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#TBT: Ainge left the Suns before it became en vogue to leave the Suns

Danny Ainge retired as a Sun, then coached for Phoenix, before finally moving on to Celtic greener pastures.

Magic V Suns

Steve Kerr. Mike D’Antoni. Dan Majerle. Alvin Gentry. Bryan Colangelo. Quite a few notable members of the Suns coaching staff and front office have moved on to bigger and better things after their time with the Suns.

Kerr became the head coach of the Warriors and appears to be headed for his third NBA title.

D’Antoni just faced off against him in the Western Conference Finals as the Rockets got within one game (and a Chris Paul hamstring) of the NBA Finals.

Majerle is now building a solid foundation for himself at Grand Canyon University and may soon have his choice of NBA head coaching jobs if/when he decides to leave. He just declined to interview for the Suns job.

Gentry is coaching Anthony Davis, possibly the third best player in the league, on the New Orleans Pelicans.

Bryan Colangelo is ... well, Bryan is having a pretty bad week.

But before a twitter imbroglio laid waste to his credibility, he was well on his way to engineering (or riding the coattails to) a rebuild of the long suffering Philadelphia 76ers franchise.

None of these guys left Phoenix under the most sanguine terms.

Kerr didn’t see eye-to-eye with team owner Robert Sarver, some have suggested raises for front office personnel was an issue.

D’Antoni and the Suns parted ways after Mike had just led the Suns to an average of 58 wins over four seasons. Terry Porter, and his defensive-minded approach, seemed like a good change of gears for the team. It wasn’t.

Dan Majerle and Alvin Gentry both left when Gentry was fired mid-season and replaced by the infamous toady Lindsey Hunter.

Bryan Colangelo was excused from his duties as GM when Sarver decided he wanted a complete and clean break from the Colangelo family involvement with the franchise after Robert purchased the team.

But before any of these guys represented the purple and orange, before Sarver began his inexorable and unflinching mission to ruin this franchise, Danny Ainge used to coach the Phoenix Suns. And before that he played for them.

Ainge joined the Suns for the magical season of 1992-93 and was a solid contributor off the bench, averaging 11.8 points per game and shooting over 40% from three point range, and this was back before half the league was shooting 40% from three point range.

Of course, a lot of the great work Ainge did for the Suns was negated by his defensive lapse on the most important play in franchise history, a John Paxson three pointer that eliminated the Suns in the NBA Finals that season.

“What happened was, coming out we didn’t want to give up a three, obviously, and my assignment was Paxson. Charles went for the steal on Scottie (Pippen) out at about the hash mark. As he went for the steal, Pippen went driving down the middle of the lane. I saw Pippen driving and I didn’t want to let him just kick it to Paxson, but as I saw him kick it to Grant, I thought I could get to Grant and foul him before he got an easy dunk. And Grant just kicked it out and I went, “Oh, no, what was I thinking?” But yeah, it was just a completely instinctive play that caused me lots of pain. Lots and lots of pain.”

Ainge stuck around in Phoenix for two more seasons, to enjoy two more soul crushing playoff defeats at the hands of the eventual champion Houston Rockets, before retiring as a Sun at the end of the 1994-95 season.

His time with the Suns didn’t end there.

After an 0-8 start to the 1996-97 season Ainge took over as the Suns head coach. The Suns would eventually stagger to an 0-13 start under Ainge before a mid-season trade for Jason Kidd helped instigate a 20-6 run to end the season and lead the Suns to an improbable playoff appearance.

Even though the Suns were never serious contenders under Ainge, a 1997-98 team that went 56-26 with Kidd, Steve Nash, Antonio McDyess, Cliff Robinson and Rex Chapman sounds pretty damn good after this current eight year playoff drought.

Ainge ran up a record of 136-90 with the Suns before abruptly resigning on December 13, 1999 with the team sitting at 13-7.

Rumors swirled about the cause of his departure ranging from problems with players (Anfernee Hardaway) to executives (Jerry Colangelo) to his replacement (former assistant Scott Skiles.

Ainge insisted it was to spend time with his family.

“My wife just has one husband and my children just have one father,” Ainge said. “Some of you may think I’m jumping ship. I don’t believe I’m jumping ship. I’m diving overboard to save my family.”

But Ainge only spent four years with his family before returning to the NBA, this time as the Executive Director of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics.

Ainge was the architect of the moves that brought together the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen triumvirate that culminated the the Celtics winning the title in 2008, the team’s first since 1986.

After being named Executive of the Year in 2008, Ainge was promoted to President of Basketball Operations.

Ainge has now apparently reinvented the Celtics again. Boston just reached the Conference Finals with All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined with season ending injuries. Major components of the team Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were all first round draft selections by Ainge.

His fleecing of the Nets in a 2013 trade remains one of the biggest pantsings in professional sports history.

July 12, 2013: Traded by the Boston Celtics with Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, D.J. White, a 2017 1st round draft pick (Kyle Kuzma was later selected) and a 2017 2nd round draft pick (Aleksandar Vezenkov was later selected) to the Brooklyn Nets for Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, a 2014 1st round draft pick (James Young was later selected), a 2016 1st round draft pick (Jaylen Brown was later selected), a 2017 1st round draft pick (Markelle Fultz was later selected) and a 2018 1st round draft pick. (BOS got 2017 #1 overall pick from BRK as result of pick swap)

But what really happened with Danny Ainge back in 1999?

He cited wanting to spend time with his family, but his youngest son, who was five in 1999, would have only been nine in 2003 when he went back to work full time with the Celtics.

I guess by nine you get pushed out of the nest?

Danny bled Celtics green for over seven seasons, and won two titles there, before joining the Suns at the end of his career, so the offer there may have just been a dream come true... even though he is originally from Eugene, Oregon.

Still, what would have happened if Ainge would have stuck around Phoenix for all these years (he’s been in the Celtics front office for 15 seasons now)?

I guess, like with a parade of other former Suns, we’ll never know.

One thing about Danny, he always seems to land on his feet.

He may have lost the Suns a title, but he already has three with the Celtics as a player (2) and executive (1).

He may have walked away from the Suns head coaching job, but he has become one of the most prolific executives in the league with the Celtics.

He may have had Josh Jackson cancel a workout with him, but Jayson Tatum just took a step towards stardom during Boston’s playoff run.

And he may have lost Ryan McDonough to the Suns, but maybe that is really some way of extracting a final measure of revenge on a franchise for a perceived wrongdoing.

Whatever the exact reason/s were for Ainge’s departure back in 1999 at least we know one thing.

For once, it wasn’t Robert Sarver’s fault.


#TBT: Throwback Thursday

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