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Ainge agrees to 3-year extension

WALTHAM -- Focusing on the big picture and not big playoff losses, the Celtics announced yesterday that they have signed executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge to a three-year contract extension through the 2008-09 season.

Ainge rejoined the Celtics in his current position May 9, 2003, agreeing to a three-year deal worth $9 million. The financial terms of the extension are comparable to those of his initial contract.

According to Ainge, negotiations took no more than two or three minutes, indicating how easy the decision was for both sides. Celtics managing partners Wyc Grousbeck, Stephen Pagliuca, and Robert Epstein sat beside Ainge at yesterday's press conference. Ainge and ownership repeatedly emphasized how everyone in the organization was on the same page in pursuit of a 17th championship.

''I'm grateful that [ownership] had faith in me to bring me in in the first place," said Ainge. ''I know that this means a lot to them. At the same time, I'm grateful that their memories aren't too short, that they are able to see the big picture in what we are trying to accomplish and not dwell on the 30-point loss in Game 7 [against the Pacers] that is still very painful in all our minds. There's a lot more positive things going on and it's good that they can see that. I can see that. And I know that the fans can see some of that as well.

''We have a lot of work to do and this was an easy decision for me because I've enjoyed the working relationship that I have with our owners and I enjoy the working relationship I have with our coaching staff. Just like we said a year ago when Doc [Rivers] and his staff came in, we're on the same page. We're even closer on the same page. We're getting to know each other better. So, we're nowhere near to having our work complete, [but this gives] us a real opportunity to develop into a championship-caliber ball club. Those are still our same goals. I'm grateful for the opportunity and the belief that they have in me to continue this quest to get banner 17."

Given the way Ainge went to work trading players and building a younger, more athletic team capable of playing uptempo basketball, it was clear he had long-term plans. While Boston is closer to becoming a championship-caliber team than it was when Ainge took over, a lot of challenges and tough decisions lie ahead. Regardless of how quickly young talent such as Al Jefferson, Delonte West, and Tony Allen develop, and how free agency treats the Celtics, the team remains years away from being considered among the NBA elite. But now, the one certainty is that Ainge will be there to guide Boston through the highs and lows to come.

If anything, ownership wanted to give the basketball operations a sense of stability that has been lacking over the last few years with a unusually high turnover in coaches and players, as well as new ownership and new front office personnel. When Ainge talks about building a successful basketball team, he always mentions the benefits of continuity and experience. Apparently, ownership thinks the same way.

''It's a big deal [signing an extension]," said Ainge. ''I don't want to undervalue it, but to me, when I came here, I had envisioned working here longer than three years, assuming [ownership] wanted me to and it was a good working relationship with us. Just like this contract will keep me here four more years, I don't feel like there's an ending in sight there. There's just a continuing evaluation of how things are going. I don't pay that much attention to length of contract. I never looked at my first contact as an ending date."

Ownership also wanted to show support for Ainge in light of the criticism he has endured during his tenure. In two years, Ainge has made unexpected, some might say controversial, moves, whether acquiring Ricky Davis, bringing back Antoine Walker, allowing Raef LaFrentz to essentially miss a season for knee surgery, or signing Mark Blount to a six-year deal worth approximately $40 million. Ainge also dealt with the resignation of coach Jim O'Brien. Through it all, Ainge has endured questions about the specific nature of his ''vision" for the franchise.

''There's been periods of time when Danny's been questioned and criticized, and there may be periods of time like that in the future," said Grousbeck. ''But we had seen enough and I had seen enough. I wanted Danny in charge of the basketball operations. I think he's shown success and I think stability is very important, just calmly hanging in there and building something step by step."

Ainge acknowledges there have been missteps along the way, but he feels more confident and comfortable than ever with Rivers by his side. And Ainge would like to see Rivers stay there as long as possible.

''I love what Doc's doing," said Ainge. ''We have a great relationship. It makes my job fun to have a guy that I can communicate with. But ultimately, we'll all be judged by winning and the progress of the team.

''Doc has three years left on his deal. But I see Doc being here as long as I'm here just because of [how well we communicate]. Because I've been a coach, I will never judge a coach based on winning and losing. I will judge a coach on his leadership abilities and his ability to get the most out of the players he has and just being able to work with the team. I don't see anybody better at that than Doc."

And with those words, Ainge paid forward the support shown by his extension.


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