Editor’s note: Riley Gisseman is a writer for Salt City Hoops. This story is part of a collaboration between SCH and The Tribune that seeks to create more dialogue and community for Utah Jazz fans.
Kevin Garnett, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, Ray Allen, Jayson Tatum, Rajon Rondo.
These names will be familiar to most NBA fans. All six are NBA All-Stars who enjoyed terrific careers. They also have something else in common: all were involved in trades made by Danny Ainge during his 18-year tenure as the general manager of the Boston Celtics.
Ainge — who earned the nickname “Trader Danny” due to his ambitious moves — joined the Utah Jazz front office in December as alternate team governor and CEO. The Jazz already made their first major trade with Ainge at the helm, but it may not be their only move ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. That makes it an interesting time to consider what type of deadline dealmaker Ainge has been throughout his career as an executive.
While Ainge has made some of the biggest deals over the past two decades of the NBA, he’s only been a part of 12 deadline trades in nine of his 18 seasons. Let’s take a look at these deals and see what we can learn about his trade deadline M.O.
Years without a deal
From 2006-08, Ainge went three consecutive seasons without making a trade deadline move. This is the pinnacle of the Celtics contention period while Ainge was the acting manager, and he did this again from 2016-2018. This may be a light hint of the value Ainge likely places on in-season consistency when vying for a title, but one could argue that none of these teams had significant issues to deal with before the playoffs would begin.
Boston’s “Core Four” made their final run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012, and Ainge refused to make a deadline deal. It was clear at the time that this would be one of Boston’s last opportunities while LeBron James’ Heat would look to take over the league.
In 2014, the Celtics were a bottom-feeder. Later in the year, they’d go on to draft Marcus Smart, their current longest-tenured player. But Ainge found no reason to sell young talent after collecting it in the Garnett trade he had made the previous summer.
In 2020, Ainge again held fast to his team. Believing in a 25-8 start to the season, the Celtics were rumored to be looking at the Rockets’ Clint Capela but were not willing to part with any of their core players. They proceeded to lose in the second round of the playoffs in the bubble.
Deadline trades when the Celtics were non-competitive
Even in seasons when Boston wasn’t a title contender, Ainge found opportunities to add talented players or picks in exchange for players who weren’t contributing. No matter the circumstances surrounding why this player’s value may be low, Ainge found talent. A great example of this was the 2015 deal where Ainge brought in Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko. The trade cost him just a first-round pick alongside the declining Tayshaun Prince and Marcus Thornton. The trade instantly made Boston competitive again, and Thomas made his first All-Star team the next season.
He did the same in 2005 when he traded Tom Gugliotta, Gary Payton, Michael Stewart and a first-round draft pick (which became Rajon Rondo) to reacquire former Boston All-Star Antoine Walker. Ainge cleared some salary and brought Walker back for the rest of the season. (Later that summer, he would flip Walker for a second-round pick.)
Ainge’s first trade deadline move came In 2004, a three-team trade where the Celtics moved rotation contributors Mike James and Chris Mills, and received Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, and a 1st round draft pick which became Tony Allen. Hunter was waived almost immediately, but Atkins stuck around and arguably was an upgrade at starting guard over James. And, for helping Detroit offload salary, he got a valuable first that turned into a longtime Celtic.
Deadline trades by the competitive Celtics
A year removed from winning the 2008 NBA championship, Ainge opted to make only a small cap-related move in 2009. He traded the contracts of Sam Cassell and Patrick O’Bryant for second-round picks that never conveyed — purely a salary-motivated deal.
The following season, however, he made a move that had an influence on putting Boston back in the NBA Finals when he traded three deep reserves (Eddie House, J.R. Giddens and Henry Walker) for Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry. Robinson saw minutes in the Celtics’ playoff run, and just as importantly, went on to be included in Boston’s next deadline deal. In 2011, Robinson and Kendrick Perkins were used to acquire recent lottery pick Jeff Green, along with a future first-round pick and veteran big man Nenad Krstic.
Finally, in 2013, Ainge moved Leandro Barbosa and Jason Collins for Jordan Crawford, who would end up leaving the team in the ensuing free agency as the Celtics entered a rebuilding period.
From 2009-13, Ainge made moves that he felt would keep the team in title contention, and wasn’t afraid of moving rotation players. But in Boston’s more recent competitive cycle, Ainge opted to make significant deals during the offseason. His deadline trade this time around with a small salary dump: Jabari Bird and cash to Atlanta in 2019.
In 2021, Ainge made his final — and possibly most interesting — deadline trade in Boston, moving Jeff Teague for Evan Fournier, and then moving Daniel Theis and Javonte Green for Luke Kornet and Moritz Wagner. Nothing came of any of these moves, as none of these players get any minutes from the teams that traded for them anymore, but Ainge may have found value in Fournier and Wagner who have both had reasonably successful seasons in New York and Orlando, respectively.
How this may play into deals in 2022
Utah already jumped into the trade deadline with Wednesday’s acquisition of two players. The Jazz moved the contract of injured forward Joe Ingles along with Elijah Hughes and two second-round picks for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez.
Alexander-Walker is a young, talented guard, and Juancho Hernangomez saw success in Minnesota and Denver but has struggled since.
What’s not clear at this point is whether the Ainge-led Jazz are done dealing. They have been mentioned in rumors surrounding Harrison Barnes, Jerami Grant, Josh Richardson, and Eric Bledsoe. Ainge has plenty of experience dealing with each of the managers running these teams. But, whether or not Ainge and Co. make another move in the next 24 hours, it seems inevitable that his name will be again be featured behind plenty of league-altering deals in the next few years.