Ainge: Telling Isaiah Thomas About Blockbuster Trade Was ‘Toughest Call’ I’ve Made

BOSTON (CBS) — Danny Ainge is no stranger to blockbuster trades, especially ones that include star players.

He earned the nickname “Trader Danny” after sending Antoine Walker to Dallas in October 2003, shipping out one of franchise’s two stars just a few weeks ahead of a new season. He gave up a giant package of young talent for Kevin Garnett in 2007, then traded KG and Paul Pierce as their careers dwindled to kickstart a Boston rebuild. Just a few months ago, Ainge surprised everyone by trading out of the first overall pick ahead of the 2017 NBA draft.

Ainge has made over 50 trades during his time as president of basketball operations for the Celtics, so you’d think he’s some kind of cold-blooded roster architect who doesn’t get too too emotionally attached to any player he’s added to the Boston roster. When Ainge is in charge, anyone can be dealt for anything, and he doesn’t have to think twice about pulling the trigger on a move that will greatly alter the franchise if he thinks it is what’s best for the team.

But even Ainge admitted that the most difficult trade he’s ever made was his most recent, which saw face of the franchise Isaiah Thomas sent to Cleveland along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first-round pick for point guard Kyrie Irving.

Though he’s traded away fan favorites in the past, Ainge said calling Thomas to let him know he’s been traded was the toughest of his career.

“It was definitely the toughest call I ever had to make,” Ainge told The Boston Globe. “It’s in everybody’s best interest that I don’t share all the reasons [for the trade]. But the bottom line is obviously I felt like it was the right thing for our franchise to do. But it’s a deep and complicated process. It’s not as simple as people think it is.

“And again, being a player in professional sports for 18 years and being traded twice and signing as a free agent once and playing on championship teams and being a coach in this league and being an executive for as long as I have, I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on all of the emotions and I have a pretty good understanding how real this all is involving players and their lives and their families and the disruptions and the emotions. I get all that and that’s not easy for players and for coaches and for executives that invest a lot into these players.”

Ainge applauded Thomas for his honesty in a farewell to Boston that he penned for The Players’ Tribune.

“It’s not always fun [to make these moves]. It’s not always clear sailing. It’s not always easy. It’s real life and Isaiah, I thought, did a really good job of describing from his perspective that real life,” said Ainge.

While it was difficult to trade away a player like Thomas, who was immediately embraced by the fans and was a major part of the team’s turnaround over the last two seasons, Ainge won’t let Thomas’ departure deter from his excitement for the upcoming season. Despite having 11 new players on the roster, the expectations are sky high for the new-look Celtics with Irving, free agent Gordon Hayward and rookie Jayson Tatum joining Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown.

“I’m getting very energized again, it’s that time of year,” Ainge said.

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