Danny Ainge is stepping down as the Boston Celtics‘ president of basketball operations and the franchise is elevating coach Brad Stevens to run basketball operations, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Celtics will start a search to hire a head coach to replace Stevens, sources said.
Celtics staff were informed of the changes Wednesday morning, and a formal announcement is expected today, sources said.
Ainge has been contemplating leaving the job for several months and had been talking about possible succession plans with ownership, according to sources.
Ainge also moved from head coaching in the NBA to the front office with Phoenix.
Stevens has been described as worn down with coaching since The Bubble, and he welcomed the chance to make the transition to the front office, sources said. Stevens will help lead the search for his successor as head coach.
The move comes a day after Boston’s disappointing season came to an end in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series in Brooklyn.
Ainge, 62, was the architect of Boston’s last title team, the 2008 team featuring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and is the third-longest-tenured active lead executive of any NBA franchise, trailing only longtime nemesis Pat Riley with the Miami Heat (1995) and Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs (1996).
The Celtics are headed into what is a pivotal offseason for the franchise after Boston finished seventh in the Eastern Conference on the heels of making it to the conference finals three of the past four years. After years of having surplus draft picks and the opportunity to make moves in free agency, the Celtics find themselves without either this offseason.
Kemba Walker, the team’s highest-paid player, has two years and $73 million remaining on his deal, and he is coming off a season that saw him miss 29 games — plus Boston’s final two playoff games — with knee issues. Marcus Smart, the team’s emotional leader, is entering the final year of his contract and is extension-eligible. And Evan Fournier, whom Boston acquired at the trade deadline after using a significant portion of the trade exception created when Gordon Hayward departed in free agency last offseason, will be an unrestricted free agent.
Ainge came to Boston in 2003, in one of the first major decisions that owner Wyc Grousbeck made after buying the team the previous fall. The move came about in an unusual way, with Ainge being hired in the middle of the Celtics facing the then-New Jersey Nets during the Eastern Conference semifinals, a series Boston would go on to lose.
“I had no interest in waiting until mid-June to see if he happened to still be available,” Grousbeck said at the time.
It turned out to be a decision Grousbeck wouldn’t regret, as Ainge swung the deals for Garnett and Allen in the summer of 2007 that turned the Celtics into champions for the first time in over 20 years in 2008, before then sending Garnett and Pierce to the Nets for a bevy of future draft picks in 2013 — a haul that eventually turned into the cornerstones of the current squad, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Across his 18 years with the Celtics, Ainge has hired only two coaches: Doc Rivers, whom he hired in 2004, after his first season in charge, before shocking the basketball world by hiring then-Butler University coach Stevens, who replaced Rivers after he went to coach the LA Clippers in 2013.
But, despite the success the Celtics have had in recent seasons, including reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2017, ’18 and ’20, it has been a tumultuous run for the franchise. Ainge was criticized for moving on from Isaiah Thomas in the blockbuster deal that brought Kyrie Irving to Boston during the 2017 offseason. While no one questioned the move from a talent standpoint, Thomas had played hurt in the playoffs and helped the Celtics make the conference finals, and the move revived the old “Trader Danny” moniker that Ainge was given after he’d traded a prior franchise favorite, Antoine Walker, more than a decade earlier.
Ironically, the other criticism Ainge had received in recent seasons was that he’d been too stingy in his willingness to make deals. Rather than cashing in any of the draft picks or young players he’d accumulated to get win-now talent for any of a series of stars who became available, including Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden, Ainge chose to stand pat.
The one time Ainge did pull the trigger on such a deal was to get Irving — and that wound up backfiring as he was injured during the 2018 playoffs before the 2019 version of the team imploded in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and Irving departed for the Nets later that summer.
Irving was just one of several players in recent seasons to depart with no immediate help coming back — a list including Al Horford, Hayward and Marcus Morris, a talent drain that helped put Boston in the position it found itself in this season, when a top-heavy roster couldn’t sustain success when injuries and bouts of COVID-19 hit. Boston limped to the seventh seed in the East before losing to the Nets with three key players — Brown, Walker and Robert Williams — sitting out with injuries.
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley to miss Game 2 vs. LA Clippers
Conley, 33, an All-Star for the first time this season, has missed significant time because of injuries to both hamstrings during his two seasons in Utah. He missed six games in February and nine games in late April and May due to tightness in his right hamstring.
Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists for the top-seeded Jazz in the first round.
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.
USA Basketball sets plan for Olympic camps in Las Vegas
For USA Basketball, the last stop before the Tokyo Olympics will be Las Vegas.
The men’s and women’s national teams will hold training camps in Las Vegas in July, they announced Thursday, and they’ll be playing seven exhibitions there against other Olympics-bound national teams as well.
USA Basketball will open its men’s training camp, led by coach Gregg Popovich, in Las Vegas on July 6. The Olympic men’s teams from Australia, Nigeria, Argentina and reigning Basketball World Cup champion Spain will also be spending some time in Las Vegas; Argentina will start its training camp there this month.
The U.S. women’s training camp under coach Dawn Staley will likely open around July 12; the WNBA break for the Olympics starts after the games of July 11. The Olympic women’s teams joining the U.S. in Las Vegas are Australia and Nigeria.
It’ll all take place at the MGM Resorts, which was announced as USA Basketball’s training camp home and resorts partner with the sides having now agreed to a multi-year sponsorship deal.
“USA Basketball is proud to expand its partnership with MGM Resorts,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We’re excited to bring our national teams to their properties as we prepare for the challenging competition that lies ahead this summer.”
The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, the U.S. women their seventh in a row. Both will enter the Olympics ranked No. 1 by FIBA, the sport’s international governing body — though it remains unknown who the Americans will have on their rosters for the rescheduled Tokyo Games.
Those rosters could be set by the end of June. Some top NBA players such as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers have expressed some interest in being part of the Olympic team; others, such as LeBron James and Anthony Davis — Los Angeles Lakers teammates who were dealing with injuries when their season ended last week — are not planning to join the team.
All teams in Las Vegas will be taking part in what USA Basketball described as “comprehensive health and safety protocols … including mandatory and regular COVID-19 PCR testing, administered to athletes, coaches, officials and staff in accordance with FIBA and USA Basketball recommendations and CDC guidelines.”
Those concerns are why the international teams opted to spend time in Las Vegas. Argentina’s men’s team is conducting the entirety of its three-week camp there before flying to Tokyo, simply because it believes a controlled environment and less traveling between different countries will minimize virus-related risks before the Olympics.
“We were lucky and, at the same time, we deserved it to get an organization like USA Basketball to extend this invitation to us,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “In such a complicated context it doesn’t get better than this.”
The games are set up as part of five doubleheaders, and fans will be able to attend the matchups at MGM’s Michelob Ultra Arena. Tickets go on sale next week.
July 10 — U.S. men vs. Nigeria, Argentina vs. Australia
July 12 — Argentina vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Australia
July 13 — U.S. men vs. Argentina, Australia vs. Nigeria
July 16 — U.S. women vs. Australia, U.S. men vs. Australia
July 18 — U.S. women vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Spain
The Nigeria-U.S. women’s game will be a prequel to the teams’ Olympic meeting on July 27 in Tokyo, the first game there for both of those teams. Nigeria and the U.S. are both in Group B at the Olympics, along with Japan and France.
The Australia-Nigeria men’s game is also the warmup for an Olympics-opening matchup. They’ll play in a Group B game on July 25.
The men’s teams from Spain and Argentina — the teams that played in the World Cup final at Beijing in 2019 — are both in Group C for the Olympics. They’ll both spend some time in Las Vegas but are not scheduled to face off there before flying to Japan.
Las Vegas will see the top four men’s teams in the FIBA rankings there for the exhibitions: The U.S. is No. 1, Spain No. 2, Australia No. 3 and Argentina No. 4. Nigeria is ranked No. 22.
The U.S. women also hold the No. 1 FIBA ranking, and their July 16 opponent Australia is ranked No. 2 in the world. Nigeria’s women are ranked No. 17.
Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul ‘makes it look normal’ after notching 15 assists, zero turnovers in win vs. Denver Nuggets
It had been seven years since a player had a game in the postseason with 15 assists and no turnovers, but Chris Paul accomplished the feat on Wednesday as the Phoenix Suns routed the Denver Nuggets 123-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.
The last player to post a 15-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in a playoff game? Paul, in 2014, with the LA Clippers.
“Guys are open. I got the easy part. All I got to do is find them,” said Paul, who had 17 points. “They got to make the shots. It’s a credit to our coaching staff to tell you the truth. Things we’ve drilled all season long, it’s nice to see it come into play in game form, especially in the playoffs.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Paul had the 10th playoff game with 15 assists and zero turnovers since assists were tracked in 1977-78. And Paul has accounted for three of those games himself.
“Obviously 15 assists, zero turnovers is unheard of,” Devin Booker said, “but for Chris Paul, it’s a thing that he does, and makes it look normal.”
In the two games in the series, Paul has 26 assists to just one turnover. Going back to his last three playoff games, that ratio gets even more ridiculous, sitting at 38-2. He’s the first player with 10 or more assists and one or fewer assists in three straight playoff games since Maurice Cheeks in 1989.
The Suns showcased their impressive balance with six players in double-figures, including all five starters. But even with 123 points, no player scored more than 18 (Booker). It was a clinic in distribution, particularly in a raucous second half, as Paul carved the Nuggets, finding efficient possessions nearly every trip down the floor. In Game 2, the Suns shot 15-of-24 off Paul passes. Of the 15 makes, 11 were uncontested looks.
“I’m telling you man, I’ve never been on a team quite like this where everybody can shoot it the way that they do,” Paul said. “You don’t have to try to find a certain guy.”
Like in Game 1, Paul found his spots to assert himself offensively, too, hitting a flurry of shots early in the fourth quarter as the Suns put the game away. It’s one of Paul’s many rare talents, an ability to sense moments and pick his spots to attack the game himself, or get teammates involved.
When Paul joined the surging young Suns in the offseason, there was a lot of talk about his role as a mentor, as a leader, as a culture cultivator. At age 36 and plenty of tread on his tires, Paul’s cerebral presence was thought to be something that could boost the Suns just as much as his play. But as he’s shown this postseason, there’s still plenty left in the tank.
“I would never doubt Chris,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “His ability to manage the team, his track record, has success all over it and everywhere he’s been he’s been successful. He works his tail off and yeah, he’s 36 years old but he’s doing a lot of stuff off the floor so he can be effective on the floor.”
The series now turns to Denver, where the Nuggets are desperate for a response. Paul has been using his experience as a motivator, recounting the 2007-08 second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs where the New Orleans Pelicans took a 2-0 series lead, winning the opening two games by a combined 37 points.
“We’re cool. We’re cool. We’ve got a great locker room, guys that understand the moment. A guy like Jae Crowder, who’s been to the Finals,” Paul said. “I’ve played a lot too. I’m always talking about 2007-08, we played against the Spurs when I was in New Orleans and we won the first two games, beat the brakes off of ’em. I remember looking over there at Tim [Duncan] and all them and they weren’t fazed. It was just one game. That’s what we talk about as a team too. It’s just one game.”
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