Exclusive: Danny Ainge opens up on Irving deal, the risks of trading with Cavs, Smart’s extension and more

(Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports)

Danny Ainge has never been afraid of risk and he made that clear again this summer when electing to complete a blockbuster trade with his top conference rival. BostonSportsJournal.com caught up with Boston's president of basketball operations earlier this preseason in an extended interview to get a deeper glimpse into Ainge's decision-making this summer, the risks involved and what lies ahead for the Celtics this season and beyond.

BSJ: Going back to last June, could you have ever really envisioned this much change after the season you guys had last year?

Ainge: No. I mean, we were trying to build more stability and a little more continuity with what we did this summer. Hopefully, we can keep this group a little longer than (last year’s).

BSJ: Kyrie Irving had to waive a $5.8 million trade kicker to make the trade math work with you guys. That's a hefty chunk of change. How does something like waiving a trade kicker come about and what does it mean to you guys that Irving was willing to pass on that money?

Ainge: I mean, there are a lot of different ways things like that happen. Ultimately, Kyrie has to be willing to walk away from that money that he's entitled to. He wanted to come to Boston and he was willing to waive his trade kicker. It just tells you how much he wanted to get here.

BSJ: You guys have been tracking Kyrie as a player for years, going back to his Duke days. Is it tough at all to gauge what a player like Irving can become on his own when he has been playing next to a guy like LeBron James for the last few years of his development?

Ainge: We've been watching Kyrie playing for a long time. He's a great player no matter who he is playing with. He's a terrific player in his own right. LeBron is a terrific player and makes everybody's job easier, of course. He’s a good passer and is a player with greatness. Kyrie is a terrific player in his own right. He'll be a great fit with our group of guys and with our coach. I think he's a great fit for us.

BSJ: The big knock on Kyrie Irving is his defense. Coming to Boston, how much of a jump do you think he can make there and are his struggles more reflective of Cleveland's system or his own play?

Ainge: Time will tell on that. Kyrie needs to get better. He knows that. We'll see.

BSJ: When you were making the trade for Irving, you guys knew you would be in a tough spot financially next summer with new expensive contracts for Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart looming. How much did it help you guys to make that decision now (to move on from Thomas) and have core pieces in place instead of kicking the can down the road?

Ainge: I think there were tough decisions this summer. We're going to have tough decisions no matter what. You can do them now or you can do them later. We had every intention of doing them or we were willing to do them later to keep the group together for a little while longer. But when opportunities came up to sign Gordon and to get Kyrie, we felt like they were good enough opportunities to do right now obviously. They were very difficult decisions and we think they are going to work out for us short term and long term.

BSJ: You've never been afraid of dealing with any team, and you've always just stated you want to do what's best for the team. However, a lot of people questioned you trading with the Cavs given the circumstances Cleveland faced this summer and the potential impact this deal could have on LeBron's long-term future in Cleveland. Did that factor in at all to your decision making with the deal and what you were willing to give up? Did it make you hesitate any more than usual?

Ainge: You know what, I think dealing with Cleveland, it's not ideal. It's not ideal to deal with your rival. They probably had some trepidation and vice versa, but ultimately it was just trying to do what was best to build our team. Cleveland is getting our best point guard and we are getting their best point guard. It'll be interesting to see how that all works. Obviously, there are a lot more factors than all of that, but I would say it was not as comfortable as dealing with a team from the other coast when you are trading other key players away. Both teams were willing to do it, so as rare as that is (to deal with a rival), it's not impossible.

BSJ: There was an incredible amount of movement around the league this summer with star names and you guys were reportedly in on a number of those players before they were traded. How frustrating was it to see those pieces move elsewhere even though you guys had very legitimate offers in play for a number of them?