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Danny Ainge and the Celtics Really Wanted James Harden

Ryan Phillips
Boston Celtics Introduce Kemba Walker
Boston Celtics Introduce Kemba Walker / Tim Bradbury/Getty Images
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Add James Harden to the long list of players Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has almost landed during his tenure. Apparently the Celtics really wanted to trade for Harden before the Houston Rockets traded him to the Brooklyn Nets, though Ainge later downplayed his team's interest.

On Wednesday, The Athletic's Sam Amick wrote about Boston's interest in Harrison Barnes as the trade deadline approaches. In that piece, he revealed the following:

"The good news for Brown? It appears Celtics ownership, management and coach Brad Stevens feel the same way. That was evident during the Harden saga, when sources say Boston’s level of interest and involvement far surpassed what Ainge was willing to admit to when he addressed it publicly. Ironically, that deal — as opposed to a possible trade for Barnes — likely would have required Brown to be dealt."

So the Celtics could have had Harden, but to make that happen they would have needed to include Jaylen Brown in the deal. That was never going to happen, especially not with Ainge in charge.

It's become a running joke throughout Ainge's tenure that he was this close to acquiring virtually every superstar available on the trade block. Whether it be Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis or Paul George, the Celtics have always been right there but just missed out. And sometimes it's been reported that the team made the best offer only to have a player shipped elsewhere.

It's fairly obvious that Ainge has been leaking that kind of information for years to make it seem like he's doing his best as a general manager. What's also become obvious is that Ainge has coveted young players and draft assets during his tenure, valuing them above acquiring established veterans. In many cases he's offered marginal assets for top players and somehow seemed shocked when they've been traded elsewhere.

So we can just toss Harden onto that list now. Given what we know from Ainge's track record, he probably offered, Romeo Langford, Payton Prichard, Semi Ojeleye and four second-round pick swaps for Harden. How could the Rockets have possibly turned that down?

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