The Celtics are in the market for a new bench boss.
After being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2016, the Boston Celtics went into a big-time front office shuffle, as longtime president of basketball operations and Celtics legend Danny Ainge decided to call it quits. He will be replaced in that position by Brad Stevens, which leaves Boston with a head coaching vacancy, the team announced last Wednesday.
The team will now dive into the process of picking out a new head coach, who will be just the third man to take over the Boston sideline since Doc Rivers was hired way back in 2004. That’s some impressive continuity—Orlando could take note. The Celtics also said that Ainge will be a part of the process as the team transitions to this new situation.
At the presser on Wednesday, the 62-year-old Ainge, who won two NBA championships as a Celtics player and another as an executive in 2008, said that it was his decision to step down after 18 seasons in the Boston front office.
“It was my decision,” Ainge said. “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.”
Ainge suffered a mild heart attack in 2019, which he listed along with the bubble and the new protocols as some of the reasons that he began considering retirement after 40 years in the NBA on the court, on the sidelines, and in the front office.
The switch-up at the top of the basketball hierarchy came just a day after the Celtics were eliminated in the first round in five games by the Brooklyn Nets—who are currently the favorites to win it all, with +110 NBA odds on 888sport—after winning at least one playoff series in each of the previous five seasons.
The team had very poor luck during this pandemic-affected campaign. Veteran point guard Kemba Walker and his cursed knees continued to be extremely tough to keep on the floor and the loss of Jaylen Brown to a broken wrist just before the postseason meant the C’s were essentially DOA in the playoffs.
Stevens had been roaming the Celtics sideline for eight seasons before moving over into the front office. The fact that he was essentially fired as head coach and hired as president of basketball operations in one fell swoop is certainly one of the more unique transitions in NBA history.
The powers that be in Boston seem to have the utmost confidence in Stevens, who first arrived in Beantown back in 2013. Ainge said the 44-year-old was, “born for this,” and owner Wyc Groubeck said that he and Stevens would, “win banner 18 or die trying.”
Ainge was first hired as an executive with Boston in 2003, earning himself the same reputation as the one he built himself while playing 14 NBA seasons: tough and often disagreeable. But he got results. The Celtics won just 24 games in 2007, the second-lowest total in franchise history, and franchise player Paul Pierce made it clear that he wanted out unless they brought in some proper talent.
Ainge, the then-executive director of basketball operations responded by promptly trading for elite hoopers in forward Kevin Garnett and guard Ray Allen, who are both now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Boston Big Three won a title in their first year together, and AInge was subsequently promoted to the director of basketball operations role that he held until last Wednesday.
Garnett and Pierce were crucial for the next part of Ainge’s journey as an executive. Once the two stars began reaching the end of their primes, Ainge shipped them out for a big ol’ chest of draft picks from the Brooklyn Nets. It was hailed as one of the best trades in basketball history from the Celtics perspective and helped bring the team to three Conference Finals in four years from 2017 to 2020.
Unfortunately, they never got over the hump, and it now seems like they’re going to have to do a soft rebuild at some point to figure out if they can really have success with who they’ve got or if they have to replace Brown and Walker with pieces that complement franchise player Jayson Tatum a little better.
It must have been quite a tough realization to see those same Barclays Center Nets be the team to end Ainge’s tenure in Boston last week. Despite that bittersweetness, Ainge was positive in thinking back on his career in Massachusetts.
Stevens and whoever is tapped as the new head coach have quite an offseason ahead of them. Tatum and Brown seem like obvious constants for at least one more season, but while they are the team’s top two players, neither are the club’s highest-paid hooper.
That would be Walker, who is owed $73 million over the next two seasons and is on the wrong side of 30 after missing 31 games last season. They may have to sweeten the deal with a draft pick, but Stevens and his comrades would do well to ship that failed experiment out of town. I wonder if they wish they’d kept Scary Terry Rozier—who is four years Walker’s junior—for pennies on the dollar.
They’ll also need to consider extending Marcus Smart, who has proven himself to be more than just an emotional leader but also a big-time contributor on both sides of the floor. Trade deadline acquisition Evan Fournier, who cost a couple of draft picks, is also entering free agency, and would be a significant loss if he signed elsewhere after just a half-season with the C’s.
At least they’ve got a few extra weeks of time off to figure it all out after being eliminated in the first round for the first time since 2016.