The morning after the Boston Celtics were eliminated from the NBA playoffs, reports surfaced Wednesday that the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, was stepping down.
A little over an hour later, the Celtics made the move official, while adding that Boston coach Brad Stevens is being promoted into that position.
Not long after the first report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Ainge’s name was being linked to the Utah Jazz. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix reported that Ainge, who starred at BYU in the early 1980s before a long NBA career, isn’t expected to retire and could potentially land next in Utah with the Jazz.
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.— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) June 2, 2021
By Wednesday evening, Ainge was refuting this report, though, telling the Boston Globe that he is friends with Jazz owner Ryan Smith, but hasn’t spoken with him about a move to the Utah organization.
“Nothing is going on there,” Ainge told the Globe.
Ainge, a two-time NBA champion as a player with Boston, had been with the Celtics front office since 2003, and he will work with the team during a transitional phase this offseason. Boston’s search for a new head coach will begin immediately.
During his 18 years in Boston, the Celtics made the playoffs 15 times, winning an NBA championship in 2008 while also reaching the Eastern Conference finals seven times and the NBA Finals twice.
“Helping guide this organization has been the thrill of a lifetime, and having worked side-by-side with him since he’s been here, I know we couldn’t be in better hands than with Brad guiding the team going forward,” Ainge said in a statement. “I’m grateful to ownership, all of my Celtics colleagues, and the best fans in basketball for being part of the journey.”
Ainge was named the NBA Executive of the Year in 2008. He’s perhaps best known for his offseason moves, when Ainge oversaw the Celtics acquiring a pair of future Hall of Famers, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, to join a Boston team that included Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins.
The Celtics went on to play in the NBA Finals twice in three years from 2008-10. Boston has won more playoff games than any other NBA team since the 2007-08 season.
Ainge hired Stevens in 2013, only his second coaching hire in Boston. Stevens led the Celtics to a 354-282 record as head coach, with seven consecutive playoff appearances, including reaching three Eastern Conference finals.
“Danny has made all the difference over the past 18 years — our record of winning percentage and playoff victories is near the top of the league during that time. He has always been a relentless competitor and a winner. Red Auerbach told us Danny is ‘lucky,’ and he was right, but a lot of the luck came from his intense drive and his incredible basketball insights,” Celtics co-owner and governor Wyc Grousbeck said in a statement. “Turning to Brad is a natural next step, since we have built a partnership over the past eight years, and he is a special basketball mind. We want him to lead us into the next great era of Celtics basketball.”
What does all this mean for Ainge? Right now, he’s still processing it all.
“I honestly haven’t thought about what’s next,” Ainge told the Globe. “I don’t have any urgency or anything planned. My only focus is to help the Celtics however they need me in this transition. These are my people. These are the people I drafted. These are the people I hired, including my son (assistant general manager Austin Ainge, also a former BYU player). And in some ways I feel like Brad is one of my sons. I’m rooting for these guys hard.”