Ryan McDonough split off from Danny Ainge’s Celtics front office in April 2013 as the Celtics’ championship core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen approached the twilight of their careers. McDonough took the chance to build a team from scratch with the Phoenix Suns.
That offseason, both Ainge and McDonough remade their rosters.
Ainge traded coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers, and the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the playoff-hungry Brooklyn Nets for a handful of future picks and pick swaps. Ainge replaced Rivers with a college coach who’d never held a clipboard on an NBA sideline before.
Meanwhile, Ryan McDonough remade nearly the entire Suns roster and hired a rookie coach of his own, even accumulating extra draft picks in the process. For a year, it looked like McDonough might get the upper hand on his old mentor as the Suns won 48 games for McDonough to the Celtics’ 25.
Sure, the Celtics had some extra picks coming, but McDonough had a winning young roster (Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin) and extra draft picks of his own on the way (three first round picks coming in the 2014 first round alone, plus the future top-7 protected Nash pick).
Then bizarro world righted itself.
The Suns entered the 2014-15 season smiling from ear to ear. They’d re-signed star point guard Eric Bledsoe to a long-term deal, added a big-time free agent guard in Isaiah Thomas and rolled into the 2014-15 with a three-headed monster in the back court. Problem was, they did not complement each others’ games, and unrest began to form.
Meantime the Celtics found their footing, partially at the hands of a McDonough/Ainge trade, and by the end of the season Ainge’s Celtics had already risen out of their rebuild while McDonough’s Suns were just beginning the big meltdown.
That McDonough/Ainge trade?
Ryan McDonough panicked at the trade deadline and dealt Thomas to the Celtics for a future first-rounder in the final minute, only to watch Thomas lead the Celtics to the playoffs three straight years while making a pair of All-Star teams and an All-NBA nod.
But that is not all. Oh no, that is not all.
McDonough began “organically” acquiring top draft picks — by tanking at a miserable rate — while his former mentor used that Garnett/Pierce trade to beat McDonough soundly in the draft while competing at playoff level at the same time.
Two years in a row, Ainge’s lottery luck got Boston the No. 3 overall pick — one spot ahead of McDonough’s Suns.
Ainge’s pair of No. 3s — Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — are now participating on Team USA this summer while McDonough’s pair of No. 4s — Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson — are no longer on the Suns and barely exist in the NBA. Bender was released, while Jackson was dumped for nothing and will probably get his $9 million fourth-year option declined by the Grizzlies.
Even the machinations around those picks are flabbergasting.
In 2016, the Suns were really focused on Dragan Bender the whole time, not even disappointed when Ainge’s Celtics took Jaylen Brown one pick earlier. Bender proceeded to limp-noodle his way out of the NBA while Brown became a core piece of winning roster.
In 2017, McDonough really really really really wanted Josh Jackson. He even (reportedly) convinced Jackson to blow off a workout with Ainge pre-draft so that the Celtics would pass on him at 3. Sure enough, the Celtics passed on Jackson in order to take Jayson Tatum. McDonough wins, right? hahahahahaha
Ainge even sold high on Isaiah Thomas to acquire All-Star Kyrie Irving, while McDonough used the first round pick he got for Thomas in the package to acquire... Marquese Chriss. Remember how much McDonough gave up for Chriss (the picks for Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Isaiah Thomas, plus the Luis Scola pick)?
Kyrie Irving made the All-Star team, again. Chriss is now out of the league.
Ryan McDonough is out of a job. Partially due to being used over and over again by his former mentor Danny Ainge.