Boston Celtics: The success of Danny Ainge’s rebuild

How the Celtics were able to quickly rebuild and become a top team in the NBA. A look at the key moves made by Danny Ainge and his management team.


(Photo Credit: USA Today via Reuters/David Butler II)

Some people may not remember but it wasn’t too long ago that the Boston Celtics went into a full rebuild. They traded away key players (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo) from their championship core starting in the summer of 2013 and revitalized their roster rather quickly. 

Despite missing two of their of best players (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward) this postseason, they are amid a deep playoff run and look like a serious title contender from the east for the next three-to-five years. 

Much of that credit goes out to Danny Ainge and his staff for progressively making the Celtics better with move after move over the past five years. 

Here is a look at some keys moves made over the course of this rebuild and what made the Celtics the team they are today.  

The Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett deal

Nets Received: 

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, D. J. White

Celtics option to swap 2017 first-round pick (#27 Kyle Kuzma), 

2017  Second-round pick (Aleksandar Vezenkov)

Celtics Received: 

Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans

Three first-round picks 

(2014 – #17 James Young)

(2016 – #3 Jaylen Brown)

(2018 – First-round pick)

Right to swap first-rounders in 2017 (#3 Jayson Tatum)

At the time this trade was made (summer 2013), there were mixed feelings from fans about this deal.

The Celtics blew up their core and parted ways with two future Hall of Famers for assets that may not amount to anything close to Pierce and Garnett.

But in hindsight, this deal became a crucial part of the rebuild and is a huge reason the Celtics are a success today. 

Parts of the deal flopped with players like MarShon Brooks and James Young not working out. But, the Celtics did their due diligence and drafted when they needed to.  More particularly with their third-overall picks in 2016 and 2017, where we saw them take Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who look the like the pillars of this team for years to come. 

Rajon Rondo traded to the Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks Received: 

Rajon Rondo, Dwight Powell

Celtics Received: 

Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson 

2016 First-Round Pick (Guerschon Yabusele)

2016 Second-Round Pick (Demetrius Jackson)

The Rajon Rondo deal was another blockbuster deal that sent shockwaves around the NBA in late 2014. 

Overall, one could say the return wasn’t as good as the Paul Pierce deal. But in the grand scheme of things, they efficiently used their assets in this deal to help them further down the road.

Jae Crowder turned out to the gem of the deal. The Celtics gave him the opportunity to flourish in Boston, and Crowder developed into a legit two-way starter in the NBA.

He was also an important part of the Celtics core, but unfortunately for him, a better opportunity came along for the Celtics in the summer of 2017. As a result, the Celtics used Crowder as a key piece of the deal to help them acquire Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Kyrie Irving Deal

Celtics Received: 

Kyrie Irving

Cavaliers Received: 

Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic

2018 First Round Pick (Brooklyn)

2022 Second Round Pick (Miami)

The Celtics made the headlines again in the summer of 2017 as they traded for one of the best point guards in the NBA in Kyrie. Overall, the price seemed fair considering they were adding a championship caliber point guard in his prime. 

Adding Kyrie into the mix with a roster that already had Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, and several young pieces is a move many GMs wouldn’t hesitate to make.

This move launched the Celtics to new heights and made them one of the best teams in the east. They also did themselves a huge favor by taking away a superstar from one of their biggest eastern conference rivals.

Other Underrated Moves

Aside from the two blockbuster deals, Danny Ainge and his team would pull off several underrated deals key in making Boston the team they are today. 

They include

1) Signing head coach Brad Stevens – Ever since luring Stevens from the college ranks in 2013, the young head coach has flourished. He has quickly become one of the best coaches in the NBA and is widely recognized for his ability to maximize the potential of his players. 

2)  Acquiring Isaiah Thomas –  The Boston Celtics acquired Isaiah Thomas for almost nothing (Marcus Thornton + 2016 first-round pick) and turned him into an NBA All-Star.

Thomas flourished under Stevens’ system and quickly became the face of the franchise. The Celtics were able to use him as a key bargaining chip to acquire an even better point guard in Kyrie.

3) Developing talent from within – Another overlooked aspect of Boston’s success is their ability to groom and develop their own talent.

Players like Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart are prime examples. Since being drafted by the Celtics in 2016 and 2014 respectively, the Celtics have efficiently groomed them into serviceable NBA players. 

Many teams can draft talented players but few can develop them like Boston has done. 

4) Key Free Agent Signings 

Throughout the rebuild, the Celtics were cognizant of preserving cap space and it paid off big time.

They could sign Al Horford in 2016 and Gordon Hayward in 2017 to lucrative deals.

 Obviously the money talks, but free agents want to win and play on a well-managed team, so it’s easy to see why they signed with Boston. 

In Conclusion

Overall, we can see why the Celtics are as good as they are today. 

Perhaps some of that had to do with luck (Kyrie demanding trade), but a lot of that had to do with an accumulation of savvy moves and deals. 

Much of that credit goes out to Danny Ainge and his management team for making the right calls at the right time. Credit also goes out to the coaching staff for developing their players the right way.

 It has been amazing to see how quickly the Celtics could revitalize their team and become a title contending team today. They look like they have a strong future ahead and should be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. 

What are your thoughts on the Celtics rebuild? Let us know in the comment section below.

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CP Ching

Avid sports fan from Hong Kong, holding University degrees unrelated to sports and journalism. Like everyone, I have many passions, and they include writing about the NHL and the NBA.

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