Danny Ainge has made 60 trades since being hired as the president of basketball operations for the Celtics in May 2003. With no basketball on the horizon for at least the next two months, BSJ contributor Ryan Bernardoni and I teamed up for an enjoyable, albeit challenging endeavor: Ranking the Ainge trades from worst to best overall.
To accomplish this task, Ryan created a formula that allowed us to grade the deal based on a variety of factors (importance, quality) while also evaluating the deal at the time a trade was made and in hindsight (years later). Some deals will get the benefit of hindsight more than others in this exercise but we did our best to account for those issues. The end result is the following ranking from 60-1 with an analysis/explanation of each deal. We will unveil roughly 10 of these trades every day for the next week, counting down to the top. We’ll also fight about a couple in which we have substantially different evaluations of how Ainge fared with them.
We looked at part one of the series on Wednesday. In Part 2, we look at some of the more ordinary deals than Ainge completed (salary dumps) mixed in with some swaps that worked out evenly for both sides.
50. Aron Baynes and 2019 No. 24 overall pick (Ty Jerome) to the Suns for 2020 Bucks first-round pick (No. 30) (June 2019)
This was a bit of a wise calculated gamble by Ainge and the Celtics last summer. With the C’s needing cap space in order to sign Kemba Walker outright when free agency began, they had to dump a few million dollars off the books. Dumping salary when other teams know you have to do it can be expensive for teams (see: Andre Iguodala) so Ainge decided to get proactive and dump the money before the world knew of the team's intentions of landing Walker. Aron Baynes was the easiest piece to lose (without giving up compensation), and he became a part of a first-round pick swap with Phoenix on draft night. Enes Kanter (signed with room-level exception) proved to be a worthy replacement for Baynes in the first half of the 2019-2020 regular season, but his defensive struggles and injury issues left him on the edge of the rotation when the season was suspended. This trade could prove more valuable if the C’s find a gem at No. 30 this year (or use it to land someone helpful via trade), but for now, it’s a question mark if Kanter will be more useful than Baynes this postseason.
49. Jameer Nelson to the Nuggets for Nate Robinson (January 2015)
This was effectively a salary dump for the C’s after the veteran point guard was acquired by Boston as part of the Rajon Rondo trade with Dallas. Nelson was making more money than Nate Robinson and the Nuggets had a need for a backup point guard. With Nelson having no real trade value around the league, the C’s cut some salary off the books by dumping Nelson for Robinson. The 31-year-old Robinson was waived days later.
48. Walter McCarty and cash to the Suns for a protected second-round pick (2007 No. 49 Aaron Gray) (February 2005):
McCarty was the longest-tenured Celtic at the time of the deal (eight seasons) but had become a 30-year-old role player on a rebuilding squad. The run-and-gun Suns were happy to take him for the low price of a late second-round pick. The Celtics traded away the second-round pick that eventually became Gray in 2006. We've entered the net neutral part of the rankings.
47. J.R. Bremer, Bruno Sundov and a 2005 second-round pick (No. 50 Ryan Gomes) to Cavs for Jumaine Jones (July 2003):
Bremer surprisingly went from undrafted to a mainstay in the Celtics rotation during his rookie season thanks to injuries and a dearth of point guard options for head coach Jim O'Brien. Ainge wisely assessed that Bremer wasn’t good upon his arrival and traded him away while he had some value with a second-round pick for a competent reserve wing in Jumaine Jones. It was a solid idea that didn’t pan out, as Jones played the worst basketball of his career for Boston (2.2 ppg, 34% FG) before being dealt away by Ainge a year later.
46-38. Good Process but Ultimately Meaningless
There’s a set of trades that Ainge has signed off on mostly for financial reasons that have had no on-court impact. These can be ranked in any order and there isn’t much to say about most of them.
46. Fab Melo and cash to the Grizzlies for Donte Greene (August 2013): This trade was the end of Melo’s NBA career which lasted just one season and six games. The Celtics needed to open up some roster spots following the completion of the KG/Pierce deal and Melo had showed in his one season that he wasn’t an NBA player. He was signed and cut by the Mavericks in training camp before playing in the G-League and Brazil for a couple of seasons ahead of his untimely death in 2018 at age 26.
45. Jabari Bird and cash to the Hawks for a Top-55 protected 2020 second-round pick (will not convey) (February 2019)
Ryan Bernardoni: Bird looked like the rare 50th+ pick who might have an NBA career when he signed a guaranteed contract after his rookie year. Just over two months later he was arrested on domestic abuse and kidnapping charges. The legal system moves slower than the NBA season so the Celtics ended up having to pay Atlanta to take and waive him, which involved paying out his contract because it couldn’t legally be voided yet, in order to keep him off the C’s luxury tax calculation.
44. Patrick O’Bryant and cash to the Raptors for a Top-55 protected 2014 second-round pick (did not convey) (February 2009)
RB: The Celtics were in the luxury tax so it was cheaper to pay the Raptors to waive O’Bryant than for Boston to do it themselves. If the former lottery pick is remembered for anything in Boston, it’s for Kevin Garnett mentally breaking him in practice. The Last Dance was yet another reminder that great players aren’t perfect people.
43. Dwayne Jones for Luke Jackson and cash (October 2006)
RB: This is the most forgettable trade on the entire list.
42. Marquis Daniels and cash to the Kings for a Top-55 protected 2017 second-round pick (did not convey) (February 2011)
RB: Daniels was a useful part of the Celtics rotation until he suffered a terrifying spinal cord injury in a collision with Gilbert Arenas. That ended his season, though not his time in Boston. The Celtics were once again a luxury tax team and so paid Sacramento to waive him and take on his contract accounting, but he returned to the C's as a free agent before the next season.
41. Sam Cassell and cash to the Kings for a Top-55 protected 2015 second-round pick (did not convey) (February 2009)
RB: The only player on this list to have his trademark celebration banned by the league, Cassell should have retired in the aftermath of the 2008 title. Instead, he was still officially on the roster in 2009 though he didn’t play and was considered part of the coaching staff. As with a few of the trades above this one, Boston was in the luxury tax and paid Sacramento to take the accounting hit for his salary. He was waived by the Kings the following day and then officially retired a few months later.
40. Joel Anthony to the Pistons for Will Bynum (October 2014)
RB: Instead of waiving Joel Anthony, Ainge traded him to Detroit for the less expensive Bynum and then waived Bynum a few days later. The Pistons thought Anthony still had something left in the tank. They were wrong, but somehow he still managed to get paid for three more NBA seasons.
39. A Top-55 protected 2018 second-round pick (No. 57 Kevin Hervey) to the Thunder for Perry Jones III, a 2019 second-round pick (No. 45 Isaiah Roby) and cash (July 2015)
38. A Top-55 protected 2019 second-round pick (did not convey) to the Heat for Zoran Dragic, a 2020 second-round pick (Currently 53) and cash (July 2015)
RB: In the summer of 2015 the Celtics went under the salary cap for the first time since the late ’90s and used that space primarily on Amir Johnson. With their remaining bits of otherwise unneeded flexibility, they took on and then waived the contracts of Zoran Dragic and Perry Jones to save their trade partners on the luxury tax. In both cases, they received a 2nd round pick and cash to cover their salaries.
All involved teams have to send something in a trade so Boston returned a top-55 protected pick in both cases, probably assuming it would never convey. The Jones trade ranks below the Dragic one simply because the Celtics were a top-5 team in 2018 and so did have to send the pick along.
The pick received for Dragic ended up in Cleveland as the price for Isaiah Thomas’s poor physical.
37. 2006 second-round pick (No. 56 Edin Bavcic) to Hornets for Dan Dickau (September 2005)
Seemingly everyone had a soft spot in their heart for the former Gonzaga star at some point in the 2000s. This was a low-risk gamble for Ainge, essentially giving up a worthless second-round pick as Dickau joined his fifth team in three seasons. He played just 19 games in a single injury-riddled season for Boston before being shipped out.
36. Cash to Pacers for 2013 No. 53 Colton Iverson (June 2013)
For about three straight summer leagues, there was a 'buzz' about the Colorado State big man who was getting seasoning overseas. Iverson never quite turned the corner though and became an NBA player. The Celtics renounced his rights in 2016, and Iverson has spent his entire career in Europe.
35. Kris Humphries sign-and-trade to the Wizards for a Top-55 protected 2015 second-round pick (did not convey)
RB: Ainge & Co. famously turned a trade exception from Paul Pierce into Tyler Zeller and Isaiah Thomas (one trade removed). For a few seasons after that, a contingent of Celtics fans seemed to believe that TPEs were the secret to NBA success and countless barrels of virtual ink were dedicated to explaining what they are and how they’re used.
When the Celtics and Humphries decided to part ways following his one season in Boston, he landed in Washington via a sign-and-trade. That’s because the Wizards had a TPE of their own that they wanted to use to take on his new contract and making that transfer created a matching TPE for Boston.
This shiny new TPE was used to take on Jae Crowder from Dallas which created a new TPE to account for nearly $13M of Rajon Rondo. Now THAT trade exception… was renounced.
34. Tony Battie, Eric Williams and Kedrick Brown to the Cavs for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, Michael Stewart and a 2005 second-round pick (No. 50 Ryan Gomes) (December 2003)