August 12, 2022

As the Boston Celtics head into a crucial Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, the man who essentially built this team through a series of hirings, stealth trades and leadership was on his way this week. for San Jose to visit his aging father, Don Aingé.

Danny Ainge, a legendary Celtics player and winner of Naismith College Player of the Year at BYU, is now a Utah Jazz executive. He stopped for a few minutes at the airport for a phone interview on the Celtics’ roster, which has his fingerprints all over it.

“You know, it was fun to see their success,” Ainge said. “I guess it’s like anyone you know well and have spent time with and seen them achieve anything, that brings me joy.”

The Celtics are a very energetic defensive juggernaut, a team that absorbs adversity and retains and possesses an extremely competitive personality. Boston faces an experienced and veteran playoff team in the Golden State Warriors, led by shooting icon Stephen Curry.

If Boston ends up winning the championship, someone should send Ainge a championship ring even though he stepped down as president of basketball operations just over a year ago on June 1.

“I wouldn’t expect that, no, not at all,” Ainge said. He would rather credit the current coaching staff and executives and remain a contented observer of the relationship.

But everyone who knows the Celtics gives Ainge full credit for building the current squad. Owner Wyc Grousbeck certainly does.

Ainge moves

Ainge recommended longtime Butler University coach Brad Stevens to coach the Celtics when the property sought a new face and approach to the Xs and Os franchise. Ainge suggested that Stevens be elevated to a managerial position before leaving Boston.

Four of the five starters in Game 1 of the NBA Finals were drafted by Ainge while he was president of operations. Six of the rotation players were brought to Boston by Ainge.

People credit Ainge with a remarkable trade with the Brooklyn Nets that ultimately led to Boston landing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the draft. It was a brilliant strategy and added to the tradition of the team Ainge has worked in for the past 18 years.

Ainge said the team facing the Warriors have different personalities and strengths, but one thing that stands out is that they are very young.

“I think they all have different traits,” Ainge said. “They are all different people with different skills, different talents and different personalities. And I think what you would hope would happen is that the good things would mix.

“I think you’ve seen this group of guys grow over time; go to the conference finals now four times. This is the first trip to the final, but they are still young. Jaylen is 25 and Jayson is 24. So they are still very young and they are learning.

Battling Golden State, Boston lost 3-2 to a titan of the game.

Youth vs Titan

“They’re up against a great team,” Ainge said. “It’s a dynasty that has been there many, many times. So there’s a lot to learn through this process, but they’ve learned from each other through everything they’ve been through.

In Brown, chosen in Cal’s 2016 draft, Ainge and Stevens have found an all-star combo guard who can guard four positions, rise above anyone on the court and deliver electrifying scoring sprees. who can take over a game.

Since Boston drafted Brown, only 10 players have scored more playoff points than him, and those guys are headed for the Hall of Fame. During the same period, only three players have appeared in more playoff games.

In a way, Brown very much represents the personality of Ainge, who played both professional basketball and baseball and will always be considered a unique athletic talent in many areas.

Ainge was part of a high school All-America team in 1977 that included Magic Johnson, Albert King, Danny Vranes and Jeff Rutland when he played for North Eugene High in Oregon.

When Ainge disagreed with draft pundits and used a No. 1 pick to take Duke’s Tatum over consensus star Markelle Fultz, his gamble paid off. Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s brave move in 2013 for breathing room and new acquisitions is considered one of the boldest but most brilliant administrative moves the league has ever seen.

Ainge has three NBA championship rings, two as a player and one as an executive.

It’s the Ainge playbook: unbridled confidence, bold decision-making and unpredictable moves.

His long field goal in a high school playoff game at McArthur Court at the University of Oregon remains one of the longest field goals in facility history.

The Ainge touch

In high school, Ainge was an All-American in baseball, basketball, and football, a rare achievement that is considered unmatched by many observers.

His signature dribbling and scoring to help the Cougars beat Notre Dame in the 1981 NCAA Tournament Regionals in Atlanta sparked BYU’s historic run to the Elite Eight under Frank Arnold.

Ainge had a reputation as an extremely competitive athlete. He stays that way on the golf course when playing with his buddies, including Jazz owner Ryan Smith.

The moves, trades and assessments Ainge made for the Celtics forever made Boston what it is today.

Now from afar, working with the Jazz, he is amused, satisfied and in awe of the Celtics.

“Yeah, they’ve been a dominant defensive team and it’s fun to watch. They’ve had their ups and downs offensively, had some good games and some bad times, but their defense is their calling card. It was fun watching these guys beat amazing teams. This year, very great teams with great players.

Ainge isn’t comfortable taking credit for Boston’s run to the Finals.

“First of all, it’s not my team. It’s Brad’s team and Ime Udoka’s team, right? I played a small part in it, but it’s them leading the ship this year to get the guys going.

Ainge told that Stevens’ decision to move Kemba Walker has opened the door to important roles for the current Celtics.

“I think by moving Kemba it has allowed Marcus (Smart), Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) and Robert Williams to really thrive in positional size, with Horford taking a big responsibility up front for Robert and moving by Jaylen. , Jayson and Marcus to their positions where they have size advantages. It’s just a better fit. I think it’s really clear.

Asked what stands out from the Boston race, Ainge becomes philosophical, referring to the current tendency to be in a hurry, the spirit of sport and life in general.

“I feel like it’s always hard to be patient in the world we live in. Sometimes patience with individuals and collective patience with groups. There is a lot of outside noise, so I’m grateful for the patience we had.

And that quote gives a little insight into what Ainge would likely advise Jazz fans as he tries to help owner Smith see himself into the future of the franchise.

It worked in Boston.

Utah Jazz Basketball CEO Danny Ainge, left, talks to Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, right, before Game 6 of a first-round playoff series Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Salt Lake City.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press