It is hard to tell exactly who first brought up Danny Ainge in the wake of the Boston Celtics winning the NBA championship, but questions about him were asked again and again as the Celtics celebrated their 18th title.

They were raised on social media from the likes of senior NFL reporter Albert Breer and on fan-centered websites like SB Nation’s Celtics Blog. Even USA Today got in the action.

Does Danny Ainge deserve another Celtics championship ring? How much credit does the now-CEO of basketball operations for the Utah Jazz deserve for Boston’s latest title? Would Boston have even gotten to this point without Ainge?

Inside Danny Ainge’s first-ever time in the NBA lottery drawing room
Jayson Tatum thanked God on Monday — but not for the win

What is Danny Ainge’s history with the Boston Celtics?

We are going to leave out Ainge’s own playing career here and focus solely on his role in the Celtics’ front office.

All told, Ainge spent 18 years as the executive director of basketball operations in Boston, during which time he built a championship-winning team centered on Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.

After that core ran its course, Ainge pivoted — quite famously now — and traded the beloved Garnett and Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for, among other things, draft picks.

Those picks eventually became All-Star forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — both No. 3 selections in the NBA draft — and all the while Boston continued to be competitive with a rotating cast that included Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker and Al Horford.

Ainge also hired multiple notable coaches, namely Doc Rivers and Brad Stevens, unexpectedly luring the latter from the NCAA coaching ranks.

Not to be forgotten, he also hired Joe Mazzulla — Boston’s current head coach — as an assistant coach in 2019 from the Division III ranks.

Which Celtics players did Danny Ainge bring to Boston?

As mentioned above, Ainge drafted both Tatum and Brown while with the Celtics. That duo is the primary reason the Celtics are now NBA champions, with all due respect to Jrue Holiday, especially.

Tatum was in the running for league MVP this season and is an All-NBA player, while Brown was arguably Boston’s best player throughout the postseason and was named Finals MVP.

The other notable Celtic that Ainge helped Boston land is Horford, who signed with Boston as a free agent in 2016.

“Man, I never forget what Danny Ainge told me in that meeting,” Horford told The Sports Hub’s Alex Barth. “He said, ‘you can win championships in many places, but there’s nothing like winning in Boston. Nothing like winning as a Celtic.’”

Horford continued, “And that stuck with me from that meeting. I was like, ‘man, I’m trying to be great, and that’s what I want.’”

Additionally, Ainge drafted Payton Pritchard and gave Luke Kornet a shot with the team during the 2020-21 NBA season.

What is being said about Danny Ainge getting credit for Boston’s championship?

There are plenty who believe Ainge should be recognized for his role in creating Boston’s title-winning team, due not only to his drafting of Tatum and Brown but also his work to keep the duo together.

Wrote USA Today’s Charles Curtis: “Sometimes, it’s the moves you DON’T make that win championships. And Ainge refused to deal Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, sticking with a long-term plan that banked on both of them becoming stars (and maybe even superstars). Sure, the Kyrie Irving trade didn’t work out before Ainge left for the Utah Jazz, but then came Brad Stevens moving from the bench to the front office, where he brought back Al Horford, dealt for Derrick White, Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, and the rest is history. But let’s give Ainge his flowers too.”

MassLive’s Brian Robb took it further.

“Ainge’s impact on the roster is still considerable,” Robbs wrote. “For years, Ainge’s greatest trade heist during his Celtics tenure was considered to be the acquisition of Kevin Garnett in the summer of 2007. That honor can now officially be shifted to June 2013 and the deal when Boston acquired first-round picks and a pick swap that produced three top-8 picks from Brooklyn over five years in exchange for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Ainge didn’t just land a massive haul to jumpstart a rebuild, he navigated those drafts masterfully to maximize his good fortune as the Nets cratered ahead of schedule. Jaylen Brown was a raw prospect in 2016 at No. 3, avoiding a number of potholes (Dragan Bender, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield) in the process. He selected a franchise cornerstone Jayson Tatum a year later and extracted maximum value out of a division rival by trading from the No. 1 overall pick.

“For all of Stevens’ savvy moves supplementing Tatum and Brown over the past three years, the hardest part of team building was done by Ainge early in identifying future stars. He also deserves credit (along with Stevens) for avoiding the temptation to sell Boston’s young stars for an earlier win-now push. Tatum was never going anywhere after his rookie year, but Brown’s name was rumored to be included in potential deals for Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard in the latter days of Ainge’s tenure. His unwillingness to budge on Brown’s value in those talks (or the draft pick that became Brown) in those trade talks has helped position the Celtics to become a perennial contender.”

Jeff Clark of SB Nation had something similar to say.

“We (the Celtics) don’t have Tatum and Brown if Danny doesn’t pull off the trade of the century with the Nets. He also had the foresight to draft Tatum and Brown when the consensus leaned in other directions. He laid the foundation for Brad Stevens to build upon,” Clark wrote.

Why Danny Ainge deserves recognition for Boston’s title

As noted by Robb and others, superstars are essential in the NBA and Ainge is responsible for bringing Boston its two best players in Tatum and Brown.

That they both play the coveted wing position is only further credit to Ainge. He pulled off one of the biggest coups in NBA trade history and turned it into franchise-altering players.

Ainge also brought Stevens to Boston, and Stevens has since gone on to perform the roster machinations needed to put Boston over the hump after the Celtics fell short multiple years, most notably against Golden State in the Finals in 2022 and against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2023.

Ainge also lured Horford from Atlanta, still one of the biggest free agent signings in Celtics history.

And his hire of Mazzulla proved prescient, as Mazzulla ended up being only the second Boston head coach in the last 40 years to win a title.

Why Danny Ainge doesn’t deserve recognition for Boston’s title

The most significant argument against Ainge getting real recognition for Boston’s championship is Stevens.

The former head coach turned president of basketball operations took what Ainge left behind in 2021 and deftly remade Boston around Tatum and Brown.

Here’s a look at some of the moves made by Stevens since Ainge left Boston:

  • Traded Kemba Walker for Al Horford (Horford left Boston in 2019 and signed with Philadelphia and then was subsequently traded to Oklahoma City)
  • Traded Romeo Langford for Derrick White
  • Traded Marcus Smart for Kristaps Porzingis and two first round picks
  • Re-signed Jaylen Brown to the biggest contract in NBA history
  • Traded Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams for Jrue Holiday

Many of those moves don’t happen without players Ainge brought to Boston — namely Langford, Walker and Williams — but Stevens remade Boston on the fly, turning the Celtics into one of the more dominant champions in NBA history.

What Danny Ainge thinks about getting credit for the Celtics’ championship

Ainge addressed the notion that he deserves credit for Boston’s latest title in an interview with MassLive.

“I feel fortunate to be a part, a very small part of all of their lives,” he said. “I have a feeling that Jaylen and Jayson and Wyc (Grousbeck) and Pags and Joe and Brad and Payton Pritchard, Al Horford, the whole group, every one of those guys would have found success without me being involved. I just feel like to be a small part of their success is fun to watch them grow and have success. They would have found it no matter what, no matter where, that’s the kind of people they are.”

He continued, “It’s obviously been fun watching their success and rooting hard for their success. It’s been fun to watch them all grow and develop. ... Those people are all going to be successful no matter what. They’re gonna find a way to be successful in my opinion. Obviously Brad had success before he got with us in the college game and was a successful coach and, Wyc and Pags have had as much success as a very, very small percentage of people have in the entire world. I’m not surprised that the team is having success. It’s a great group, an extremely talented group and I’m very happy for them.”

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.