Danny Ainge has never been one to not make an aggressive move, and he made two within a decade.
In 2007, The former Celtics president of basketball operations swung a draft-day trade with the Sonics. Seattle sent Ray Allen and the 35th overall pick, Glen Davis to Boston in exchange for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and the fifth overall pick, Jeff Green. In July of the same year, the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations and two first-round picks. The deal was the largest number of players traded for one single player in NBA history, but it paid off.
The Celtics went on to win the championship in the 2007-08 season and made the 2009-10 NBA Finals. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett led Boston to three Eastern Conference finals in five years, but Ainge was not one to let the Celtics remain steadfast.
In the 2013 NBA draft, Boston shockingly traded its franchise stars to the Nets. The deal sent Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White to Brooklyn in exchange for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and three first-round picks, plus the right to swap first-round picks in 2017.
Ainge was immediately lambasted for the trade. Wallace carried a three-year, $30 million contract and the other players in the deal were nowhere near All-Star caliber players. Despite their advanced ages, Pierce, Garnett and Terry were seen as players who could still contribute to a title contender, which the Nets were projected as with the trio joining All-NBA guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The team also featured rising young center Brook Lopez, All-Star Andrei Kirilenko and first-year head coach Jason Kidd.
The Nets appeared to be primed to win multiple NBA championships. But little did everyone know was Ainge was playing the long game.
Brooklyn only made it as far as the Eastern Conference semifinals — the first year of the trade — and continued to regress to eventually being the worst team in the NBA. During those years, the Celtics overachieved with Brad Stevens, and while not every pick hit for Boston, it only needed to hit on two.
The Nets’ 20-61 record in the 2015-16 season earned the Celtics the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, where they chose Jaylen Brown. In the following year, Brooklyn’s 21-61 record yielded the No. 1 overall pick for Boston in the 2017 draft. After a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers that involved a swap for the No. 3 pick, the Celtics selected Jayson Tatum.
Since the 2017-18 season, Brown and Tatum have been the foundation for the Celtics, and the duo led Boston to the NBA Finals in the 2021-22 season and continue to be the pillars of the franchise.
For the Nets, Pierce left in 2014 and Garnett left in 2015, and Kidd was fired after one season. Brooklyn tried to swing for a title again when it signed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in 2019 and traded for James Harden in the middle of the 2020-21 season, but it only reached the Eastern Conference semifinals with that trio.
The 2013 Celtics-Nets trade is seen as one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history, in favor of Boston thanks to the power of hindsight. ESPN’s Zack Lowe noted the NBA did consider a change where teams would not be allowed to trade multiple unprotected first-round picks and forbidden to swap picks in between years.
It is a deal many franchises have hoped to replicate. Prior to the 2022-23 season, Brown has named to the All-Rookie team and to one All-Star team, and Tatum was also named to an All-Rookie team, three All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams.
It was also a deal that franchises hoped to not be on the wrong end of. A trade like the 2013 trade had not been seen until the 2022 offseason when the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, and the draft rights to center Walker Kessler in addition to four first-round picks and a 2026 first-round pick swap. The person who made the trade: Utah CEO of basketball operations Ainge.