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

As the Boston Celtics head for a crucial Game 6 in the NBA Finals on Thursday, the man who essentially built this team through a series of takes, stealth trades and leadership was en route to San Jose this week to complete his aging father Don to visit Ainge.

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

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

The Celtics are a highly energetic defensive juggernaut, a team that absorbs adversity and retains and possesses a highly competitive personality. Boston faces an experienced, veteran playoff team at 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 left his post as president of basketball operations a little over a year ago, on June 1st.

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

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

Ainge moves

Ainge recommended Brad Stevens, Butler University’s longtime coach, to coach the Celtics as the owner sought a fresh face and new approach to the Xs and Os franchises. Ainge suggested that Stevens be promoted to a managerial position before leaving Boston.

Four of the five NBA Finals Game 1 starters were drafted by Ainge during his tenure as President of Operations. Six of the rotation players were brought to Boston from Ainge.

People credit Ainge with a remarkable trade with the Brooklyn Nets that ultimately led to Boston drafting Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It was a brilliant strategy and added to the lore of the team Ainge has been a part of over the past 18 years.

Ainge said the team taking on the Warriors have different personalities and strengths, but one thing that stands out is that they are very young.

“I think they all have different characteristics,” Ainge said. “They are all different people with different skills and different talents and different personalities. And I think you’re hoping that the good things rub off on each other.

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

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

Youth vs Titan

“You’re up against a great team,” said Ainge. “It’s a dynasty that has happened many, many times. So there’s a lot to learn through this process, but they’ve learned from each other through everything they’ve been through.”

In Brown, selected by Cal in the 2016 draft, Ainge and Stevens found an all-star combo guard who can defend four positions, tower over anyone on the court and deliver electrifying scoring binges that can take over a game.

Since Boston Brown drafted, only 10 players have scored more playoff points than he has, and these guys are on their way to the Hall of Fame. During the same period, only three players have appeared in more playoff games.

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

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

When Ainge disagreed with the draft pundits and used a No. 1 pick to take Tatum from Duke via consensus leader Markelle Fultz, his gamble paid off. Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s bold move in 2013 to preserve leeway and acquisitions is considered one of the boldest yet 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 textbook Ainge: unbridled self-confidence, bold decisions and unpredictable movements.

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

The Ainge Touch

In high school, Ainge was an All-American in baseball, basketball and football, a rare feat considered by many observers to be unmatched.

His legendary dribble and goal, which helped the Cougars beat Notre Dame at 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 intense competitive athlete. He stays that way on the course when he plays with his buddies, including Jazz owner Ryan Smith.

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

Now working remotely with jazz, he’s entertained, content and admires the Celtics.

“Yes, they were a dominant defensive team and it was fun to watch. They’ve been up and down offensively, had their great plays and stretches where they’ve struggled, but their defense is their calling card. It was fun watching these guys beat some amazing teams. Very impressive teams with great players this year.”

Ainge doesn’t feel comfortable acknowledging Boston’s run 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 small part in it but they are the ones running the ship this year to get the boys up and running.”

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

“I think moving Kemba allowed Marcus (Smart), Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) and Robert Williams to really flourish in their position size, with Horford having a lot of frontline responsibility for Robert and Jaylen’s move took over , Jayson and Marcus to their positions where they have economies of scale. It just fits better. I think that’s really clear.”

When asked what stands out about Boston’s run, Ainge gets philosophical, pointing to the trend these days of being in a hurry, the must-have-now mindset in sports and in life in general.

“I feel like it’s always difficult to be patient in the world we live in. Sometimes patience with individuals and patience as a collective with groups. There is a lot of noise from outside so I am grateful for the patience we have shown.”

And that quote gives a glimpse of what Ainge would probably advise jazz fans as he tries to help owner Smith chart the future of the franchise.

It worked in Boston.

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

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

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