BOSTON (CBS) — Upon hearing Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland, of course Danny Ainge made a call.
Ainge didn’t expect much to come from it, given that the Celtics and Cavaliers had just battled it out in the Eastern Conference Finals. Even though the Cavs swatted the Celtics away like an older brother does to his younger sibling, it’s extremely rare for two teams sitting atop of the same conference trade star players with each other.
But here we are on October 17, with Kyrie Irving headlining a new-look Celtics roster and an injured Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder (not to mention next year’s Brooklyn Nets pick and center Ante Zizic) with LeBron James in Cleveland. The two teams will tip off the NBA season in Cleveland later tonight.
Celtics president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Tuesday morning, and discussed how the summer’s blockbuster came to fruition. At first, Ainge didn’t think there was any chance a deal would get done with the team the Celtics are chasing, but was confident that they had the best offer on the table.
“There were rumors of [Irving] wanting out, so we checked in with them. [Celtics assistant GM] Mike Zarren has a good relationship with Koby [Altman], [Cleveland’s] new GM who has been with them for a while. They talked to see if they were going to act on this rumor, and then we proceeded to have conversations. They said for the right deal they would do a trade, but it didn’t seem like a deal would get done. We felt we were making the best offer from the beginning, but we didn’t get the impression they would do a deal with us,” explained Ainge.
“It just went on for a while; even all the way to the end I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a deal. I didn’t know they’d do a deal with us, I didn’t think they would until they did. When it was done, there was still that week between where there was all sorts of stuff going on, and I still wasn’t sure if a deal was going to get done,” Ainge continued.
After the deal was first reported, and announced by the two teams, issues with Thomas’ hip injury turned up on the Cleveland end. They spent the next week trying to get more compenstaion from the Celtics, putting the deal in jeopardy. In the end, Boston added a second-round pick to the trade. Ainge said they gave all available medical information on Thomas to the Cavaliers, and didn’t want to expand on those negotiations or Cleveland’s motives.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It was a negotiation by two organizations. It didn’t go smoothly but it got done.”
While Irving may appear to be the de facto No. 1 on Boston, there are questions whether or not he can be the leader of a championship team. However, Ainge doesn’t like to place such labels on his players.
“First of all, there are a bunch of things in sports that are my pet peeves, and one of them is ‘Are you a No. 1, a No. 2, a No. 3?’. And second is ‘Who is going to take the shot at the end of the game.’ Sometimes it’s the No. 7 guy who takes the shot; Brad Stevens drew up a game-winning play last year for Terry Rozier to make a three,” said Ainge. “I hate the commentary when LeBron James drives into three guys in the Finals and kicks to a wide open Kyle Korver, and people say LeBron has to take that shot. That stuff is so out of line and is so silly. He made the right play and kicked the ball to the open player. That’s how I see the game of basketball.
“I don’t know the answer of who is No. 1. The bottom line is how they all fit in. We have a lot of questions to be answered by this team this year, and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds and see how it all works,” said Ainge.
Ainge isn’t concerned about how all the new pieces on the Celtics will fit together, understanding that it will likely take some time to gel.
“That’s why I’m not that much into being result-oriented, especially early in the season,” he said. “I want to see how they’re playing, how hard they’re playing, who is making shots and so forth. Every team goes through ups and downs through a season, and I’m not one to overreact to those types of things. I know we have some really good players, and some young players who will develop throughout the season with opportunities to play. This team has a chance to be together for a while, this core group right here.”
Ainge also touched on Isaiah Thomas’ departure, and some harsh words he’s had for Ainge since the deal, and where the defense will come from on this new squad. Listen to the full interview in the podcast above, including a great Toucher & Rich callback by Ainge!