You could say Danny Ainge is the most successful basketball general manager currently employed by a franchise that plays at the TD Garden.
He's won a title, pulled off the Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen trades, drafted Rajon Rondo, all the stuff we know.
But there is another guy with NBA GM experience collecting a paycheck in Boston. And John Weisbrod was no slouch at the job, either.
In his one season as the GM of the Orlando Magic (2004) he drafted Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson and signed Hedo Turkoglu. He pretty much built the core of the team that won the Eastern Conference title in 2009 and has returned to the NBA Final Four this year, doing battle with your Celtics as we speak. Not a shabby 12 months in charge.
So who is Weisbrod and what is his role today? Is he Danny's right-hand man, or serving in some sort of role with Ainge's Celtics? Well, to start with, his official title is "director of collegiate scouting." Makes sense, given the aforementioned '04 jackpot.
Now, here's where it might get a little confusing.
Weisbrod is director of collegiate scouting for the Boston Bruins.
Yup, you got it. The man who put together much of the team that knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs last year spends most of his days figuring out if a player is able to kill a penalty, not hit a jumper. And it's exactly where he wants to be.
"I'm a hockey guy," Weisbrod said Tuesday when asked how he became an NBA GM. "I was always a hockey guy at heart."
He's right. There were no days spent with Marty Blake or on an NBA bench before Weisbrod took over in Orlando. A four-year center for Harvard (winning an NCAA title in 1989), Weisbrod was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars with the 73rd overall pick in 1987. Injuries ended his playing career early, but he quickly landed a job as a scout with the Devils. From there he went to the IHL and the Orlando Solar Bears (getting closer now).
"I went to Orlando as the GM of the Solar Bears," Weisbrod said. "The Solar Bears were owned by RDV [who also owned the Magic]. They asked me to take over as COO [in March of 2000] for everything."
And when the IHL and AHL merged after 2001, Orlando found itself without a hockey team. You would have expected that Weisbrod with, you know, ZERO basketball history, would be looking for a new job. But RDV Sports (led by Richard DeVos) noticed something about Weisbrod. He had a sneaky habit of winning wherever he went. In college with Harvard. In the AHL with Albany (best winning percentage in the league and three division titles during his four years as VP and director of hockey operations). And two conference titles with IHL Orlando. So they decided to take a chance and stick with Weisbrod as COO.
"Suddenly I found myself running a basketball company," Weisbrod recalled.
But he was not the general manager. That title belonged to John Gabriel, who had held the job since 1996. Not being a classic basketball guy, Weisbrod was generally hands off when it came to the day-to-day operations of the club.
"I very much let the people in their positions do their jobs," Weisbrod said. "Gabriel was the GM and it was rarely that I would step in his way. He was really good at what he did."
So Weisbrod maintains that he "had to approve but can't say that I was involved" in a decision made by Gabriel in November of 2003. The Magic were 1-10 in the young season and it was believed that the players had tuned out the coach. Gabriel felt it was time for the head coach to be fired.
And that's exactly what happened to Doc Rivers.
"I don't think it was an indication of what anyone thought of Doc," claimed Weisbrod. "We all loved Doc and knew what a good coach he was and how good he was going to be. Coaches get into situations and find that they aren't as in control of the team as you once were. Gabriel didn't have a single negative thought about Doc, he just felt that group of players needed to hear a new voice."
Weisbrod is not surprised that Rivers (with whom he has not spoken since 2003) has gone on to Boston and become one of the elite coaches in the NBA.
"One of the things Gabriel and I talked about was the fact that even if he thought that a change was necessary that Doc was going to wind up somewhere else and be a high-caliber coach," Weisbrod said. "I don't think anyone was surprised at his success."
At the end of the 2003-04 season, Weisbrod replaced Gabriel as GM. The Magic won 21 games that season, a league worst, and wound up winning the draft lottery and the rights to the top overall pick (the last time the team with the worst record in the league landed the top pick).
According to Weisbrod, the fans in Orlando had their eyes on a shot-blocking big man with a limited offensive game but the ability to control the glass.
Which meant, of course, that they had no interest in Dwight Howard.
"Everybody knew [Emeka] Okafor," Weisbrod said, speaking of the UConn All-American. "They watched him on TV and in the Final Four. The fact that Dwight was coming out of high school was a big risk, Okafor was the stable pick."
But Weisbrod and the rest of the Orlando staff knew that they had a once-in-a-generation kind of prospect in Howard.
"Just a tremendous, tremendous athlete, one of those freak-of-nature guys," Weisbrod said. "Otis Smith, Dave Twardzik, those guys had seen a lot more drafts and scouted a lot more years, so they were more cognizant of how unique he was. You could see the athlete he was, but the turning point was meeting him. A real pure-hearted kid with a tremendous desire to see how good he could be."
So with Howard in the fold as the first overall choice (according to Weisbrod, the pro-Okafor crowd sent him "garbage bags full of hate mail" for choosing the high schooler over the polished collegiate star), the Magic needed someone to get him the ball.
"We took some heat on Jameer, because of his height," said Weisbrod. "That was actually a bigger risk [than Howard]. We traded a future first late in the round at the time we made the trade. Jameer was the only guy we wanted, and we had to live through six or seven picks before it was our turn. We were able to take him.
"Jameer was bumped down a bit because of his size. We thought he made up for it with quickness, basketball IQ, desire and leadership. He's a fantastic person and player as well."
Just one week after selecting Howard and Nelson, the Magic dealt Tracy McGrady to the Rockets (for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato). This move shocked the fan base, as McGrady was the perhaps the most popular player in franchise history. Weisbrod also signed Turkoglu, capping off an extraordinarily busy offseason that set the foundation for the team that you will watch on Wednesday.
It would also prove to be Weisbrod's last offseason as GM in Orlando, as he resigned in May of 2005.
"Once we drafted Dwight and Jameer, it made a lot more sense to have a full-time basketball guy at the job. I had a desire to get back to hockey, my first love," he said.
(Note: I'm sure that's true, but to be fair, Weisbrod had received a lot of heat for the McGrady deal. We forget today, but in 2004 McGrady was still an All-NBA player and easily the most popular player in franchise history. So there was bad blood with the fans. A 2008 Orlando Sentinel column referred to Weisbrod as "the most polarizing figure in Magic history." In the same column, Weisbrod said that his "decision to get back into hockey was largely to get my head back on straight.")
So it was back to the pucks. After one year with the Dallas Stars, he joined the Bruins in 2006. He witnessed the B's blow the 3-0 lead to the Flyers and thinks it could happen in the NBA, maybe this year. Weisbrod wouldn't say that he was rooting for the Magic in the series but did mention that there are people still in the organization from his days that he has a "strong emotional connection" to. He's excited that the Bruins have a "real unique opportunity" to add a potential star with the second pick.
Thinking about that high pick got Weisbrod to again reflect on the game-changing choice of Howard in 2004 and how hockey played a role in the selection.
"That's why taking Dwight out of high school didn't intimidate me, coming from hockey when we draft high-school players all the time," he said.
Using hockey to shift the balance of power in the NBA.
Wonder if Danny ever thought of that?