Ryan McDonough started with the Celtics as a 23-year-old who pored over VHS tapes in the team’s video room, quickly showing an eye for talent and a tireless work ethic.
He soared up the professional ladder, from a scout to (several rungs later) the front office, becoming an assistant general manager and a trusted adviser to Danny Ainge, who assumed the role of the Celtics president of basketball operations in 2003, the year McDonough joined the organization.
A bond formed between them. In the past 10 years, Ainge said, no more than two days passed without he and McDonough discussing business and basketball.
“For the past 10 years, he’s played a huge part in our success,” said Ainge, adding that McDonough is like a son to him.
But McDonough’s next step will remove him from Boston and the Celtics, as the Phoenix Suns announced Tuesday that they’ve hired the 33-year-old as their general manager.
“I’m very excited for Ryan,” Ainge said. “He’s reliable and competent and I’m going to miss him. At the same time, I’m very excited about this opportunity for him. This is what his dream is.”
McDonough interviewed for the position last week and was among a small group of finalists. He replaces Lance Blanks, who was fired in late April. McDonough is expected to be introduced during a news conference Thursday.
“Ryan distinguished himself among an impressive group of candidates for our GM position,’’ said Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby in a statement. “His natural leadership and communication skills will serve the Suns well.
“And, his prodigious work ethic and ability to identify talent will enable us to take full advantage of the 10 draft choices, including six in the first round, that we have over the next three years. We welcome his championship pedigree to our organization.’’
Player evaluation is perhaps the biggest strength of McDonough, who is considered a forward thinker in the age of basketball analytics.
He was instrumental in Boston obtaining Rajon Rondo in 2006, helping finagle a draft-day trade — with Phoenix, no less — to acquire the future All-Star guard.
McDonough is also credited with the Celtics drafting Avery Bradley, now a starting guard, in the first round in 2010.
However, the team he is taking over is simply a mess.
The Suns went 25-57 this season, their worst record since a 16-66 mark in the franchise’s inaugural season in 1968-69. Phoenix hasn’t advanced to the postseason in three years.
Meanwhile, McDonough leaves a hole in Boston, which has a smaller front office than most NBA teams.
Now, aside from Ainge, there is his son, Austin Ainge, the director of player personnel; Mike Zarren, an assistant general manager and statistical analyst; and Dave Lewin, who joined the staff this season as scouting coordinator.
Ainge said they’re in no hurry to add to the staff.
“We need to get the right person,” he said. “I’m going to look. I have some thoughts and ideas, but no rush.”
What’s more, the Celtics are facing a busy offseason that could shape the future of the franchise, with questions about whether Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will return, as well as the upcoming draft, in which the Celtics will pick 16th overall.
“With the people we have, we should be able to get through the draft,” Ainge said. “Ryan has done a good job up to this point. And we have all prepared for free agency. There is obviously more to do, but we’re doing these things every day, throughout the course of the year.”
McDonough is the son of late Globe columnist Will McDonough and the brother of ESPN play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough. His brother Terry McDonough had been director of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2009 until being let go this year.
Ryan McDonough started with the Celtics after graduating from the University of North Carolina.
“Ryan has been an important part of our basketball operations and will be missed,” said Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck. “I personally hired him following a conversation with his late dad Will and Red Auerbach and expected that he would pursue a career in our media department.
“But he requested a role as junior scout and excelled immediately, working his way to assistant GM and now a full GM job in the league.
“I couldn’t be happier for him and I am sure his late dad as well as Red are very proud right now.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.