Criticism is nothing new to Boston’s Danny Ainge.
During his 14-year career as an NBA player, Ainge had a reputation for enraging players, coaches and fans alike. In fact, the vitriol he produced is surely what many opposing fans remember most about him.
Similarly, as the general manager of the Celtics, a role he’s held since 2003, Ainge also elicits anger and frustration on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s the free agency market, other times draft picks. This year, Ainge is taking the most heat for his intentions leading up to the trade deadline — specifically, that he may forgo a move altogether.
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But whatever the issue is, Ainge, as was the case in his playing days, seems able to tune out all the chatter and criticism and simply think what he wants to think.
“I’m not really afraid of the slings and arrows,” Ainge said Thursday during his weekly Toucher & Rich interview. “My wife said to me one day last week, she goes ‘Are you stressed because of the game last night?’ and I go no, I’m not really stressed. The only thing that stresses me is everybody else’s stress. I’m fine.”
Which made it even more unusual when, during the interview, Ainge became audibly flustered after the hosts asked about a comment made regarding his negotiating priorities.
‘They Know What We Have’
The comment in question came from a recent Celtics story by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. In the piece, an unnamed Western Conference general manager told Bontemps that Ainge and the Celtics will only make a deal if they think “they’re going to bury you.” In other words, Ainge doesn’t just want the Celtis to win, he wants the other team to lose.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” Ainge responded after a long pause. “If somebody actually said that, which, you know, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.”
The anonymous executive was trying to explain why the Celtics haven’t made an in-season trade since acquiring Isaiah Thomas from the Suns six years ago. But Ainge wasn’t having it.
“I have conversations regularly, daily, with guys, and it’s not about winning a deal,” said Ainge. “It’s about finding a partner that needs and wants what we have, and us finding and wanting what we [need]. I’m not trying to bury anybody in a deal, we are trying to make our team better.”
Ainge acknowledged that he had a reputation for overvaluing his players, but didn’t feel like he was alone.
“I’ve heard people say that I overvalue my players, I mean I think that’s the case with everybody,” Ainge said. “I really like my guys. Even when they’re not playing well, I like the players. I’m around them every day — I enjoy them, I enjoy them as people. I want to see them succeed. I’m trying to help them and surround them with people that can help them succeed. I don’t know if I overvalue them, but I do like them. So if anything maybe I’m guilty of liking my people too much as people and knowing the fit and the culture that is created in the organization.”
Furthermore, the notion that he could somehow tip the scales in his favor seemed amusingly flawed to Ainge.
“They know what we have, and they either like them or they don’t,” reasoned Ainge.
In late February, NBA analyst Ric Bucher claimed on The Colin Cowherd Podcast that “a lot of GMs are ticked off at Danny because Danny tried like hell to move Kemba [Walker] at the beginning of the year, knowing that his knee wasn’t right.”
Bucher’s assertion hasn’t gotten much traction though given that the entire league knew Walker’s knee was bad back in July. Besides, any deal would’ve certainly been predicated on Walker first passing a physical.
Not the Only One
During his conversation with Toucher & Rich, Ainge elaborated a bit on who else in the organization is responsible for reaching out to other teams to discuss possible deals.
“A lot of times Mike Zarren will make a call, he has good relationships with a lot of people in our league,” said Ainge of his assistant general manager. “Or a lot of times my son Austin (the director of player personnel) will make a call. [He has good relationships] with a younger generation of GMs that he’s been around and been out scouting with the last decade. We all have conversations around the league, and relationships, and I feel like we have pretty good relationships with every team.”
Asked if there was any merit to NBA insider Jackie MacMullan’s recent comments that he could be stepping down soon, possibly replaced by Austin, Ainge was unequivocal.
“That has not been discussed. None of this has been discussed,” Ainge said.
And when the hosts jokingly asked if Mike Zarren wants his job:
“Oh, absolutely,” said Ainge.