NBA Execs Sound off on Ex-Celtics Boss Danny Ainge After ‘Ridiculous’ Summer

Danny Ainge, Utah Jazz CEO

Getty Danny Ainge, Utah Jazz CEO

The NBA hadn’t yet shaken off all the dust from the explosive Utah-Minnesota trade when the Jazz hit the plunger again by dealing Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland. Former Celtics boss Danny Ainge has left quite an impression on the summer.

Of greater concern around the league than what Rudy Gobert will do for the Timberwolves or how much Mitchell can improve the Cavaliers is the precedents set by the deals and how they might affect future transactions.

There was no small measure of shock when Utah was able to get four first round draft picks (2023, 2025, 2027, top-five protected in 2029), the right to swap first rounders in 2026 and Walker Kessler (No. 22 overall this year), Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Leandro Bolmaro from the Wolves.

The Mitchell move was then expected, but the way that auction played out was not. The Knicks were seen as the clear frontrunner, but Cleveland stepped in with a package of three first round picks, two pick swaps and Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji.

“Those trades aren’t real,” one general manager told Heavy Sports. “I mean, I guess they ARE real because they [expletive] happened, but whoa … It’s going to be interesting to see how fast things get back to normal after this — if they do.”

Said another team exec, “I’m just dreading all ridiculous stuff people are going to be asking me for now before we can get down to real business.”

NBA Execs Not Happy With Ainge

Ainge has been called a number of things in his career — many of them, particularly those offered by players and fans from opposing clubs — not fit for sharing on this family-friendly site. And there was the time Tree Rollins said a mouthful by biting Ainge’s finger.

Among his peers in the basketball operations business, Ainge is known by a two-word term: market disruptor. And his fellow NBA executives aren’t smiling when they say it. (Sure, it’s impossible to detect a facial expression over the phone, but from what they say afterward, trust me, they ain’t smiling.)

First as president of basketball ops for the Celtics and now as CEO of the Jazz, Ainge has overseen major reconstruction projects. And each has started with a bang. In 2013, he essentially sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for three first round picks and a pick swap. That deal got the Celts Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, forming the nucleus of this year’s Finals team.

“But as crazy as that was, you could understand it a little from the Nets’ standpoint,” said a league source. “Their owner, the Russian guy (Mikhail Prokhorov), wanted to win right away, and he thought he could squeeze another few years out of Pierce and KG.

“But for Minnesota, man, that’s a reach. Even if they’re a lot better, it’s hard to see them winning the West with all those teams ahead of them. And then they’re going to look down in a couple of years and see they have no picks.”

The NBA trade Market Will Reset Itself

Another league executive preached calm and perspective.

“It’s all about perceived value,” he said. “But that’s all right. The market will reset itself. It always does.

“Let’s put it this way: Every time one of us does something of enormous stupidity — and I’m not necessarily saying this trade won’t work out for Minnesota — but every time something like this happens, we go a period of time where people talk about the stupidity. And then someone comes out and does something on a whole other level of their stupidity. It’s never failed. Stupidity in the NBA is par for the course of doing business. Everything recalibrates.”

The Cavaliers, owing to their young talent, look to be a better futures bet after picking up Mitchell. The question then turns to what the Jazz can do with all their picks.

“It’s not going to be like it was in Boston for Danny,” said one league source. “He really hit on some of those picks he got, but, remember, they also got (Al) Horford and (Gordon) Hayward to come there as free agents. I know Hayward didn’t work out like they wanted; that injury was tough. But those guys were top free agents. I think Danny’s going to find it harder to attract big time free agents in Utah.”

Which makes those Minnesota and Cleveland draft picks even more important for the Jazz.


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