Danny Ainge has made tons of great trades since he was hired in May of 2003.
If you sit down and try to rank his top five trades, it’s probably not that hard. You have the Kevin Garnett trade because it put them over the top as a contender, the Ray Allen trade because it gave Garnett a reason to waive his no trade clause, absolutely fleecing the Brooklyn Nets for his aging stars, the Isaiah Thomas trade and stealing Jae Crowder from the Dallas Mavericks while dumping a rental player in Rajon Rondo on them.
But there’s still so many amazing deals after that to the point where making a top five list of trades you might have forgotten about can also be impressive and make him out to be one of the top team builders there is.
5. Big Baby for Bass
Glen “Big Baby” Davis might actually be one of the more overrated players in the Danny Ainge-era. People view him as this second round pick who was able to contribute to a championship team right away, but in 2008 he was really only a regular season plug to keep guys like Garnett fresh for the postseason. It often gets forgotten how little he actually played once the postseason rolled around, but the fact is that Davis was completely out of the rotation by the NBA Finals that year and only appeared in one game; garbage time in the game six clincher which the Celtics won by a massive 39 points.
Davis couldn’t even get minutes in game five of those Finals when Kendrick Perkins sat out with an ankle injury, leading to Leon Powe starting in his place.
The same thing likely would have happened in 2009 as well but he wound up starting after the team lost Kevin Garnett towards the end of the regular season and Leon Powe – the team’s first choice to start in place of Garnett – after just two games of the first round. By 2010, Davis had rightfully earned minutes in the playoff rotation, but he was still the second big man off the bench behind Rasheed Wallace.
I won’t lie, this trade did hurt me at first because I loved him and a lot of fans felt the same way. While I still love the character that he was to this day, it’s now easy to look back and say to yourself “man, he really just wasn’t that good.”
Ainge shocked everyone by trading Big Baby and Von Wafer to the Orlando Magic just days before the lockout shorted 2011-12 season began, but it turned out to be a big win because it opened the door for Bass to be an important piece during a time of huge change in the organization. He was starting on the team that dragged the eventual champion Miami Heat to a seventh game in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals and was also starting in 2015 when Brad Stevens made the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Bass’ signature moment in Boston game in game five of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals. With their series against the Philadelphia 76ers tied at two, Boston came into the second half trailing 50-47. Bass then became the unlikely hero who completely took over the game by dropping 18 points in the third quarter, outscoring the 76ers – who tallied just 16 in the frame – all by himself. The floodgates stayed open in the fourth quarter as the Celtics went on to blow Philly out of the building and eventually went on to win the series.
4. Trading a torn ACL for Crawford
It was clear that the 2012-13 season could be the last run Boston ever made with guys like Garnett and Pierce so it was a big blow to the team when veteran guard Leondro Barbosa tore his ACL. The Celtics had already lost Rajon Rondo to the same injury and losing another guard on top of that was really crippling the team.
The team had to get some guard depth back if they wanted to compete in the postseason and that’s exactly what they did. Ainge then flipped center Jason Collins – who wasn’t even in the rotation – along with the injured Barbosa to the Washington Wizards for Jordan Crawford. That’s it. No picks and no trade exceptions, just a big man from the very end of the bench and a veteran guard who wasn’t going to play that season for a 24-year old guard who was averaging 13.2 PPG at the time.
This was attractive to the Wizards for a few reasons. Crawford didn’t have the best attitude and this already made the Celtics his third team in three seasons. It appeared that Washington – who wasn’t in the playoff hunt – was just trying to get rid of him and also dump his $3 million cap hit for the next season by picking up two guys who were each on one year deals.
Crawford didn’t actually play that well after the deadline as the entire team faltered and they wound up dropping a first round series against the New York Knicks. But the fact that Ainge traded essential no value to get him helped Boston a year later when they traded Crawford to the Golden State Warriors in a three team deal for a future first round pick, a second round pick and Joel Anthony. A very good return for a guy you gave up nothing to get.
As for Crawford, the trek to Golden State marked the fourth team he played on during his four year rookie deal. While he had averaged 12.2 PPG during the course of that deal and was just about to turn 26-years old when it ended, his attitude caused very little interest in his services and he wound up signing with a team in China. After playing three seasons in China, he finally got back in the NBA and signed a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for the final few weeks of last season. He played 19 games with them and averaged a respectable 14.1 PPG, which has earned him a contract for next year that will pay him just $1.7 million.
3. First round swap in 2003
People know that Danny Ainge likes to collect assets, but the Celtics also had a nice little stock pile ready made for him when he officially took over at the conclusion of the 2002-03 season as he already had two picks in the top twenty of that very first draft.
The Celtics held the 16th and 20th picks in the 2003 NBA Draft and in typical Danny Ainge fashion, neither player taken with those two picks – Troy Bell and Dahntay Jones – ever played a game for Boston. He actually made a pretty simple transaction that night. The Memphis Grizzlies had the 13th and 27th overall picks so Ainge gave up both his picks in order to trade up, while also getting that late first round pick from Memphis as well.
Memphis didn’t get too much with the two picks they got from Boston. Bell’s NBA career lasted just six games and Jones – while still in somehow in the league today – has averaged 5.4 PPG over his career and he’s appeared in just 27 games over the past two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, including the playoffs.
On the other hand, Ainge scooped up Marcus Banks with the 13th overall pick. Banks gave the Celtics good minutes off the bench right away as he averaged 15.6 minutes per game for the Celtics over those first two years, and they made the postseason in both of them so he was a guy who was able to contribute to a playoff team from day one in the league. During his third season with the team, Banks was traded along with Ricky Davis to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Wally Szczerbiak.
The 27th overall pick didn’t contribute right away like Banks did, but his impact was felt years down the road. This is a guy who played in just ten games as a rookie and never averaged double-figures in minutes per game until his third season, but he went on to become a impactful starter and a beloved fan favorite. For those who haven’t been able to guess his name by now, it was Kendrick Perkins.
2. Trading nobody Antoine Walker
When Ainge was hired in the spring of 2003 he inherited a pretty good team that had advanced to the second round that spring, only to get swept in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the New Jersey Nets. Despite having a decent team in front of him, it didn’t stop Ainge from making the major change of trading team captain and perineal All-Star Antoine Walker just days before the regular season began.
The Celtics made the playoff in Ainge’s first season but they were swept by the Indiana Pacers in the first round. He had his sights set to improve the team in year two and that meant getting Walker back at the deadline. Boston traded veteran point guard and future Hall of Famer Gary Payton and a 2006 first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Walker and the weird thing is that it was almost like the team gave up nothing at all to get their star power forward back.
An aging Payton had no interest in playing with a rebuilding team and negotiated a buyout, paving the way for him to re-sign with the Celtics just two weeks later. There’s now a rule that prevents things like this from happening and this very move was a big factor in leading to it being put in place. Boston wound up winning the Atlantic Division that spring but they once again fell to the Pacers in round one, this time in a thrilling seven game series.
As for that first round pick, it eventually wound up in the hands of the Phoenix Suns and Ainge wound up getting it back on draft night by agreeing to trade the lower of the two first round picks that Boston owned in 2007. Rajon Rondo was the player who Ainge took in 2006.
1. Allowing Cavaliers to sign LeBron James
Boston recently had to dump salary in order to clear space for Gordon Hayward, which resulted in them trading Avery Bradley for far below his market value. The Cleveland Cavaliers were in the same situation back in the summer of 2014 when they brought LeBron James home from Miami. They shipped both Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to the Brooklyn Nets while also giving Tyler Zeller and a 2016 first round pick to the Celtics. All the Cavaliers got in return was a conditional second round pick from each team and the Nets also sent Marcus Thornton to Boston to make room for Jack’s $7 million cap hit.
Because a team was desperate to clear money off their books, all Ainge did was move a second round pick in order to get an unprotected first round pick and two players as well. That alone stands as a great move, but there’s a second part to it where this gets even better.
Thornton and that same 2016 first round pick were sent to the Phoenix Suns at the deadline for Isaiah Thomas. So now look at the layers to this trade. Danny Ainge traded a conditional second round pick for Tyler Zeller – who had his ups and downs over his three seasons with the Celtics – and Isaiah Thomas. The funniest part is that the conditions for the second round pick were never met and Cleveland will never receive it, so the Celtics literally gave up nothing in a deal that gave them all the assets needed to acquire Thomas.
For what it’s worth, the Suns drafted 6’11” center Skal Labissiere with that 2016 first round pick last year and traded him to the Sacramento Kings on draft night where he averaged 8.8 PPG and 4.9 RPG as a rookie. He’s just 21-years old and could have a bright future in the league.