Why Danny Ainge was Smart to Help Cleveland Land LeBron

The Celtics' GM grabbed a first-round pick and might have cost himself Kevin Love—but he made the right move.


The feeling around the NBA back in 2004 when Danny Ainge helped facilitate a three-team deal that landed Rasheed Wallace in Detroit and gave the Celtics a first-round pick (Tony Allen), was that Ainge was indirectly instrumental in creating an NBA champion. Ten years later, he might have done it again.

Ainge’s maneuvering this week has left Boston with a young center and a first-round pick—and helped Cleveland garner enough cap space to sign LeBron James to a max deal. And with James’ latest decision to join Cleveland, Ainge might’ve helped create an NBA champion.

But it would be wrong to blame Ainge for the deal. If he didn’t make the move, the Utah Jazz or the bottom-feeding Philadelphia 76ers surely would have eaten some salary in return for a first-round pick. James’ decision is expected to also lure Kevin Love to Cleveland. In his article on SI.com, James mentioned many young Cavs players, but he didn’t mention Andrew Wiggins, who is rumored to be the center of a deal for Love. It would be easy to then say that Ainge cost himself Love. But that’s rather incorrect. Some other team would have helped Cleveland clear cap space.

The ripple effect of LeBron’s decision will be strongly felt during the next few weeks and will change the NBA for the next 10 years. Love to Cleveland? Chris Bosh and Chandler Parsons to Houston? Wiggins to Minnesota? Dallas and Miami with cap space to lure others? Does Carmelo Anthony go to Chicago and try to win right now while LeBron is busy going through growing pains with a young team in Cleveland? And what becomes of Dwyane Wade?

Boston’s dream of unloading a boatload of assets for one stud player was helped this week when they got a first-round pick for nothing, but it will be ultimately hurt if Love goes to Cleveland. It’s normal for Celtics fans to wonder if Ainge will ever be able to land that stud player, and if that failure in turn will lead to a trade of Rajon Rondo. But it’d be unfair to blame Ainge for helping free up Cleveland’s cap space. If he didn’t, someone else would have.

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