How Trader Danny accelerated the Boston Celtics' rebuild

BOSTON -- They don't call him Trader Danny for nothing.

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has swung 19 trades in the 40 months since Brad Stevens was hired in July 2013. When Ainge goes a short stretch without a move, some of the other general mangers across the league start wondering what he's plotting.

"I'm shocked he doesn’t make a trade every week," former NBA coach and Celtics Hall of Famer Kevin McHale joked last month.

Or maybe he wasn't joking. One team's GM heard enough whispers during the first week of the season that he started asking around to see if there was any truth to the buzz. There wasn't but, again, everyone simply suspects Ainge and his staff are up to something.

Informed that rivals were wondering whether a big deal was in the offing, one member of Boston's front office downplayed the chatter but noted that he certainly hoped a big deal would materialize soon.

Don't read too much into that. The insinuation was simply this: The Celtics believe their best trade is their next trade.

Take a stroll through those 19 trades that Ainge has made since July 2013 and you'll see a pattern: The Celtics haven't come out on the wrong end of any of their recent deals. Some of them might be closer to a push -- particularly those that were made with regard to roster space or cap flexibility -- but more often than not, the Celtics have emerged with the better haul.

Nowhere is that more obvious than the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce blockbuster that may eventually become the gold standard for winning a deal. But there are other gems in there that don't get quite as much attention and have contributed to Boston's quick climb.

That would include the December 2014 trade that delivered Jae Crowder from the Dallas Mavericks. Crowder, sidelined by an ankle injury, won't get a chance to play against his former team when the Mavericks invade TD Garden on Wednesday night, but their visit here is a reminder of just how much things have changed for both teams.

Nine of the 15 players on Boston's 2016-17 roster this season were the product of trades since the summer of 2013. Two other young players acquired via swap -- Abdel Nader and Guerschon Yabusele -- are stashed away from the parent club with hopes they will contribute down the road. The Celtics may put a premium on the draft-and-develop path but it's obvious they wouldn't be considered a contender in the Eastern Conference again without their trade activity.

This incredible flow chart made by CelticsHub contributor and salary cap guru Ryan Bernardoni gives you an idea of how, through trades, Ainge turned the starting five from Boston's 2008 title team into many of the faces that Boston hopes will help it compete for its next championship.

Follow the path of the Pierce/Garnett trade and you'll see how it eventually led to Isaiah Thomas. And 2016 No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown. And how it might yield two more high lottery picks from the Brooklyn Nets (though their decent start to the 2016-17 season is a matter of consternation in Boston).

The Celtics went the free-agent route this summer to land Al Horford with a four-year, $113 million contract. It was the team's first free-agent splurge in nearly two decades, and the Celtics can free up enough cap space next summer to make a charge at another superstar, something that would allow them to keep many of their current assets.

But most league observers suspect Boston's next move will be another trade. They've got too many assets and too little roster space. And too much desire to elevate back to a true title contender.

When Dallas made its lone visit to TD Garden last season, Mavs owner Mark Cuban was asked to reflect on the trade that delivered Rajon Rondo from Boston.

"S--- happens, right?" Cuban said. "There's a lot of risk I've taken that have worked out just fine. They're not all gonna work. I think when it's all said and done, that Crowder-for-[Dwight] Powell trade will be a break even.”

Powell may very well develop into a solid NBA player, but it seems fairly safe to project that the deal will ultimately tip in favor of the Celtics. Not only has Crowder already cemented himself as a key piece of Boston’s young core -- a traveling member of the Kevin Durant recruitment party this summer -- but the Celtics now have two other pieces to show from the deal.

Yabusele, the No. 16 pick in the 2016 draft, is honing his skills overseas in China. The 20-year-old Frenchman showed some intriguing potential with Boston’s summer league squad, especially his ability to both stretch the floor and attack the basket.

Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry playfully nicknamed Yabusele the “Dancing Bear” for the way he’s able to move nimbly despite his frame.

Demetrius Jackson, the No. 45 pick in the 2016 draft, made the team's overcrowded roster out of training camp and provides emergency depth at the point guard position. Jackson is currently on assignment with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League, but Boston likes the young ball-handler and has him locked up under their long-term control.

But what about Rondo?

Well, he's on his third team since the swap. The Mavericks have admitted they shouldn't have done the deal. But it might be Crowder's development that stings most as he has morphed from a role player in Dallas to become maybe the nerve center of Boston's young team.

The Celtics gave Crowder a chance to blossom and he marvels at how things have changed since that swap.

“It was different for me coming over here from Dallas. But I knew we had right coaches, we had the right approach from [management] upstairs. We just had to get the group of guys who wanted to win and play for one another,” said Crowder.

“That’s what happened with all the trades -- there was a lot of turnover that first year, I remember we had like 40 different players. It was just the guys buying in and coaches really being patient, and the front office putting it together."

Crowder is eager to see, when healthy, what this Celtics team can do.

"Hard work pays off. We put a lot of work into it. We play for one another, we fought for one another, even when we had a losing record [early after Crowder's arrival]. It’s starting to pay off. But we never want to forget where it started. And it started from just working.

"We had to work to win a game. I remember it was just so damn hard to win a game here. You have to build off that and that’s what we tried to do, just keep building, keep working."

And, if you're Ainge, keep trading.