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Danny Ainge, who left the Phoenix Suns a year ago because they wouldn't let him continue his playing career, was introduced as the team's "future" coach on Thursday.

Ainge, 37, left the Suns a year ago because they wanted him to coach and he wanted to keep playing.But there's one difference this time. Ainge has been promised that one day he will run the show.

"Danny Ainge will be the next head coach of the Phoenix Suns," team president Jerry Colangelo said. "Once he came to Phoenix and I had a chance to get to know him, it was pretty obvious that here's a guy with the whole package - the temperament, the acumen. He's not only going to be a head coach, but an outstanding coach in the NBA."

That won't take place until Cotton Fitzsimmons decides to leave the bench and return to the front-office vice presidency he gave up in mid-January to replace another protege, Paul Westphal.

Ainge said he didn't mind waiting, and Fitzsimmons said he wouldn't make Ainge serve a long apprenticeship.

"Danny Ainge is one of those guys that you either love or hate. I've been on both of those sides," Fitzsimmons said.

For next season, the Suns will have Ainge, Paul Silas and Donn Nelson as assistants. Silas and Nelson didn't attend the news conference, but Colangelo said they were briefed on the development, approved it and agreed to stay on as Ainge's assistants.

Ainge had no reservations about ending a one-year stint as a TNT basketball color analyst to return to the team that offered him a chance to be no more than a player-coach last year.

The Suns paid for the decision when the lack of outside shooting by Ainge and Dan Majerle, who was traded, contributed to a 14-19 start that got coach Westphal fired on Jan. 15. Under Fitzsimmons, the Suns improved to 41-41 and made the playoffs before San Antonio eliminated them in the first round.

Westphal, a former Suns star, served as Fitzsimmons' assistant for four seasons before he got the coaching nod in the summer of 1992. Ainge recognized the similarity of the situations, but said it didn't bother him. He said working as a broadcaster made him realize how much he missed being part of the game.