Opinion: For Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the Celtics, it was just time to move on

Listening to Boston Celtics ownership, outgoing president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and incoming president of basketball operations Brad Stevens talk on Wednesday, a song came to mind.

Tom Petty’s 'Time to Move On.'

Time for Ainge to move on from the Celtics, time for Stevens to move on from coaching into the Ainge’s role and time for the Celtics to get going in another direction.

They’re all venturing into the unknown.

Ainge has been in the NBA for four decades, including almost three decades with the Celtics as a player and executive. What’s next, besides family time and more golf? Ainge isn’t sure. This wasn’t a snap decision just because the Celtics had a disappointing 36-36 season and a first-round loss to Brooklyn.

“When I had a heart attack two years ago, I started thinking about what I was doing with my life,” Ainge said. “What are the things I want to accomplish? I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t have any plans … I’ll think about the future somewhere in the future.”

Brad Stevens led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals in three of his eight seasons with the team. He is looking to have more success in his move to the front office. (Photo: Corey Sipkin, AP)

That hasn’t stopped speculation that Ainge will at some point join the Utah Jazz – owned by billionaire Ryan Smith, who has a relationship with Ainge.

Ownership didn’t want Ainge to leave, but when Ainge was determined, co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca turned to Stevens.

Stevens has no front-office experience, but he worked with Ainge who said Stevens “was born for this. Indiana kid. Basketball junkie. Smart. Lives the game. Has many resources and has a great staff. … With Brad’s leadership, his organization and his work ethic and intelligence, this is a great day for the Celtics. This is actually even a big step forward.”

While Stevens didn’t say he was burned out from coaching, he embraces a new basketball opportunity.

“When he decided to move and retire and go enjoy more time with his family, we talked a little about it,” Stevens said. “It just moved down the road. Wyc and Pags both talked to me about, and I talked to Wyc for a while one day and decided that was best. I told Wyc at that moment my No. 1 thing is for the good of the Celtics. I love the Celtics. I want to do what’s best for the Celtics. … This is what we need to do to hopefully be even better.”

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Amid the stunning development, the Celtics maintained familiarity with the organization and its goals by elevating Stevens. Ainge had the job for 18 seasons. It wouldn’t be surprising if Stevens, 44, stayed just as long.

“The key is having a president of basketball operations that can work with players and coaches and ownership to win a championship,” Pagliuca said, “and Brad is extremely well-positioned to do that. He has been integrated from day one in the operation with Danny, understanding what we’re trying to accomplish and how we’re trying to accomplish it.”

Grousbeck cited Stevens’ intelligence. “He’s such an insightful person,” he said. “It come out in his coach, but it just comes out in his analysis of the game day in and day out. … Brad’s fingerprints and DNA are on this team right now in terms of putting it together and helping Danny. … This is a role Brad has been preparing for his whole life.”

Changes were necessary, and there will be more as Stevens hires a new coach and reshapes the roster.

“I know there’s a lot of work ahead,” Stevens said.

The vacancy is the premier job opening in the NBA. It’s a great, historic franchise with a strong foundation in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker.

Following Tuesday’s loss to Brooklyn, Stevens acknowledge roster shortcomings. “We have enough information that shows we need to get better,” he said while also noting the improved Eastern Conference, especially at the top of the standings with Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Milwaukee.

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 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.

“We are in a good place," Stevens said. "We have a lot of really positive things, and it’s our job to capitalize on it.”

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