Danny Ainge is stepping down as the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, and Brad Stevens will move from head coach into the front office and lead the search for a new coach, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the developments.
It is a stunning development for a franchise that had front-office and coaching stability with Ainge and Stevens.
With the opportunity to coach Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, the Celtics’ head coaching job becomes the premier vacancy in the offseason.
The Celtics released a statement late Wednesday morning announcing Ainge's retirement and Stevens' move to president of basketball operations.
"Helping guide this organization has been the thrill of a lifetime, and having worked side-by-side with him since he’s been here, I know we couldn’t be in better hands than with Brad guiding the team going forward,” Ainge said in the news release. “I’m grateful to ownership, all of my Celtics colleagues, and the best fans in basketball for being part of the journey.”
Said Stevens: "I’m grateful to ownership and to Danny for trusting me with this opportunity. I’m excited to tackle this new role, starting with a wide ranging and comprehensive search for our next head coach. I love the Celtics, and know the great honor and responsibility that comes with this job. I will give it everything I have to help us be in position to consistently compete for championships.”
Amid injuries and COVID-19-related issues, the Celtics had a disappointing 36-36 season and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Brooklyn in Game 5 on Tuesday.
Following the loss, Stevens said, “We have enough information that shows we need to get better.”
He listed the ways that can happen – developing from within, free agency and trades – and now he is in charge of improving the Celtics’ roster.
Brad Stevens (right) moved from being Celtics coach to the front office, replacing Danny Ainge. (Photo: Charles Krupa, AP)
Ainge is one of the longest serving basketball operations executives in the league, completing his 18th season as president. He was responsible for hiring Doc Rivers as coach, trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and winning a championship over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008. The Celtics also played in the 2010 Finals, losing to the Lakers.
"Danny has made all the difference over the past 18 years – our record of winning percentage and playoff victories is near the top of the league during that time," Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said. "He has always been a relentless competitor and a winner. Red Auerbach told us Danny is ‘lucky,’ and he was right, but a lot of the luck came from his intense drive and his incredible basketball insights. “Turning to Brad is a natural next step, since we have built a partnership over the past eight years, and he is a special basketball mind. We want him to lead us into the next great era of Celtics basketball.”
The Celtics continued to field good teams through the early 2010s, but LeBron James and his teams in Miami and then Cleveland became too much for the Celtics. After Rivers left for the Los Angeles Clippers, Ainge made a surprise hire, luring Stevens from Butler. The Celtics reached the playoffs in Stevens’ last seven seasons, including three Eastern Conference finals appearances. The Celtics lost to Cleveland in the 2017 and 2018 conference finals and Miami in last season’s conference finals in the Orlando bubble.
“We have some really good foundational people in our building,” Stevens said Tuesday. “We can get better, and we will.”
That starts with Tatum, Brown and Walker. After the game, Tatum said he had no interest in shaping the roster with his growing influence.
“I’m sure that I could make suggestions,” Tatum said. “I kind of feel like everybody has their job, and my job is to show up and play basketball, not to suggest trades or who to bring in, who to let go and things like that. It’s not what I do.”
Knowing what he knows about coaching and his players, it would serve Stevens well to at least get Tatum’s thoughts.
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