enough’ 02.23.17 at 4:05 pm ET
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Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge tried, but he’s not in a rush to give away Brooklyn picks, and he likes his team.

Those were the messages from the Celtics boss to reporters after Thursday’s trade deadline passed without Ainge making a deal.

“We had a lot of conversations about things that we could do to improve our team but nothing that was good enough to do,” Ainge told reporters, including Richie Thompson of the Boston Herald. “It’s hard to say and I think it takes two teams and a lot of times we don’t know how close. A lot of times it is very easy to tell but [sometimes] teams are very far apart. A lot of discussion, good conversation and a lot of rumors that were true and a lot of rumors that were not true.”

The Celtics were linked to Pacers All-Star Paul George, but never came close to consummating a deal. They also failed to address their lack of rebounding with a secondary deal.

Ainge made it clear that the Celtics value their two remaining first-round picks from the Nets, noting that executives across the league recognize how valuable those selections could be, especially with deep drafts forecast in 2017 and 2018.

“The ball has bounced our way,” Ainge told reporters, “and we need to make the most of that.”

Regardless, Ainge said he likes his team, especially with injured guard Avery Bradley due back soon, and young forward Jaylen Brown expected to return on Friday night when the Celtics open the second half in Toronto.

“The outcome is that we have a team that is getting ready to head to Toronto, the same team we’ve had since training camp,” said Ainge. “A team that is very close to being healthy.”

(For more on the trade deadline and how the inactivity leaves the Celtics as potentially only the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference, check out this column.)

Read More: Celtics rumors, Danny Ainge, NBA Trade Deadline, Nets picks
Why Danny Ainge’s deal for Isaiah Thomas was the biggest steal of his tenure 01.02.17 at 11:12 am ET
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Jan 21, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge before a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will look to make another big trade sometime in the near future (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

No one knew it at the time but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made the biggest steal of his tenure in Boston when he traded for Isaiah Thomas in the final minutes before the 2015 NBA trade deadline.

On February 19, 2015 — a day that was marked the busiest NBA trade deadline day in 25 years — the Celtics acquired Thomas from the Suns in exchange for Marcus Thornton and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 first-round pick.

For the Celtics, a team that was teetering between squeezing into the playoffs and entering a second consecutive draft lottery at the time, the deal pushed the ball forward in their rebuilding phase. It was clear Ainge wanted to see the Celtics blossom into a playoff team sooner rather than later, even if it meant a first-round sweep against the conference leading Cavaliers.

However, Ainge had his eyes on Thomas way before 2015’s trade deadline. He observed the young prospect before the 2011 NBA Draft and reached out to Thomas moments after free agency opened its doors in the summer of 2014.

“Danny Ainge was the first person to call me at 12:01 a.m.,” Thomas said back in 2014.

Instead of inking a deal with the Celtics, a team with the crowded back court of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart at the time, Thomas signed a four-year, $27 million contract with the Suns. It was a modest deal but Thomas was still trying to prove himself as a back up point guard at that time. Today, that’s a bargain to say the least as Thomas has reached new heights as one of the league’s elite scorers.

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Read More: Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas,
Report: Celtics boss Danny Ainge ‘wants to do a deal,’ eyes Gordon Hayward, but overvalues players like Marcus Smart 12.15.16 at 10:35 am ET
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Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge’s hunt for a superstar continues.

Noted NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski said on his Vertical podcast (fast-forward to 35-minute mark) on Wednesday that Ainge is itching to pull the trigger on a deal for a star, but as usual is finding the going rough.

One name to keep an eye on: impending free agent swingman Gordon Hayward of the Jazz, who played for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler and has emerged as a potential All-Star this year.

“Danny’s wanted to strike and, like everybody else, get that big star, get that big player,” Wojnarowski said. “[Al] Horford was a big play and a great get in free agency. They can still keep their eye on Gordon Hayward from Utah who’s an unrestricted free agent this summer who played for Brad Stevens at Butler. I think there’s still strong hope in Utah that he’ll want to stay there.”

One problem hamstringing Ainge, according to Wojnarowski, is that he’s overvaluing players in trade talks, particularly misfiring guard Marcus Smart.

“Boston’s interesting in that (they have) some good young players, they have draft picks they can put in deals and they have some veterans that hold some interest in places,” Wojnarowski added. “I do wonder sometimes if Boston might overvalue some of the players they have compared to what the rest of the league sees in them. I think Marcus Smart might be starting to fall into that category. His name’s been in some talks previously, and they’ve been pretty careful about who they’d give him up for.”

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Brad Stevens, Celtics rumors, Danny Ainge, Gordon Hayward
Danny Ainge says Isaiah Thomas ‘probably’ out Friday vs. Toronto after PRP injection for groin 12.08.16 at 10:00 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas dives on the floor for a loose ball during Wednesday's win over the Nets. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas has again been playing all-out this season for the Celtics. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are being very cautious with the sore groin of Isaiah Thomas. 

The star point guard will likely miss his second straight game with the injury suffered Monday night in Houston after receiving a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection on Wednesday. The 13-9 Celtics take on Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Friday night at TD Garden and stand just 1.5 games back of them for the No. 2 seed in the East. 

“It’s just day to day. He is a warrior. He loves to play,” Ainge said of Thomas on the team’s flagship station Thursday morning. “He’ll be back faster than most players would be back after an injury. But at the same time we really have to be careful with Isaiah for the long haul and make sure that he doesn’t come back and re-injure it. So I’m not sure about the answer.

“I don’t know if he’ll play Friday. Probably not. We’ll just try to get him as much rest as we can and get him back on the court when he’s ready.”

Head coach Brad Stevens told reporters before Wednesday’s game that the team will be cautious with its All-Star point guard due to the nature of the injury. 

The Celtics didn’t need Thomas Wednesday night as they blew out Orlando, 117-87, outscoring the Magic, 68-37, in the second half. 

Thomas is again leading the Celtics in scoring this year, averaging 26 points and 6.2 assists in 21 games. Wednesday’s game was the first Thomas missed this season. 

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas,
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