It's no secret that one of the biggest moves of the Danny Ainge era was landing Rajon Rondo in the 2006 NBA Draft. The No. 21 overall selection emerged as a vital piece of the Celtics future for the next decade after Ainge fought to hold onto the point guard while giving away numerous other young assets as part of the trade package for Kevin Garnett in 2007.
It’s been well documented for years how the Celtics bought the first-round pick off the Phoenix Suns on draft night in 2006 by agreeing to trade a future first-round pick, millions in cash and take on the contract of an injured Brian Grant in order land the Kentucky standout.
What is lesser known is how the deal put to an end to the tremendous odyssey of that No. 21 pick, which featured the selection being dealt five times in total (including once by Boston previously) in the months and years prior to draft night. A closer look at that journey of that selection reveals a fascinating path of roster choices before it led to the All-Star guard winding up in the hands of Ainge and company.
August 2004: The 2006 first-round pick was originally the property of the LA Lakers but they decided to use the future pick in the summer of 2004 to help dump some salary in a multi-player deal with new Celtics president Danny Ainge.
Ainge had come to Boston one year earlier and was firmly in asset acquisition mode in 2004 after the Celtics failed to make the postseason the previous season. It was August when the C’s sent a collection of young cheap talent (Chris Mihm, Chucky Atkins, Jumaine Jones) to the Lakers in order to land 36-year-old Gary Payton and 35-year-old Rick Fox on pricy expiring deals. The price of doing business for Boston and taking on the older talent? The C’s nabbed the Lakers the top-10 protected 2006 first-round pick.
It was a savvy move by Ainge in hindsight early into his tenure. While Atkins and Mihm turned into starters for the Lakers, they were role players for a 34-win Lakers team that was trying to reload around Kobe Bryant in 2005. Meanwhile, Payton helped turn the Celtics into a playoff team and Fox retired for the season. The C’s got better in the present and an extra first-round pick for their future.
Final result: Celtics own the No. 21 pick
February 2005: In an absolutely miserable Eastern Conference beyond the top two seeds (Miami, Detroit) in 2004-05, the Celtics found themselves in a position to make a postseason run as the No. 3 seed despite only being on pace to win 45 games. In order to upgrade the squad at the trade deadline, Ainge used one of his two 2006 first-round picks as an asset. Old friend Antoine Walker was languishing in Atlanta for a league-worst Hawks team and was available on the trade market.
Ainge decided to use a little trick to nab Walker and maintain his current core that was outlawed by the NBA years later. He needed Gary Payton’s salary to help complete the salary matching in the deal. Ultimately, the C’s sent Payton, Tom Gugliotta and Michael Stewart along with the Lakers 2006 first-round pick for Walker. Immediately after the deal was made though, Payton agreed to a buyout with the Hawks and signed back with the Celtics. Essentially, it was a late first-round pick for Walker (who was on an expiring deal). The deal got the C’s the No. 3 seed in the playoffs but they fell to the Pacers in a seven-game first-round series.
Final result: Hawks own the No. 21 pick.
August 2005: The Hawks were looking to rebuild and found themselves with plenty of cap room on the