NBA rumors: Danny Ainge still keeping in regular touch with Celtics top brass

Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck still exchanges text messages with Ainge about once a week. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens, who was hired by Ainge as the Celtics’ coach in 2013 before replacing him as lead executive last spring, said he and Ainge remain in frequent contact. Assistant general manager Austin Ainge speaks to his father every day. “I was telling him what I think they should be doing against the Mavericks, and he was telling me what he saw against the Nets,” Austin Ainge said. “We even talk about playoff series neither of our teams are involved in. But he’s been rooting very hard for us and is very invested. He obviously cares for us in the front office. He worked with us for so many years. He’s super-invested in the players. He spent hours and hours with these guys, and of course he’s pulling for them.”

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What are you looking for in the buyout market as you look to fill out the roster? Brad Stevens: I think the No. 1 thing when you look at our team is we have pretty good depth down the line with ballhandlers. We have pretty good depth with the addition of Kornet and Theis with our bigs. We want to make sure we are as fortified in the wing area and specifically in versatile wings that can guard a number of positions and can be 3-and-D type plug-in players. I think that’s really important. I’m excited to learn more about Malik (Fitts) and Kenan (Martin). There’s a natural connection that could be made to Kenan but I never coached him (at Butler). I followed him closely and his improvement has been really good and I thought he had a good stint with the Pacers. Both of those guys are big, strong guys that can guard a number of positions and that are hungry.
The Celtics now have five potential core pieces -- White, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams, and Marcus Smart -- under contract through at least the 2023-24 season. Smart and Williams are locked up through 2025-26 and Tatum has a player option that year. Part of the reason Stevens jumped at the chance to add White was the three years remaining on his deal after this season. "This is good for three months,” said Stevens. “But this is really good for three and a half years.”
"I think it's our hope of being special,” Stevens said when asked about his team’s emerging defensive identity. "And maybe that comes in the next three or four months, maybe it takes longer to get there. "But I think the baseline, the identity of a team -- the reality is, if you truly want to measure a team and how it functions together, just watch them guard together, watch them talk, watch them cover for each other, see how much they care on that end, see how much effort they're giving for each other, let alone individually. And that can tell you the story of what a team feels like.
How do you think Brad Stevens has performed in the infancy of taking over as president of basketball operations? Danny Ainge: "I think Brad’s done a great job. I think that getting Dennis Schroder in here this summer was huge. And Josh Richardson is really playing well for the team right now, especially lately after a little bit of a slow start, but he’s playing really well. I think that the team -- we have seen what Aaron Nesmith and Payton [Pritchard] could do, they showed us what they could do last year. But there's just so much depth on the team, especially in those wing and outside-shooter positions, that it's tough.”
Keith Pompey: Scout Drew Nicholas has left the Sixers for a scouting position with the Boston Celtics, according to multiple league sources. The former Maryland standout has been with the Sixers since Sept. 25, 2019.
There is far less certainty about Boston's front-office nucleus under Brad Stevens, but the Celtics' rumored search for a general manager appears to have slowed, sources told B/R. It now seems unlikely Boston will make an external hire this late in the offseason with less than a month before training camp.
ASB: How much of a challenge has it been to keep a healthy distance from the guys, but make sure they know that they can count on you as a sounding board? Danny Ainge: “It’s definitely their decisions. I’m just rooting. I'm their biggest cheerleader right now.”
Any team's march into later playoff rounds also prompts rivals searching to brain drain from a successful front office, and the rumors linking Hawks assistant general manager Landry Fields have not quieted either, sources said. Amid ongoing questions about the future structure of Boston's basketball operations, Fields very much remains a top choice of Stevens and Celtics ownership to join Boston as the team's general manager, sources told B/R.
Atlanta could simply block the Celtics' pursuit by elevating Fields to the same post underneath Hawks president Travis Schlenk, who currently holds the title of general manager. In that scenario, it's believed Boston's vice president of player development and former WNBA veteran Allison Feaster would be the leading candidate to be named general manager under Stevens. The 45-year-old was the only Celtics figure aside from ownership and Stevens who partook in Ime Udoka's final interview, sources said. “It seems like she's getting some serious traction,” said one assistant general manager.
Jay King: Brad Stevens said he told Danny Ainge he would like him around if he wants to be. Stevens said he talked to several of the players the other day right after the trade and has been in very close contact with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown over the last couple of weeks.
Whispers in the past week that the N.B.A. coaching grind had begun to wear on Stevens, 44, are the most concerning aspect about the Celtics’ abrupt power shift. The front-office grind can be even more withering. It should help Stevens that the well-regarded assistant general manager Mike Zarren is expected to expand his responsibility and lend considerable guidance.
News of Stevens' abrupt change in title did, however, surprise many figures around the NBA. It is rare for such an esteemed young coach to leave the sidelines so soon and so suddenly. The fact that Stevens, 44, is signed to a lucrative deal through 2025-2026, further perplexed several league executives contacted by B/R. "One of the best coaches in the NBA deciding to join a front office and leave the sidelines doesn't just happen overnight," said a team capologist. "It doesn't happen over a few days. It happens over a few months."
And with Ainge having stepped aside, it seems Boston's maneuvering will finally clear the path for assistant general manager Mike Zarren to operate as the Celtics' lead basketball mind. There's a belief that Stevens will only nominally outrank Zarren in Boston's decision-making tree, sources said, and it's a role Zarren appears more than prepared for.
And perhaps Stevens will place an emphasis on diversifying the Celtics' scouting department, such as hiring the heavily-rumored Landry Fields, Atlanta's current assistant general manager. "All teams are monitoring Landry Fields," said the Western Conference executive, "because he's going to get a real shot here to run his own team soon."
One man who has had a bit of success as both a coach and an executive and still fills both roles believes that Stevens’s background should help. “There’s a lot of lines that run together there,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “You can’t be the head coach and not be aware of contracts and acquisitions and things like that. I don’t know exactly how they’re set up, and each situation is a little bit different, but Brad has enough experience in basketball and with the Celtics and with the NBA to handle all the things that he’ll need to be handling.”
Rivers, who now coaches the 76ers, said that when he spoke to Stevens this past week, the two laughed when Stevens said he had no desire to fill two demanding jobs at the same time, as Rivers once did. “Brad is such a great mind,” Rivers said. “I was surprised like everyone else that he wanted to walk away from coaching, because I thought he was so good there. But I think he’ll be absolutely wonderful in what he’s doing … Brad is so darn smart.”
At one point in the regular season as the Celtics were struggling, a prominent member of the Celtics organization wanted to fire Stevens immediately, per SNY sources familiar with the matter. Ainge was among those in the organization who were against the decision, sources say. Clearly, the organization ultimately sided with Ainge at the time and kept Stevens.
Before hiring Stevens, league sources say Celtics ownership considered other internal candidates and even pondered pursuing Sam Presti, a Massachusetts native who has run the Thunder since they were still the Sonics. Presti is a proven front-office boss who steered a small-market team to great success through savvy acquisitions and wise draft picks. Stevens has no front-office experience, and has been in the NBA since only 2013, when the Celtics plucked him from Butler.
There have been rumblings for months that Danny Ainge would leave the Celtics. League sources say he was eyeing jobs in Utah, where many members of his family live, or Portland, his home state and another franchise that could undergo change if the Trail Blazers lose in the first or second round.
Ainge will have more time for golf now. He has not ruled out resurfacing in another front-office position elsewhere. Though the world learned of his decision to step down from his role with the Celtics on Wednesday, he has been plotting the move for some time now. He said he trusted his instincts to tell him when he needed to leave. “And my instincts told me a couple months ago that it was time for me to move on,” Ainge said. “And that’s what’s best for us. That’s what’s best for the Celtics.”
Tom Westerholm: Brad Stevens is asked about potentially coaching and being in the front office. Wyc Grousbeck interjects: "At the Celtics, that's two separate jobs."
Jared Weiss: Danny Ainge: "I feel like there’s so much hope in the Celtics going forward and I’m excited for Brad. He was born for this." Ainge implies the Celtics front office staff will remain in place under Stevens. "This is a great day for the Celtics and actually a big step forward."
The Celtics will start a search to hire a head coach to replace Stevens, sources said. Celtics staff were informed of the changes Wednesday morning, and a formal announcement is expected today, sources said.
Chris Mannix: As Danny Ainge moves on from Boston, a possible landing spot, in some capacity: The Utah Jazz. As rumors of Ainge's exit rippled through the NBA in recent months, a role with the Jazz has been seen as a potential next step.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Ainge has been contemplating leaving the job for several months and had been talking about possible succession plans with ownership, sources tell ESPN. Stevens turns out to be the franchise's choice. Ainge also moved from head coaching in the NBA to the front office with Phoenix.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Stevens has been described as worn down with coaching since The Bubble, and welcomed the chance to make the transition to the front office, sources tell ESPN. Stevens will help lead the search for his successor as head coach.
Repeat for every player picked since 2010, and this method allows us to approximate performance above or below average for every team in the past decade or so. (For players technically picked by one team but traded to another before playing a game, we included them for the second team; Kawhi Leonard is a Spurs selection, not a Pacers pick, for these purposes.) All together, Celtics draft picks since 2010 have had an expected value of 84.7 wins. And they’ve had an actual value of 83.3 wins—nearly a perfect match for expectation.
Still, league insiders don't believe the Celtics can stand pat, and potentially waste a year of the primes of their two young building blocks who are playing at an elite level. "There comes a time where you have to do something to keep your stars placated and show that you're trying, especially when they're young and early in their primes," the East executive said. "You have to make that commitment to them."
That's something Ainge has been reluctant to do in the past. The last time Boston acquired a player in an in-season trade was six years ago, when the team landed Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix. Only the San Antonio Spurs have a longer drought. "They'll only do something," the West executive said, "if they think they're going to bury you."
Despite developing two All-Stars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston's momentum has cratered. A series of free agent defections, misspent draft picks and cuts in payroll has resulted in a team that finds itself far off from the stated goal of hanging an 18th championship banner to the TD Garden rafters. Their weaknesses have been exposed, and they're lacking in good options to fix them. So, with two games left before the All-Star Break and less than four weeks until the trade deadline, the Celtics are still searching for their identity. "I feel like our group is pretty together," Celtics GM Danny Ainge told ESPN. "Guys are working hard still, and I feel like we don't really know who this team is yet."
The Boston Globe has an interesting interview with Danny Ainge this morning. In it he tries to deflect the blame game from falling on Brad Stevens and the coaching staff. Instead he takes the full weight of responsibility upon his own shoulders. What about you, Danny? Is it time to start ripping the president of basketball operations? “Sure!” he said. “We’re not playing with the passion that we need. I think that’s on the players. And the players on the team are on me.
“There are things I could have done better, but I’m not going to mention names. I’ll take this responsibility. This is a team that was put together by me, and we’re not playing with enough consistency and urgency, and it’s my job to look to see what we can do to improve the team, but that’s always much harder than improving from within.”
Adam Himmelsbach: We’ve know for a while that the Celtics don’t want the Grizzlies’ pick to convey, but I was a little unsure about how badly, because the No. 9 overall pick would still be a trade chip. But a Cs source tonight said they *really* don’t want it this year.
Mike Zarren’s name has surfaced as a potential target for the Pelicans and for Washington if the Wizards’ owner, Ted Leonsis, responds to his team’s unsightly (and, to be fair, injury-filled) 30-44 campaign with the management shake-up he has long resisted. Ernie Grunfeld was installed as Washington’s president of basketball operations in June 2003.
BSJ: Danny has talked openly about the fact that he does not plan to make any big moves ahead of the trade deadline and wants to make a run at it with this core group. When he provides that vote of confidence publicly, does that provide any kind of a boost or help make you feel better about the situation? Jaylen Brown: It kind of feels the same. It doesn't make a difference. We just have to come out and play basketball. We know this game is a business. We understand that. We'll see what happens after the All-Star break. Like Danny said, this group is the group that we have. That's great. Let's continue to move forward and try to build towards a championship.
Q. What’s the next step? Wyc Grousbeck. What we’ll do over the next month is determine if there’s anything we can do in February [prior to the trade deadline] to advance the team to a new level. But when I look at the team right now, I feel really good about their character, really good about their skill, really good about the upside over the next 5-6 years, with young players and the draft. I feel overall confident and excited we can make some noise over the next 5-6 years with this core group, adding on when we can. But this season still does feel like a work in progress, and it feels like we’ve got a long way to go if we want to make some noise in May again, or even in June.
Q. You mentioned spending the next month looking at possible moves. What is your role in that? Wyc Grousbeck. We’ll just leave that in the mystery category. But what happens with trades is that they’re proposed by the basketball side and I’m kept up to date all along as the phone calls develop and as we think about what assets we might include and what the team might look like after a trade. And so I approve them or disapprove them, or try to change them, and that’s gone on for 16 years.
Wyc Grousbeck. I know both February and June will be very active. Because we have all these draft picks and young players, we get a lot of calls. And so Danny, Mike Zarren, Austin Ainge, they get a ton of calls and try to figure out if there’s anything to recommend to me to make the team better. My view of this draft right now is it’s going to be as many phone calls as we’ve ever had. I don’t worry much about what players we end up drafting, because that’s completely on the basketball side.
The 2019 NBA trade deadline is just over a month away. Should fans expect the Boston Celtics to make some moves? It's a fair question, as the Celtics haven't quite met their lofty expectations to date and have dealt with some depth-thinning injuries. But while C's president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will do his due diligence, he seems to like the roster he has right now. "We're always looking to upgrade our team if those opportunities present themselves. But I think that's going to be tough," Ainge said Thursday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher & Rich."
"As far as trading players, I don't really see much out there. We have a lot of good ones. It's hard to get better players than we have."
Ainge scrunches his face as he ponders a future he rarely tries to picture. "No, I don't really look forward to being retired," he says. "I don't think I will leave this job ever and, like, retire. At least not in the near future. I don't see doing that, no. I need to be doing something. I'm too hyper. My wife and I have had 40 years of a great marriage. I think that if I was home too much, it might not last much longer. I think she needs me out of the house at least six or eight hours a day."
Danny Ainge: "I'm just saying, a lot of people would die to do what you do -- not knowing all the stuff that isn't so great about your job. That's sort of like I feel I'm so fortunate to have my job. You know how many people would love to be able to make decisions for the Boston Celtics? They don't know all the difficult things that go with it, and it sounds a lot better than it really is. But it's pretty stinkin' good."
The grandkids get their playing time because, hey, Danny Ainge is the one who makes out Danny Ainge's schedule. "That's the best part of my job," he says. "I work more than I ever have, but because I don't have to be with the team every single day, there are more times when I can be at important things. Like, I've been to a few weddings this year. Unfortunately, I've been to a few funerals. I have time for life things, and I can schedule my work around some of them.”
Fair to say you didn’t trade any of your treasure trove of assets at the deadline the last couple seasons because LeBron was standing in your way? Ainge: “Absolutely. I think that’s very fair. I’m not big on draft assets at the trade deadline. Most of the time those trades don’t work out. Occasionally they do. We were never faced with anything that was tempting enough to trade our assets that would get us over the hump or would guarantee us that we were going to beat LeBron or Golden State.”
Smart’s feelings were admittedly hurt when the Celtics didn’t immediately reach out to him at the start of free agency on July 1, after offering him only a qualifying offer to retain matching rights once he entered the restricted free agent market place. That all apparently changed the day Smart signed his new contract. “There’s no bad feeling between me and the organization,” said Smart. “I knew coming in this was a business. You have to overlook the business side to build a relationship personally with certain people, certain organizations, certain teams.
Boston's front office inner circle -- Ainge, Zarren, director of player personnel Austin Ainge and director of scouting Dave Lewin, with heavy input from coach Brad Stevens -- was in agreement that Irving was the sort of player the team absolutely had to pursue. "I feel like there's opportunities that you have to look at and explore, and Kyrie was one of those opportunities that, unanimously, internally it was something that we all felt like we should do," Danny Ainge said. "Everybody, unanimously, wanted to do it."
The deal, exciting as it was, still left Boston brass with mixed emotions, particularly because of what Thomas had given to the team during a mesmerizing 2016-17 season in which he finished fifth in MVP voting and gave up his body to help Boston get to the conference finals, all while dealing with the tragic loss of his younger sister. As the Celtics and Cavaliers prepped for a trade call on Aug. 22, Ainge made the heart-wrenching call to alert Thomas of the impending deal. Zarren said he isn't sure he could have made that call; neither is Stevens. "The range of emotions were really wild because you would have no thought that Isaiah Thomas would ever be a part of a trade," Stevens said. "I thought, with Isaiah, that was really hard. I've talked about the emotional investment that you have as a coach and a player, and working together every day, and that's why I've said that I don't think I could do the front office because those hard decisions -- I do not envy those. The only way you would even consider doing that is for a person of Kyrie's caliber. But that doesn't make it any easier."
The addition of Irving, during a summer when the team added Hayward and drafted Tatum, also morphed Boston from spunky overachiever to legitimate title contender. It's why the Celtics couldn't pass up the opportunity to pursue Irving last summer -- no matter the obstacles it took to get him. "I thought Kyrie was going to be a great fit and obviously I still feel that way," Danny Ainge said. "At the same time, [the trade] was a challenge, as was moving Isaiah and Jae, and there's always a part of that when you're in the middle of acquiring a player. That's the hard part of it. "The price and the timing, it was all critical. I think there's risk in every deal we do, but with a player like Kyrie, I think we were all willing to take that risk. And we're glad we did."
The Celtics selected Tatum with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. But he could have gone No. 1. Boston originally had the first pick and famously made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers to move down to No. 3, where it knew it could still land its top choice. Celtics president Danny Ainge has openly spoken since about how the team would have taken Tatum first had it kept the pick. "I joke with Danny all the time, he should've just took me No. 1," Tatum said while guesting on The Bill Simmons Podcast at The Ringer. "I could've kept a few dollars of my paycheck. Tell (Ainge), 'You owe me some money.'"
Doc Rivers didn’t want to rebuild, so he left Boston for the Clippers. Now he’s watching summer league games and facing a reconstruction project in Los Angeles as the Celtics seek to clear the final hurdle with new faces. The Celts had hopes of making The Finals this past season, but injuries to Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward got in the way — though it still took a Game 7 stinker against Cleveland to knock them off the flight to the title series. Most teams have five-year plans, but rarely does one make it from tear-down to contendership in that frame. “That’s Danny (Ainge) and Brad (Stevens) and those guys — and, I mean, obviously the players, too,” Rivers told the Herald. “But they’ve done it as well as it’s ever been done, because all these other teams, including us now, everybody has a plan, but the plan has to work. And if it doesn’t work, then you have to start over again with another plan. And Danny and them have been able to run their plan.
This is one kind of scenario the Houston Rockets envisioned in April, when they proposed before the NBA's competition committee that the league should start free agency at least a week -- and likely more -- before the draft. The Rockets are not the first team to contemplate that notion; Mike Zarren, Boston's assistant general manager, used his very first tweet as a plea to flip the order of the draft and free agency. (The concept is popular across Boston's brain trust; Zarren noted in his tweet that Austin Ainge, Boston's director of player personnel, sold him on the idea.) Other leagues, including the National Football League, schedule free agency first.
The Celtics didn’t get Durant, but they got the next best prizes available in successive years. And Ainge’s biggest, boldest acquisition, of course, was getting Brad Stevens out of Butler and watching him blossom into one of the NBA’s top three or four coaches seemingly overnight. “Boston having lottery picks without bottoming out and selecting the right players and having a high performing culture driving veteran with Horford has been critical to their success,” the Western Conference executive said. “The Brooklyn trade is the gift that keeps giving. The fact that Boston is winning with such young players in high pressure situations gives young teams hope.”
Jared Weiss: Brad Stevens praises Ainge and ownership’s vision to rebuild and how it has come to fruition. “There’s been a little bit of luck to it, but [Ainge] has been measured every step of the way.”
Pagliuca said Stevens voiced his love for the team and its extensive basketball history, as well as his confidence that he could make a difference for the organization. But there was also a specific stipulation should he accept the job. “The one thing he wouldn’t do going forward was try to lose a game, or you know, ‘tank,'” Pagliuca said. “So if we were going to have a strategy, maybe like ‘The Process,’ he was not going to participate in that.”
Adam Kaufman: Asked who he'll keep between Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, Danny Ainge laughed and said, "Keep 'em both!" How? "Very good question. I like both those guys. They're both so different and bring different things to the table." #Celtics (via @985TheSportsHub)
"You know what? Sometimes I talk too much," said Ainge. "'Setback' wasn't the right word, so let me rephrase that because it's not exactly true to say it -- or say it that way. What happened is he went on the AlterG [anti-gravity treadmill] the first day and he felt some soreness. It was the first day he tried the AlterG, a long time ago. He just wasn't ready for it at that point. That's all it was. So I think 'setback' is the wrong way to put it. I mis-phrased that."
“But Danny’s done a nice job back there. Are they good enough? They had a terrible break with a very good player (Gordon Hayward), and are they good enough now? At the end of a couple of years, they’re going to be judged by that, by how they’re doing then — not by now. They’ve got some good young players. They’ve got a terrific coach. They’ve got a lot of positive things going, that’s for sure.”
As the Thursday trade deadline approaches, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens suggested his organization should be careful not to disrupt the current roster's success. At 39-15, the Celtics lead the Eastern Conference despite losing All-Star Gordon Hayward to a bad ankle injury five minutes into the season opener. "I think the biggest thing we have to be really cognizant of is if we do add anything it's somebody that really complements who we have," Stevens said before a team shootaround Tuesday morning. "Because we have a lot of guys that have played a really good role in helping us be successful. And we value that up and down the roster."
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July 2, 2022 | 11:57 pm EDT Update

76ers, Mavericks also listed as suitors for Kyrie Irving

Kevin Gray Jr: “Kyrie Irving has several suitors involved Lakers, Sixers & Mavericks, keep an eye out in the next couple of weeks…” per Shams Charania #MFFL

No. 4 pick Keegan Murray had 26 points and eight rebounds, leading Sacramento past Golden State 86-68 in the second game on Saturday. The Kings announced shortly before the game that Murray had signed his rookie contract. He didn’t disappoint, making 10 of 14 shots from the floor, 4 of 5 from 3-point range. “The confidence grew throughout the game and my teammates kept giving me the ball,” Murray said.
Thursday’s funeral service in Fort Wayne was bittersweet — a joyful remembrance of who Caleb Swanigan was, and a reminder that he is gone far too soon. He died of natural causes June 20 at the age of 25. “He was a gentle giant — not because of his height, but because his heart was so big,” said Susan Thomas, a friend who was one of the first people to meet Swanigan when he came to Fort Wayne before his eighth-grade year. “He had friends everywhere. People were drawn to him.”
Swanigan’s brother Courtlynd says his little brother was “one of the greatest people I’ve known in my life. He was the best little brother anybody could ever ask for.” His brother Corey said that “most people look up to people with more wisdom or more experience, but my baby brother made his legacy. I tried to be there any way I could. If he needed me, I was there for him anyway I could. No questions asked.” His mother, Tanya Swanigan, said, “Caleb is my hero.”
Swanigan’s love was mentioned time and time again during the service that lasted three hours — love for his family, his friends, his sport and for strangers. His sister Crystal said Caleb’s love “overshadowed everything.” “It overshadowed pain. It overshadowed insecurities,” she said. “If you don’t have love, you have nothing on this earth. And he was rich in love. He loved everyone he met and treated them all the same. We can all learn from him that love covers all.”