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Why Stephen A. Smith said ‘We can’t trust Danny Ainge’

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Danny Ainge speaks in front of a black background.

Danny Ainge speaks about his new role as CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball on Dec. 15, 2021. Ainge traded Rudy Gobert to Minnesota earlier this offseason.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, host of the morning show “First Take,” really wants the Knicks to trade for Donovan Mitchell.

But he’s also wary of Jazz CEO Danny Ainge’s history of trades that end up looking like larceny.

“We know that we can’t trust Danny Ainge, and I mean that affectionately and complimentary to him, because he’s an elite executive who has pulled off numerous heists in his career,” Smith said on his show Monday.

Ainge earned the nickname “Trader Danny” during his time as general manager of the Boston Celtics. A simple search turns up several articles ranking his best trades as a Celtics executive. He brought Kevin Garnett to Boston, forming a team that won the NBA championship in 2008, and later sent that team’s aging stars to New Jersey to help build Boston’s current core of talent.

Smith referenced the 2017 trade with Philadelphia of the No. 1 and No. 3 picks, which gave the Celtics an additional first-round pick. They drafted Jayson Tatum, while the 76ers took Markelle Fultz.

Ainge’s most recent trade of Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves “just messed up the market,” Smith said.

“Donovan Mitchell is a star,” Smith said Tuesday during his show. “I’m tired of people talking about him like he’s not. ... (He’s) somebody that the New York Knicks franchise desperately needs. Period.”

The Athletic reported this week that the Knicks’ most recent offer for Mitchell didn’t meet the Jazz’s expectations.

Smith is transparent about two things: His love for the Knicks, and his dissatisfaction for the organization under owner James Dolan. He thinks the Knicks need a “star,” and he believes Utah’s Mitchell would bring those qualities to New York.

“New York needs a star,” he said previously on “First Take.” “We need a star. ... I’m talking about the star (Carmelo Anthony) was supposed to be, and to a lesser degree he was.”

To make that happen, they’ll have to reach a deal with Ainge, who Ryen Russillo of the Ringer says “wins almost all” of his trades.