Wright’s biggest gripe, it seems, always has been with the perception of Ainge, whom Celtics fans, for the most part, hold in high regard despite Boston winning only one NBA title on his watch.
“The reality is that Danny Ainge oversaw the least successful 20 years in the history of the Celtics franchise,” Wright said Thursday on FS1’s “First Things First.” “The reality is that Danny Ainge somehow — after always coveting assets, assets, assets — walks out the door with the Celtics having zero future assets in the plus column.
“They don’t have any extra first-round picks. They don’t have any great young player coming up the pipeline that we just drafted. They have (Jayson) Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown. And Tatum and Brown are excellent, and Tatum and Brown are good enough to where you should be like, ‘Man, we should be in the second round of the playoffs if everything works out well.’ “
The Celtics made the playoffs in 15 of Ainge’s 18 seasons in charge. They advanced to the Eastern Conference finals seven times and reached the NBA Finals twice. Yet, in recent years, Boston has failed to take the next step and return to championship glory despite seemingly being positioned to succeed.
It felt like the Celtics were on the cusp of something special. Instead, due in large to the mismanagement of assets, a cloud of uncertainty now hangs over the franchise as head coach Brad Stevens transitions to the role vacated by Ainge.
“And so what happened to Danny Ainge was, his biggest strengths ended up becoming his biggest weaknesses,” Wright said. “Danny Ainge won a title because he got a heist of a trade (in 2007) and then pulled off the greatest heist of a trade ever with the Brooklyn trade with (Kevin Garnett) and (Paul) Pierce (in 2013). And after that, that became his biggest weakness, because he would never make a trade unless there was gonna be a heist. And heists don’t happen that often.”
Of course, one can’t just throw aside the Celtics’ 17th banner, which hangs in the TD Garden rafters because Ainge was able to trade for Garnett and Ray Allen while also keeping the likes of Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins.
And the Celtics aren’t totally doomed moving forward, with Tatum, 23, and Brown, 24, still improving and giving Stevens two foundational pieces to build around.
But Ainge’s tenure with the Celtics is somewhat disappointing in the sense that Boston seemed capable of so much more, especially after trading for Kyrie Irving and signing Gordon Hayward, two huge additions to an evolving core that also featured Tatum, Brown, Al Horford and Marcus Smart.
“Danny Ainge’s biggest strength at one point in time was his team held over LeBron (James) and LeBron couldn’t get through him. And then LeBron got better, and he ended Danny Ainge’s season five times,” Wright said. “And then Danny Ainge’s biggest strength was, ‘I finally got my superstar.’ I’m trading for Kyrie. And then Kyrie Irving stomped on that stupid Lucky logo and ended his career.
“So what was his biggest strengths all came back around to his greatest weaknesses, and now he’s gone and he’s gonna go run Utah or be a consultant there or whatever it is. And I’m sure all of a sudden we’ll hear about how Utah was this close to getting Anthony Davis, and this close to getting Kawhi Leonard. Because he was always this close to getting a guy who then won the title while his team was always looking long-term — which they had more long-term than other teams because they had longer offseasons than other teams. That’s what it was. But congrats on a good run, I guess.”
Is Wright being unfair to Ainge and what he accomplished in Boston’s front office? Probably. But he’s long had it out for Ainge and the Celtics. Of course he’s going to fire a parting shot.