Ainge explains why he didn’t get Jimmy Butler traded as CEO to the Celtics appeared in the original NBC Sports Boston
It seems like a long time ago, but there was a time when Jimmy Butler could have been a player for the Boston Celtics.
Butler was the subject of trade rumors in the months leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls ended up keeping him, but the Celtics were among the teams rumored to be interested in acquiring him at the time.
Former Celtics head of basketball operations Danny Aing recently came to the fore “Knuckleheads” podcast with former NBA players Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. Ainge explained to them why he ultimately decided not to trade for Butler despite the fact that he really liked the player.
“Some of the best deals I’ve done were the ones I couldn’t make,” Ainge said. “I was trying to get Jimmy Butler from Chicago when I was in Boston, but they wanted too much. And so we didn’t. Because it was possible – he ended up doing it.” To Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum), both draft picks that we got with Jaylen and Jayson. So this was, like, I loved Jimmy and I was trying to get him. I could have drafted Jimmy late, I loved him even then. Now he’s proving what a good player he was. Yeah, maybe that was one.”
Ainge made the right decision here.
Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum are two of the best young players in the league. Tatum just became the first Celtics player to average 30 points in a season, and was named first team All-NBA for the second year in a row. Brown was just named to the All-NBA Second Team after averaging a career high 26.6 points per game last season. The Celtics have two of the best three or five in the league and both players are not yet 27 years old.
Butler became a very good player, especially in the playoffs. The Bulls eventually traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2017 NBA Draft. After a short stint with the T-Wolves, he was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers before finally landing with the Miami Heat ahead of the 2019-20 campaign. He has led the Heat to two NBA Finals, and beat the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals in both seasons (2019-20 and 2022-23).
But given the selection, two young NBA players are a better situation than having just Butler.
Keeping high draft picks and not trading them to veterans doesn’t always work out as it did for the Celtics in this case. You still have to craft and develop the right people. The Celtics deserve a lot of credit for identifying the right players through these picks in Brown and Tatum and putting them in positions to turn them into superstars.