How did Boston Celtics get Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown? Danny Ainge speaks


As the Boston Celtics head into a crucial Game 6 in the NBA Finals on Thursday, the man who essentially built that team through a series of signings, stealth trades and leadership was on his way to San Jose this week to visit his elderly father, Don Ainge.

Danny Ainge, a legendary Celtics player and winner of BYU’s Naismith College Player of the Year award, is now an executive with the Utah Jazz. He paused a few minutes at the airport for a phone interview about the Celtics’ roster, which has his fingerprints all over it.

“You know, it’s been fun to see their success,” Ainge said. “I guess it’s like anyone you know well and have spent time with and seeing them succeed at anything gives me joy.”


The Celtics are a very energetic defensive giant, a team that soaks up adversity and maintains and possesses an extremely competitive personality. Boston faces an experienced and veteran playoff team in the Golden State Warriors, led by shooting icon Stephen Curry.

If Boston ends up winning the championship, someone should send Ainge a championship ring even though he stepped down as president of basketball operations a little over a year ago on June 1.

“I wouldn’t expect that, no, not at all,” Ainge said. He would rather give credit to the current coaching staff and executives and remain a contented observer with connections.

But anyone who knows the Celtics credits Ainge with building the current team. Owner Wyc Grousbeck certainly does.

Ainge moves

Ainge recommended veteran Butler University coach Brad Stevens to coach the Celtics as the owners looked for a fresh face and approach to the Xs and Os franchise. Ainge suggested that Stevens be elevated to an executive position before leaving Boston.

Four of the five starters in Game 1 of the NBA Finals were selected by Ainge during his time as president of operations. Ainge brought six of the rotation players to Boston.

People credit Ainge for a notable trade with the Brooklyn Nets that ultimately led to Boston landing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the draft. It was a brilliant strategy and added to the tradition of the team Ainge has been a part of for the past 18 years.

Ainge said the team facing the Warriors has different personalities and strengths, but one thing that stands out is that it’s very young.

“I think everyone has different traits,” Ainge said. “They are all different people with different skills and different talents and different personalities. And I think what you hope will happen is that the good things will rub off on each other.

“I think you’ve seen this group of guys grow over time; going to the conference finals now four times. This is the first trip to the final, but they are still young. Jaylen is 25 and Jayson is 24. So they are still very young and learning.”

Fighting Golden State, Boston is down 3-2 against a titan of the game.

youth vs titan

“They will be up against a great team,” Ainge said. “It is a dynasty that has been there many, many times. So there’s a lot to learn through this process, but they’ve learned about each other through everything they’ve been through.”

In Brown, a 2016 draft pick out of Cal, Ainge and Stevens found a stellar combo shooting guard who can guard four positions, tower over anyone on the floor and deliver electrifying scoring binges that can take over a game.

Since Boston drafted Brown, only 10 players have scored more playoff points than him, and those guys are headed for the Hall of Fame. During that same time, only three players have appeared in more playoff games.

In a sense, Brown represents a lot about the personality of Ainge, who played professional basketball and baseball and will always be considered a unique athletic talent in many arenas.

Ainge was part of a high school All-America team in 1977 that included Magic Johnson, Albert King, Danny Vranes, and Jeff Rutland while playing for North Eugene High in Oregon.

When Ainge disagreed with draft pundits and used a No. 1 pick to get Tatum out of Duke over consensus favorite Markelle Fultz, his gamble paid off. Bravely moving Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013 to gain wiggle room and new acquisitions is considered one of the boldest but most brilliant management moves the league has ever seen.

Ainge has three NBA championship rings, two as a player and one as an executive.

This is the Ainge textbook: unbridled confidence, bold decision making, and unpredictable moves.

His long throw down the field in a high school playoff game at the University of Oregon’s McArthur Field remains one of the longest field goals in facility history.

Ainge’s Touch

In high school, Ainge was an All-American in baseball, basketball, and football, a rare achievement that many observers believe is without equal.

His iconic dribbling and scoring in helping the Cougars beat Notre Dame in the 1981 NCAA Tournament regionals in Atlanta sparked BYU’s historic run to the Elite Eight under Frank Arnold.

Ainge had a reputation as an intensely competitive athlete. He still is on the golf course when he plays with his friends, including Jazz owner Ryan Smith.

The moves, deals and evaluations made by Ainge for the Celtics definitely made Boston what it is today.

Now from afar, working with the Jazz, he’s entertained, satisfied and an admirer of the Celtics.

“Yeah, they’ve been a dominant defensive team and that’s been fun to watch. They’ve had ups and downs offensively, they’ve had their big games and stretches where they’ve had problems, but their defense is their letter of introduction. It’s been fun watching those guys beat some amazing teams. This year, very formidable teams with great players.”

Ainge isn’t comfortable taking credit for Boston making it to the finals.

“First of all, this is not my team. This is Brad’s team and Ime Udoka’s team, right? I had a little part in that, but they’re the ones steering the ship this year to get the guys going.”

Ainge told that Stevens’ move to move Kemba Walker opened the door for some big roles for the current Celtics.

“I think by moving Kemba, it allowed Marcus (Smart), Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) and Robert Williams to really thrive in positional size, with Horford taking a lot of frontline responsibility for Robert and moving Jaylen. , Jayson and Marcus to their positions where they have size advantages. It’s just a better fit. I think that’s very clear.”

When asked what stands out about Boston’s run, Ainge gets philosophical, referencing today’s rushing, “gotta have it now” mentality in sports and life in general.

“I feel like it’s always hard to be patient in the world we live in. Sometimes patience with individuals and collective patience with groups. There’s a lot of outside noise, so I’m grateful for the patience we showed.”

And that quote gives a little insight into what Ainge would probably advise Jazz fans as he tries to help owner Smith set his sights on the future of the franchise.

It worked in Boston.

Danny Ainge, left, CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball, speaks with Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, right, before Game 6 of a first-round playoff series on Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Salt Lake City.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press