The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 48 | Danny Ainge
Games Played with Blazers: 161 Regular Season, 37 Postseason
*PTS: 10.4 | AST: 3.0 | FG%: 45.8 | 3PT%: 37.4
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: August 1990, acquired from the Sacramento Kings for Byron Irvin and two picks
Departed Club: July 1992, departed in free agency
Place in History: How do you make a maple bar better? Add bacon. How do you make an NBA Finals team better? Add Danny Ainge.
That was the philosophy of the Portland Trail Blazers in the summer of 1990. A powerhouse roster featuring Clyde Drexler as part of the best top-to-bottom starting lineup the franchise had ever known had fallen in five games to the Detroit Pistons. The team needed depth, playoffs experience, and sure-handed help in the backcourt. They got all that, plus brains and a big dose of perseverance from Ainge.
The fiesty combo guard already had a pair of championships under his belt, having teamed with Dennis Johnson and a Larry Bird-led frontcourt in Boston during the early-to-mid 80’s. As the decade closed, he languished in Sacramento, even while starting and scoring 20 a night. He was the perfect complementary player with nobody to complement.
Joining the Blazers was like a breath of fresh air to Ainge’s career, and he was certainly that for the squad. He played 20 minutes a night, equally able to play on the ball or off. With his outside shooting and smart play, the Blazers didn’t get much less dangerous when their starters rested. He could set up Kevin Duckworth on the baseline and Buck Williams in the post, hit Jerome Kersey with an alley-oop, or score 25 himself if he needed to (which he seldom did). He helped turn the Blazers from a team rejoicing at making the NBA Finals to a team that expected to do nothing less than win there. The one-time loose cannon had become an inspiration and steadying force.
Ainge’s biggest on-court calling card may have been the three-pointer. He shot 40.6% from the arc his first season in Portland, spreading the floor for the devastating slashers and scorers around him. His per-minute shooting and scoring numbers were phenomenal for a bench player who didn’t dominate the ball: 19 points on 47% shooting per 36 in 1990-91. His efficiency and production would decrease in the playoffs that year but shoot right back up in the 1991-92 postseason, when the Blazers again made the NBA Finals. Ainge played in 37 postseason games—almost half a season—in just two years with the Blazers. That’s how good they were, how good he helped make them.
When the Finals runs were over, so was the need for the perfect, cagey veteran to fill the role of third guard. Ainge would finish his career in Phoenix, where he’d appear in 44 more postseason outings. That would bring his total to 193 playoffs games in a 14-year career. His longevity, devil-may-care attitude, and nose for deep runs testify to the type of player he was: a guy you hated to see line up against you, but loved when he was on your team.
For being one of the best acquisitions and role-fillers the Blazers ever fielded, Ainge earned the 48th spot in our Top 100 countdown of players and influencers.
Share your thoughts and memories of Danny Ainge below, and stick with us as we continue the march towards #1!