Ex-Celtic official Ryan McDonough thriving in Phoenix

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who used to work for the Celtics, has his club on the rise.
Matt York/Associated Press/File
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who used to work for the Celtics, has his club on the rise.

PHOENIX — Ryan McDonough sees similarities in the rebuilding Celtics of 2013-14 and the version that preceded it less than a decade ago.

Back then, McDonough, now a rookie general manager for the Phoenix Suns, was working his way up the professional ladder with the Celtics.

And back then, the Celtics were in rough shape, having won just 24 games in 2006-07 after winning 33 the season before.


But the Celtics had grand plans for a quick fix. They were stockpiling assets — namely draft picks — and positioning themselves financially so that they could afford superstars.

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What happened next? The Celtics flipped those assets for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in 2007, won a championship in 2008, and became perennial contenders.

“I know the Celtics are trying to do that [again],” McDonough said before the Suns faced the Celtics at the U.S. Airways Center Wednesday, their first meeting since McDonough left Boston to become the Suns’ GM in May 2013.

“We’d love to do something like that here as well,” he added.

Indeed, the Celtics are hoarding assets — they have as many as 17 draft picks over the next five years, including up to 10 in the first round — and have made fiscally minded moves to set them up for the all-important summer of 2015.


At that point, Rajon Rondo will become a free agent, and the Celtics can sign him to a long-term contract while also having enough salary cap space to potentially add another elite player, whether through trade or free agency.

McDonough, who worked his way up from a scout to eventually an assistant GM in his decade with the Celtics, has helped set the Suns up in a similar fashion.

Phoenix has as many as six first-round draft picks over the next two seasons and will have enough money coming off its books this offseason to make a run at a max-contract player.

“I think our draft pick situation and the Celtics’ pick situation — those are probably the two best in the league,” McDonough said. “Those are both great positions to be in.

“And as we showed when we were in Boston and Danny [Ainge] was able to pull off the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, it’s not that you necessarily pick all those guys, but it’s really valuable currency in today’s NBA, those first-round picks — and they’re getting harder and harder to get, to be honest with you.”


The financially restrictive nature of the collective bargaining agreement has made first-round picks more valuable because, as McDonough said, “The best value in the NBA in the CBA is a really good player on a rookie-scale contract.” As such, the Celtics’ and Suns’ draft picks are more enticing than ever.

McDonough credited his time with the Celtics in helping him prepare for the challenge he faces in Phoenix.

“There was obviously a lot of work to do when I got the job in terms of hiring a coach and building his staff, building my staff, trying to change the culture here, upgrade the talent, acquire more picks — all that,” McDonough said.

“But I felt like I was prepared for that and we were ready for that as an organization and the Celtic experience helped me immensely, just having that confidence coming in that I could do the job.”

McDonough also credited Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.

“Danny is very secure and I think a lot of GMs wouldn’t allow their guys to basically do everything a GM does other than making the final decision on players . . . ” he said.

“But when I was there, Danny let us put together potential trades and discuss them with other teams and run draft meetings. They let me do that press conference after we drafted [Jared] Sullinger and Fab Melo and those guys a couple years ago, which was great practice and experience for me. I’m appreciative of Danny and the ownership group for allowing me to do all that.”

From afar, Ainge is beyond proud, especially considering McDonough’s Suns are perhaps the surprise of the NBA — 10 games over .500 entering Wednesday — with a rookie coach, Jeff Hornacek, who’s a strong Coach of the Year candidate.

“Ryan is going to be great,” Ainge said. “I’m really happy for him and his success. He’s a very close friend. We worked shoulder to shoulder for 10 years. We’re very close. He feels like a son or a little brother, almost. I love following their team and I’m really rooting for him to succeed and I think that he will.”

McDonough, the son of late Globe columnist Will McDonough, likewise said that he still keeps a close eye on the Celtics.

“Those guys are not only colleagues for a long time, but Danny and [assistant GM] Mike Zarren and [director of player personnel] Austin Ainge especially — those guys are some of my best friends,” McDonough said. “I talk to them a lot.”

Still, it’s a bit different now being on an opposing team.

“That is a little weird, negotiating with them and being more guarded about what you say in certain conversations,” McDonough said. “That’s a bit of an adjustment.”

(Said Ainge: “I certainly understand that, but I don’t see it that way. I feel like I can talk very openly and honestly with Ryan and trust him to the fullest.”)

McDonough continued, speaking of the Celtics, “But at the same time, there’s no team other than the Suns that I root more for and want to do well, and hopefully we’re playing each other in the Finals in a few years. That would be pretty fun.”

Baxter Holmes can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.