BOSTON Danny Ainge, who engineered the trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen that helped the Boston Celtics post the biggest turnaround in league history, was given the Sporting News NBA Executive of the Year award before Wednesday night's playoff game.
"What he did off the court with this team, it made a lot of players and a lot of teams in the NBA aware that the Celtics were serious," Allen said before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the voting by general managers and other executives from all 30 teams, Ainge received 18 of the 47 votes. Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak had 14 votes and New Orleans Hornets general manager Jeff Bower who had 12.
"He orchestrated a stunning and record setting turnaround of a struggling team with two great trades and various other roster acquisitions," Toronto GM Brian Colangelo said.
The Celtics went 24-58 in 2006-07, but bad luck in the lottery left them with the No. 5 overall pick in a draft that was said to have just two superstars. So Ainge dealt the pick in a package for Allen, then used the acquisition of that All-Star to persuade Garnett to accept an unprecedented 7-for-1 trade.
With those two and Paul Pierce forming a new Big Three, Boston won 66 games in the regular season to earn home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They were tied with Cleveland two games apiece entering Wednesday night.
"Our regular season was fantastic," Ainge said before the game. "I never really put goals as to how many wins, but just how the team came together and how they gelled on and off the court."
Ainge credited the owners who gave the green light for the new salaries and said that he was more concerned about the playoff game and the birth of his sixth grandchild an hour earlier.
"Right now there's just a lot of other things going on and I want the attention to stay on the players on the court," he said. "I'm a little uncomfortable with this right now. This is the biggest game of the year for us and for a lot of people. We're still in the middle of trying to become the best team in the NBA and that's really our objective."
Ainge also improved the bench. Even after it was obvious that Boston would coast to one of the NBA's best records, Ainge acquired backup point guard Sam Cassell and backup center P.J. Brown.
"When we made the Kevin trade, I don't know if we had enough players to field a team for a while," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He not only went out and got players but he got players that fit, and I think that's really important."
But it didn't end with personnel.
"He's been great for me as a coach, and that has nothing to do with his moves," Rivers said. "He's just been great in a lot of ways. I'm really happy when good things happen to good people."