Back in the game
Celtics name Ainge head of basketball operationsPosted: Friday May 09, 2003 12:07 PM
Updated: Friday May 09, 2003 10:36 PM
BOSTON (AP) -- Red Auerbach was so happy to have Danny Ainge back, he didn't need a victory to light up his cigar.
"In the tradition of the Celtics family, it's a coup to get this guy," said Auerbach, who drafted Ainge in 1981 and lured him away from major league baseball so he could help the Boston Celtics win the last two of their NBA-record 16 championships. "This guy will get it done. He's very bright, and he's lucky, too."
The Celtics made Ainge executive director of basketball operations Friday, just hours before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New Jersey Nets; Boston trails 2-0.
A member of the 1984 and '86 NBA champs, Ainge was wildly cheered when he walked into the arena with Auerbach, and again when he was introduced during a timeout.
"I think it's wonderful. I think it's a great move by our owners," coach Jim O'Brien said. "In the future, people will look back, I think they will think it's a real step forward and a turning point for our franchise."
Ainge will be in his office Monday to start preparing for the draft, but said he won't tinker with the team until after the season.
"If they want my help, they know where to find me," said Ainge, who met with O'Brien before Friday's shootaround and gave him a vote of confidence at the news conference. "I don't want to be a distraction for what they've got going."
Ainge became a legend at Brigham Young for his full-court drive that beat Notre Dame in the 1981 NCAA tournament. Auerbach drafted him with the 31st pick of the 1981 draft and then bought him out of his professional baseball contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, for whom he batted .220 in 211 games.
"I might never have played basketball if it wasn't for Red," Ainge said after playfully hiding the matches the Celtics patriarch needed to light his ever-present cigar.
"The reason I'm here is because it's the Boston Celtics. There are better rosters, better cap room, better circumstances around the league. But it's not the Boston Celtics."
The 44-year-old Ainge was the head coach of the Phoenix Suns for parts of three seasons before stepping down in 1999. This year, he was an NBA analyst for TNT.
He leaves television to take over a team strapped by the salary cap, due largely to general manager Chris Wallace's decision to trade for center Vin Baker. Baker, who has three years and $44 million left on his contract, was suspended indefinitely earlier this season, reportedly for alcohol-related problems.
Wallace will stay in place, but will answer to Ainge. Wallace is on a scouting trip in Europe and was not immediately available for comment.
Asked why the move was made in the middle of a playoff series, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck noted that Ainge also played for Portland and the Trail Blazers are looking for a general manager.
"I had no interest in waiting until mid-June to see if he happened to still be available," Grousbeck said. "I would also add that the draft is coming in the end of June and Danny is going to be responsible for our draft, so there is no time to be lost."
Asked whether the front office shuffling might be a distraction to the players, Auerbach said, "Distractions, my foot. If they're going to win, they're going to win."
Ainge won NBA titles on a team that also had Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Bill Walton and Dennis Johnson. He was traded to Sacramento in '89 for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney.
In 14 NBA seasons with the Celtics, Kings, Trail Blazers and Suns, Ainge appeared in six NBA Finals, four with Boston. He averaged 11.5 points and four assists in 1,042 games, and ranks third in NBA history with 193 playoff games.