At 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 1992, Danny Ainge officially became an unrestricted free agent.
A few minutes later, Jerry Colangelo, the Suns’ president and chief executive officer, was on the phone making him an offer. It was a very good offer, one Ainge had hoped to receive from a team for which he wanted to play. But Colangelo made it clear he would not allow Ainge to sleep on it.
“Jerry indicated to me that he didn’t want me shopping the offer around,” Ainge said. “It was a situation where (Colangelo said), ‘This is a one-time deal, take it or leave it.’”
Ainge took it. The veteran signed a $5.2 million, three-year contract with the Suns. He was expected to fill the void left by the trade of Jeff Hornacek and supply the Suns with much-needed firepower from the perimeter - a role he played throughout his 11-year career with the Boston Celtics, Sacramento Kings and Portland Trailblazers.
Ainge, 33, had asked the Trailblazers, for whom he had played two seasons, to start negotiations on a new contract in October 1991, but the team told him he had no bargaining power then. He, in turn, informed them that he would be looking at the free agent market.
“I think they should have tried to sign me more aggressively, but I wasn’t going to force anybody to want me,” Ainge said. “I think Portland wanted me and (the Trailblazers) made me some offers, but they weren’t in the same ballpark as Phoenix, so it was a pretty easy decision for me.
“I could have been happy playing for either team. There wasn’t any other team in the league I would have even considered playing for, than Phoenix or Portland.”
Ainge was raised in Eugene, Ore., and had a lot of ties to the Beaver State. But those ties were not strong enough to keep the 6-5, 185-pound guard in the Trailblazers’ black and red.
“I don’t think the Trailblazers took me very seriously,” Ainge said. “I think that having grown up in Oregon, having family and businesses there, and indicating a great love for Portland, they just thought I was going to stay.”
Ainge admitted it was tough leaving the Rose City.
“To be honest, when I got there (in 1990-91) I really thought I would end my career there,” he said. “I had prepared myself to leave through the last six months I was there, knowing that I didn’t understand why they didn’t make any attempt to re-sign me.”
Ainge, a former consensus All-American selection from Brigham Young University, said he was looking forward to playing with Suns forward Tom Chambers, a University of Utah product against whom he had played since college.
“I always liked Tom,” he said, “and I always respected his game. I knew that he had a tough year (in 1991-92), for his standards, and I knew that Tom was excited about all the changes going on here and looking forward to proving to people that he isn’t over the hill. Since we’re the same age, we both have to continually prove that.”