For the Jazz, the next best thing to trading for Danny Ainge was not having him go to Phoenix or Denver. Instead of probably meeting him in the playoffs, the Jazz faced Ainge for the last time this season Saturday night in Arco Arena.

"He could have really hurt us with a good team," said Jazz general manager David Checketts. While the Jazz inquired about Ainge, Denver made a "very flattering" offer, according to Ainge's agent, Mike Carey.Through 17 games with the Kings, Ainge averages 21.9 points and is free to take all the 3-pointers he likes in Sacramento's suddenly wide-open offense. In Boston, Coach Jimmy Rodgers' complaints about his shooting after a Feb. 1 game at Charlotte led to a meeting six days later, when Ainge apparently requested a trade.

Ainge was still surprised when the deal came, on the day of the NBA trading deadline. "It's like waiting for someone to die that you know is going to die," he told the Hartford Courant. "But when the person dies, it still hits you. Of course, this isn't quite as serious. I'm starting to get used to it. The people are nice. The weather is warm. And there are good golf courses."

Says Checketts, a friend of Ainge's, "I'm sure it's still quite a shock to him.

Carey told officials of several teams that Ainge would want a new contract to make up for lost endorsements and playoff money if they acquired him. Ironically, he says he never talked to Sacramento vice-president Bill Russell, but Russell has already promised a new deal.

By sending Joe Kleine to Boston, the Kings have no players left from Phil Johnson's 1986 playoff team. Coach Jerry Reynolds says of Ainge, "He's already the best guard in the history of the Sacramento Kings. And that should tell you something."

While his family has stayed in Boston, Ainge has lived in a Sacramento hotel, but he's buying a house to ease the adjustment to his new NBA home after almost eight seasons in Boston. "It really is different," he said recently. "I mean, I'm still not used to wearing white sneakers."

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ADD AINGE: In Ainge's last game as a Celtic, the boos in Arco Arena reached the top of the decibel meter. The same things happened - via cheers - in his first game as a King.

As Atlanta president Stan Kasten told the Sacramento Union, "He's the guy every team loves to hate. But he's also the guy every team would love to have."