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Suns Hire Ainge as ‘Future’ Coach

May 31, 1996 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) _ A practicing Mormon, Danny Ainge never turned the other cheek. He once bit Tree Rollins during a fight, prompting the headline, ``Man Bites Tree.″

Hometown fans loved him on four teams; his every appearance on the road drew whistles, catcalls and jeers.

On Thursday, this bundle of contradictions contradicted himself by returning to the Phoenix Suns as an assistant coach. Ainge, 37, left the Suns a year ago because they wanted him to coach and he wanted to keep playing.

But there’s one difference this time. Ainge has been promised that one day he will run the show.


``Danny Ainge will be the next head coach of the Phoenix Suns,″ team president Jerry Colangelo said. ``Once he came to Phoenix and I had a chance to get to know him, it was pretty obvious that here’s a guy with the whole package _ the temperament, the acumen. He’s not only going to be a head coach, but an outstanding coach in the NBA.″

That won’t take place until Cotton Fitzsimmons decides to leave the bench and return to the front-office vice presidency he gave up in mid-January to replace another protege, Paul Westphal.

Ainge said he didn’t mind waiting, and Fitzsimmons said he wouldn’t make Ainge serve a long apprenticeship.

``Danny Ainge is one of those guys that you either love or hate. I’ve been on both of those sides,″ Fitzsimmons said.

For next season, the Suns will have Ainge, Paul Silas and Donn Nelson as assistants.

Silas and Nelson didn’t attend the news conference, but Colangelo said they were briefed on the development, approved it and agreed to stay on as Ainge’s assistants.

``It was important not only to advise them about what was going on, but to get some feedback, because we want a happy ship,″ he said.

Ainge had no reservations about ending a one-year stint as a TNT basketball color analyst to return to the team that offered him a chance to be no more than a player-coach last year.

The Suns paid for the decision when the lack of outside shooting by Ainge and Dan Majerle, who was traded, contributed to a 14-19 start that got coach Westphal fired on Jan. 15. Under Fitzsimmons, the Suns improved to 41-41 and made the playoffs before San Antonio eliminated them in the first round.

Westphal, a former Suns star, served as Fitzsimmons’ assistant for four seasons before he got the coaching nod in the summer of 1992.

Ainge recognized the similarity of the situations, but said it didn’t bother him. He said working as a broadcaster made him realize how much he missed being part of the game.

``I think I needed some time, because it (coaching) is a pretty good commitment, and I’d just played 14 years of basketball after four years of pro baseball,″ Ainge said.

Ainge, who was given a six-year contract, said the Suns have a bright future despite being led by aging stars like Charles Barkley and point guard Kevin Johnson. Barkley, whose back was hurting at the time, credits Ainge with talking him out of retirement during the 1994 offseason.

Ainge is one three players to make 1,000 or more 3-pointers in his career. His 1,002 trails only Reggie Miller and Dale Ellis.

His 433 playoff 3-pointers attempted and 172 made are league records.

After he joined the Boston Celtics following four years in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Ainge helped the Celtics reach the NBA Finals four times in seven seasons. He also reached the Finals once with Portland and a sixth time with Phoenix in 1993.