Ainge explains why he didn’t make Jimmy Butler trade as Celtics exec originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Butler was the subject of trade rumors in the months leading into the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls ended up keeping him, but the Celtics were among the teams rumored to have interest in acquiring him at the time.
Former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge recently appeared on the “Knuckleheads” podcast with ex-NBA players Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. Ainge explained to them why he ultimately decided against trading for Butler despite the fact that he really liked the player.
“Some of the best trades I ever made were the ones that I wasn’t able to make,” Ainge said. “I was trying to get Jimmy Butler from Chicago when I was in Boston, but they wanted a lot. And so we didn’t do it. Because it would’ve — it ended up would’ve been Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum], both those draft picks that we got Jaylen and Jayson with. So that was one that, like, I loved Jimmy and was trying to get him. I could’ve drafted Jimmy late, I liked him even then. Now he’s been proving how good of a player he was. Yeah, that was probably one.”
Ainge made the correct decision here.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are two of the best young players in the league. Tatum just became the first Celtics player ever to average 30-plus points in a single season, and he was named first team All-NBA for the second consecutive year. Brown was just named to the second team All-NBA after averaging a career-high 26.6 points per game last season. The Celtics have a top three or top five duo in the league and both players aren’t even 27 years old yet.
Butler has become a very good player, especially in the playoffs. The Bulls eventually traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the 2017 NBA Draft. After a short tenure with the T-Wolves, he was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers before finally landing with the Miami Heat prior to the 2019-20 campaign. He has led the Heat to two NBA Finals appearances, and he beat the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in both of those seasons (2019-20 and 2022-23).
But given the choice, two young All-NBA players is a better situation than having only Butler.
Keeping high draft picks and not trading them for established veterans doesn’t always work out as well as it did for the Celtics in this instance. You still have to draft the right guys and develop them. The Celtics deserve a lot of credit for identifying the right players with those picks in Brown and Tatum and putting them in positions to blossom into stars.