© USA TODAY Sports

Danny Ainge took over running the Boston Celtics front office on May 9, 2003. It took Ainge about a month-and-half to make his first trade. He hasn’t stopped making trades since.

Ainge’s persistence in making trades earned him the moniker “Trader Danny” while in Boston. When he joined the Utah Jazz, Ainge’s role was initially as an advisor. Anyone who has followed Ainge knew that would only last for so long. He’s not the type to sit on the sidelines. It’s not in his nature.

It took a bit, but Ainge is now bringing the same tried-and-true approach to Utah that he used in Boston. Ainge believes that if you aren’t a title contender, you should be rebuilding and stockpiling assets to aid in becoming a title contender. There’s little gray in his basketball world. It’s best to be really good. But it’s better to be bad than it is to be average or just sort of good.

It’s important to remember Ainge famously told Red Auerbach in the 1990s that the Celtics should trade away Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. Ainge’s thinking was Boston was stuck as a good team, but not a real contender and that the veterans were starting to deteriorate.

Ainge’s thought back when he was a player has stayed with him as a front office executive. You want to build a contender, but more importantly, a sustainable contender. That involves churning the roster from time to time, and occasionally, it necessitates a full teardown.

In the middle of his first season running the Celtics in 2003-04, Ainge traded Antoine Walker and Tony Delk in a then controversial deal that brought Raef LaFrentz and a 2004 first round pick to Boston. By that trade deadline, Ainge had shipped off a couple more veterans for an additional 2004 first round pick.

That summer, with his team ready for a rebuild around a still-young Paul Pierce, Ainge hired Doc Rivers. Rivers was then still seen as a young, but somewhat unproven head coach. He’d had four good, but never great seasons with the Orlando Magic before getting fired early in Year 5.

The Celtics then used three first round picks in the 2004 NBA Draft to select Al Jefferson, Delonte West and Tony Allen. The plan was that those three would pair with Pierce to form the nucleus of the Celtics next contender. If not, Ainge would keep moving vets to find the right guys to help Boston raise another banner.

Later that summer, Ainge would add Gary Payton to run the Celtics offense. By the 2005 trade deadline, Boston was playing pretty well. That spurred Ainge to trade a future Boston first round pick in a deal to bring back old friend Antoine Walker.

Let’s pause there for a minute.

There’s this impression of Ainge that he’s like a venture capitalist, corporate raider type that comes in, strips things down and then sells when he’s finally gotten things back into the black on the balance sheet.

That’s not really true.

Yes, it’s fair to say Ainge hoards his draft picks. He does do that…to an extent. But Ainge has also repeatedly traded picks when he’s found the right deal. Sure, he’s “close” to making trades a lot, but part of that comes from Ainge’s willingness to be candid with the media about trade talks. He doesn’t guard trade talks like state secrets that should never get out. He’s more open about what happens during the trade process than most of his peers.

The point is, Ainge is a master of the teardown. He’ll collect assets left and right. But he’s not unwilling to flip those assets to build his teams back up.

Back to the break-down and build-up process Ainge has undertaken over the years.

That 2004-05 Celtics team fell short and lost in the first round. As is his nature, Ainge didn’t sit still. Walker’s second go-around in Boston was a short one. That summer Walker was sent to the Miami Heat as a part of the largest trade in NBA history: a five-team, 13-player, two-pick deal.

By January, Ainge was back at it again. He swung a seven-player deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves where Boston acquired another first round pick. Ainge had begun his second teardown in Boston.

The summer of 2006 saw moves towards a rebuild. On a busy 2006 Draft night, Ainge picked up Rajon Rondo’s draft rights and swapped LaFrentz and a pick for Theo Ratliff (really his contract) and Sebastian Telfair.

All that happened while Ainge held tight with Paul Piece. The 2006-07 season was a mess for the Celtics. Pierce got injured, the kids were kids and Boston lost. A lot. But everyone accepted all the losing because Boston had the second-most ping pong balls in the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery. Boston felt confident they’d come away with Greg Oden or Kevin Durant to put next to Pierce and the kids.

Then disaster struck.

The Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle SuperSonics and Atlanta Hawks all jumped up in the draft and Boston fell from the second pick to the fifth pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.

But Ainge was ready. He had kids and some extra picks and he started building back up again. This time around, he hit on every move.

At the 2007 NBA Draft, Boston swapped that fifth pick, former first rounder Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak for Ray Allen and 2007 second rounder Glen “Big Baby” Davis. That set the stage for the big move a month later.

Ainge competed the transformation by trading former first rounders Al Jefferson and Gerald Green along with two 2009 first round picks (one of them going back home), Ratliff’s contract and a couple of vets for Kevin Garnett.

A year later, Boston had raised Banner 17.

If you needed proof Ainge could tear a team down and then push his assets in to build back up, that was it. If you were still a skeptic, he did it again a few years later.

After a five-year run of title contention, Ainge harkened back to that 1990s conversation with Red Auerbach. Instead of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, Ainge had Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as his aging vets. He knew Boston had already dragged an extra year or two of their best basketball out of the veteran duo.

Ainge didn’t hesitate and he pulled the trigger on another teardown. Being just sort of good wasn’t good enough.

At the 2013 NBA Draft, Ainge agreed to dealing Pierce and Garnett, along with Jason Terry and a 2017 first round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for a package of veteran players and three first-round picks and a pick swap.

Before that deal, Ainge agreed to let Doc Rivers go to the LA Clippers in exchange for the Clips’ 2015 first rounder. At the 2013 Draft, Ainge traded up a few picks to select Kelly Olynyk.

During the moratorium period between the draft and making the Brooklyn trade official, Ainge pulled off a true surprise by hiring Brad Stevens. For a second time, Ainge was handing his sideline to a young, unproven head coach, just as a rebuild was starting.

Oh, and Ainge wasn’t done trading either. He’d swing three more trades, all of which brought Boston young players and/or draft picks.

During the 2014-15 season, Ainge amped up his trading to a whole new level. The Celtics facility might as well have had a revolving door, as player came and went at a staggering pace.

Ainge picked up Tyler Zeller and a first round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers to help them clear cap space go bring LeBron James home.

Ainge then helped Cleveland clear some space by eating a handful of contracts to pick up two future second round picks. That deal happened right as training camp was starting, but Ainge was far from done.

On the eve of the season, Ainge swapped Joel Anthony for Will Bynum to help the Detroit Piston clear some salary, while giving Boston a guard. But Ainge still wasn’t done.

In the month-long period from January 18, 2015 through the trade deadline on February 19, 2015, Ainge swung a whopping six trades. This including acquiring and re-trading all of Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright and Austin Rivers during that month-long span.

But you know what else happened? The Celtics were playing better than expected. This thrown-together, wear-a-nametag group was winning enough to hang around the playoff picture.

That made Ainge’s last deal of the period a masterstroke. In a three-team deal with the Pistons (remember the favor from the eve of the season?) and the Phoenix Suns, Ainge acquired Isaiah Thomas, Gigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko, and somehow another first round pick.

The Celtics made the playoffs in 2015 and haven’t missed out on the postseason since.

It was in the seasons immediately following that one where Ainge developed the reputation as a pick hoarder. He steadfastly refused to include the Brooklyn picks that eventually became Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum (after a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers) in deals for players like Jimmy Butler and Paul George. It turns out, he was right to keep those picks.

But what gets overlooked is Ainge was prioritizing development of Stevens’ young roster, along with preserving cap space. In back-to-back summers, notoriously not-a-free-agent-destination Boston landed Al Horford and Gordon Hayward in free agency. And then Ainge made a deal that should have punted the “he won’t trade picks to buy vets” reputation into the sun.

In August of 2017, Ainge traded the beloved, but deteriorating Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder (who was going to be replaced by the combination of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and newly signed Gordon Hayward) and the last of his precious Nets picks for Kyrie Irving.

Ainge had built a title contender by trading veterans and picks for a second time. Or so we thought.

That Celtics group lead by Irving and Hayward never came together. Injuries and unhappiness sunk that team before they even got started. So, Ainge did what he does and he pivoted again.

Faced with losing Irving and Horford in the same summer, Ainge worked a double sign-and-trade to bring in Kemba Walker for Terry Rozier. Walker would team with the rapidly emerging Brown and Tatum, and a healthy Hayward to get Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Hayward got hurt again and Walker was never the same after a midseason knee injury.

If all the other moves of his Boston tenure weren’t enough to shed this idea that Ainge could build a team back up and will trade picks, his last few moves sacrificed draft capital just to give Boston a chance at making moves down the line. He worked a sign-and-trade to help Hayward join the Charlotte Hornets by giving up two second round picks to just to create a trade exception. Then he gave up more draft picks to bring Evan Fournier in via that trade exception.

Then Ainge retired and left Boston. 18 seasons, 15 playoff appearances. Three different teardowns and rebuilds. All resulting in teams that ranged from good to great.

Now, Ainge looks to be repeating the process in Utah. Only this time he’s starting from a place of better leverage.

Instead of trading aging veterans for nice collection of draft picks, Ainge traded two in-their-primes All-Stars for a haul of future drafts picks and young players unlike any we’ve seen before.

In two moves, Ainge has added five unprotected first round draft picks from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s also picked up lightly-protected first round pick and three years of unprotected pick swaps.

If you add in 2023 first rounders Ochai Agbaji and Walker Kessler, that’s a total of 11 additional first round picks the Jazz now largely have control of through 2029.

Just like he did with the Celtics, trading the stars is only the start. Ainge will now begin the process of moving veterans like Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gay and Malik Beasley. He’s already flipped Patrick Beverley, who came over in the Gobert deal, to take a flyer on talented youngster Talen Horton-Tucker.

It’s a good bet that Ainge will turn at least a couple of those players into another first round pick or two. And he’ll probably take on some veterans in the process and flip them in subsequent trades. Helpful advice: If you’re traded to the Jazz in the next couple of years, rent instead of buying. You might not be there long.

It’s a tried-and-true process that has worked for Ainge three times before. But it’s not just about tearing a roster down to the studs and collecting assets. That’s just step one. Step two is hiring a young, but talented head coach. Step three is using those assets to build the team back up for his handpicked coach.

Danny Ainge can break a team down, identify a coach and then build that team back up. He’s already done it. Three different times in Boston, in fact.

And now he’s doing it again in Utah. He’s torn the team down and hired Will Hardy as the head coach. The building up process will eventually come. Take a breath, give it a little time and enjoy watching a team-building genius do what he does best.