Celtics Front Office Overhaul: Ainge Steps Down, Brad Stevens Assumes President Of Basketball Ops Role
Ainge steps down, Stevens now assume front office role
After their recent first round playoff exit at the hands of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the powerhouse Brooklyn Nets squad, it has now become apparent that the Boston Celtics are in for a big change. That change will start in the front office as long-tenured president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has announced that he will be stepping down from the role that he has held since 2008.
With that said, the team also announced that head coach Brad Stevens will be in for a change of role as he is slated to be the Celtics’ next president of basketball operations. As per a column released by the ESPN, Ainge reiterated in a news conference that he was the one who initiated this major decision.
Ainge emphasized that this decision to step down from his front office role already started a couple of months ago. He even said that the job has not been as fun as it was in the past, especially with all the public scrutiny and health and safety protocols that the team and the whole league go through during the pandemic brought upon by COVID-19.
Ainge also said that his trust in Stevens is unwavering, and he knows that the former Celtics head coach will make the right decisions, may it be short-term or long-term, for this storied franchise.
"It was my decision. I don't know if there was a moment in time, but like I said earlier, I trust my instincts, and my instincts told me a couple months ago that it was time for me to move on, and that's what's best for us, that's what's best for the Celtics. In the bubble and all the rules and scrutiny and protocols that we had to go through has not made the job as much fun.
Helping guide this organization has been the thrill of a lifetime, and having worked side-by-side with him since he's been here, I know we couldn't be in better hands than with Brad guiding the team going forward."
Before he forged an executive career in the NBA front office, Ainge was a former player for the Celtics, the Sacramento Kings, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Phoenix Suns. His most productive season as a player was during the 1989-90 NBA season when he put up an all-around stat line of 17.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game for the Kings.
Prior to that career-best season, Ainge also notched his first and only All-Star appearance with the Celtics in 1988. He also won two NBA championships as a player, and became so close to another ‘chip when he and the Suns faced Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during the 1993 NBA Finals.
After his retirement as a player, Ainge then tried his hand on a coaching gig. The Suns hired him as their head coach in 1996, and he held that role for four straight years. Ainge led the Suns to a decent record of 40 wins against 34 defeats in his first season with the team, then followed it up with an excellent 56-26 win-loss slate the following year. Ainge went on to produce winning records in the next couple of years, compiling an overall win-loss slate of 136 wins and 90 losses in his four-year career as an NBA head coach.
As a tribute to the work that Ainge has done as a prominent figure in the Celtics’ front office, former NBA player James Posey penned a heartfelt column for BasketballNews.com. Posey, who last played for the Indiana Pacers during the 2010-11 NBA season, first won a championship with Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and the Miami Heat in 2006. The Celtics then acquired him in the summer of 2007, and he secured his second NBA championship when they beat the late great Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2008 NBA Finals.
Posey averaged 7.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game for the Celtics, but it was his role as a lockdown defensive player that spelled his ultimate value to the championship squad. In his article, Posey pointed out that he felt that his championship in Boston was the more special one, and expressed his gratitude to Ainge for believing that he has what it takes to contribute to the lofty goals of the team that year.
Even though I couldn’t hear what was being said, my mind starting racing. It’s impossible for me to see or hear the name “Danny Ainge” without recalling one of the best things that'd ever happened to me in my basketball career. If he and Doc hadn’t welcomed me to Boston and believed in my ability to help bring a championship to that city, I would have missed out. But what I took from my experience in Boston is this: putting on that Celtics jersey and taking the floor at TD Garden, it just hit different. The history, those retired numbers staring down at you from the rafters, the championship banners, the expectations… I’d never experienced anything like it.
And after 18 years, Danny decided that it was time for him to move on. All I can say is: Mission Accomplished. Even though I won championships in Miami (in2006) and Cleveland (in 2016), for some reason, I feel like I’m recognized a lot more for my contribution to the 2008 Celtics. People are going to look back at the “Big Three” era in Boston and say the team should’ve won more, and they’ll probably even look at the Celtics over the last five years or so and wonder why all those talented pieces couldn’t get it done. Me, personally? I know how hard it is to succeed in the NBA and what you have to have in your favor — luck, health, talent, chemistry — so when I look back at Danny’s tenure, I think “success.” Period.
As for Brad Stevens, it is without a doubt that he has a lot of work left to do as he tries to build a solid supporting cast around the Celtics’ young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It was unfortunate that Brown’s wrist injury prevented him from contributing to the team’s cause this playoffs, but he notched his first career All-Star appearance by putting up a tremendous stat line of 24.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per contest this season.
On the other hand, Tatum has now grown into a fully fledged superstar in the league. He was already great in the regular season when he tallied an astounding set of averages of 26.4 points, 7.4 boards, 4.3 assists and 1.2 steals per contest. But Tatum rose to the occasion and upped his performance in the Celtics’ playoff match-up against the Nets. The 23-year-old combo forward averaged 30.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, including an excellent 38% from the three-point line and an amazing 91% clip from the free throw line. Tatum even had one 50-point outing in Game 3, and then followed it up with 40 points in Game 4 and 32 points in Game 5.
Even with the departure of veteran all-around forward Gordon Hayward and amidst the struggles of star point guard Kemba Walker, the Celtics’ two young stars truly grabbed the opportunity to bask in the spotlight this season. As per Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer, Tatum’s drastic improvement as a passer made him even harder to defend, especially with Brown also improving as a multi-faceted scorer at this stage of his career. Tjarks wrote this article last December, and it turned out to be true especially with both Tatum and Brown notching selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team.
That’s why Tatum’s improved passing numbers (5.0 assists per game compared to 2.8 turnovers) in the playoffs are so important. Players who can score and set up their teammates can have the ball in their hands for the whole game. It might be a chicken-and-an-egg thing for a natural scorer like Tatum. If he knows the ball isn’t coming back to him, he’ll be more likely to force shots. But he can afford to pass more when he’s the hub of the offense. A more streamlined pecking order in Boston should give him that opportunity.
The same is true for Brown. He’s been a glorified energy player in his first four seasons in the league, running and cutting for open looks as opposed to having plays run for him. His most frequent offensive possessions last season were spot-ups (28.1 percent) and in transition (22.4 percent), far ahead of his slice of plays running the pick-and-roll (13.1 percent) and isolations (7.4 percent). To be sure, he was more effective in the former categories than the latter. But he was no different than Hayward in that just because he accepted his role doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t want more. Brown averaged career highs in points (20.3),rebounds (6.4), assists (2.1), and minutes (33.9) last season. If he moves those numbers any higher, he will join Tatum as an All-Star.
But of course, this is not just about Tatum and Brown. The Celtics compiled a record of 36 wins against 36 defeats this season, and had to win in the NBA Play-In Tournament to book a coveted ticket to the playoffs. They still have some decisions to do on their roster, especially with the case of Kemba Walker.
Walker, a four-time All-Star point guard, turned in a disappointing performance this season. Even though he produced a stat line of 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.1 steals per contest, he also had measly shooting percentages of a 42% overall clip from the field, and 36% from the three-point line. Kemba also struggled to position himself in the Celtics’ offensive schemes, and there are already rumors that he might be on his way out, especially with both Tatum and Brown growing into elite two-way stars in the league.
Still, the spotlight right now is shining on Stevens. After a tremendous career as a collegiate coach, the Celtics brought Stevens on board by hiring him as their head coach in 2013. Stevens has since maintained that important role for eight seasons, compiling a stellar record of 354 wins against 282 losses throughout his coaching stint with the Celtics. He has also bagged three Eastern Conference Coach of the Month awards, and led the team to seven straight playoff appearances, including three trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.
As per Tim Bontemps of the ESPN, Stevens reiterated that he is already looking forward to the challenge of succeeding in his first stint in an NBA team’s front office. While it is true that the absence of Ainge will be a big loss for the entirety of the Celtics organization, Stevens said that he is ready to step up and “meet the challenge”.
"I do think I have a good insight into our team as Danny now steps away. I feel like I've got a good idea of what we do well, what we don't do so well, and I've been doing this for eight years. I've been in that locker room with some of those guys for a long time. They'll get to play for a great coach, with some similarities maybe, but also some great new fresh perspectives. That's a good thing, so I'm looking forward to finding that person. Because I do think people can be reinvigorated by that. I think, when I looked at the big picture and Wyc [Grousbeck, the owner] and I really talked about it, it made sense. This is a great opportunity to give us a good spark when we're losing one of the best in his job in the world. That's something we know we all have to [do], step up and meet the next challenge.
When [Ainge] decided to move on and retire and, you know, go enjoy more time with his family and we talked a little about it ... then it just kind of moved down the road. I talked to Wyc for a while one day and we decided that was what was best. I told Wyc at that moment: My No. 1 thing is for the good of the Celtics. I love the Celtics. I want to do what's best for the Celtics. And I really have enjoyed coaching. I loved coaching and I loved coaching the players, both at Butler and here. But this is a new challenge. This is what we need to do to hopefully be even better."
There is still no accurate list of names as to the coaching search for the Celtics, but there are lots of potential candidates out there. Stevens has done a tremendous job of coaching the Celtics in the past eight years, and it is possible that the team might opt to promote a current assistant coach to establish continuity and familiarity in the squad’s overall system and not hinder any internal development within the players.