From 2008-2013, the Boston Celtics were always in contention to win the NBA Title which included them winning it all in 2008. However following Boston’s elimination in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in 2013, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge decided that it was time to start over. And instead of Ainge waiting for aging players such as small forward Paul Pierce and power forward Kevin Garnett to completely break down physically, he was able to ship them off to the Brooklyn Nets while receiving a litany of draft picks in the process. And as longtime Celtics head coach Doc Rivers did not want to participate in a rebuild in Boston, he was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers which resulted in more draft picks for the C’s since Rivers was still under contract with them.
Ainge would then raise some eyebrows when he pegged Brad Stevens to replace Rivers as the Celtics head coach. Stevens had never coached in the NBA as he was the men’s head basketball coach of the Butler Bulldogs. Stevens’ time at Butler was highlighted by him reaching the championship game of the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011, but how would he be able to fare in the NBA?
In Stevens’ first year with the Celtics, Boston would go 25-57 which was to be expected. However the following season would see the Celtics win total improve by 15 games and they earned the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics would continue to build off of that as they won 48 games during the 2015-2016 NBA season, and this past campaign would see them earn the best record in the Eastern Conference with a mark of 53-29. Boston would make it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2012, however after being eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was clear that the C’s still had a ways to go in order to close the gap on them and become legitimate contenders to win the NBA Championship.
That gap closed somewhat on Independence Day when the Celtics signed small forward Gordon Hayward to a four-year deal that is worth $128 million. Hayward has spent his entire NBA career with the Jazz which included him averaging 21.9 points per game this past season while earning his first NBA All-Star Game selection. The acquisition of Hayward reunites him with Stevens who was his head coach at Butler, while it also displays that Ainge’s plan is coming to fruition.
Although that the Celtics 17 NBA Championships are more than any other organization in league history, no star player wanted to come to Boston when Ainge decided to rebuild. And instead of Ainge going for a quick fix in order to turn around the fortunes of the Celtics, he did it the old-fashioned way which required patience on his part, along with the ability to take some ridicule in Beantown.
Ainge has never been willing to give away draft picks as he has instead stock piled them like poker chips. In sending Pierce, Garnett, and shooting guard Jason Terry to the Nets, the Celtics received four, first-round picks in the NBA Draft. Ainge’s ability to sell water to a whale has been magnified as the trade with Brooklyn allowed the Celtics to select small forward Jaylen Brown third overall last year. This year the Celtics had the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets who earned the first overall selection in the NBA Draft. And with Ainge not blown away with point guard Markelle Fultz who was projected to be the top pick in the draft, he made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and moved down to the third overall selection. The Celtics would then select small forward Jayson Tatum and in the process they procured a first-round pick from the Sixers for next year. The Nets also owe the Celtics a first-round pick for next year which will more than likely be in the top five of the draft which means that Ainge can draft another quality player early, or find a sucker that is willing to give him a king’s ransom in order to move up as the rich simply get richer.
Ainge has also taken chances on bringing players to the Celtics that nobody else wanted. In 2011, point guard Isaiah Thomas went undrafted by the NBA. Thomas would begin his NBA journey with the Sacramento Kings. In three years with the Kings, Thomas’ numbers improved and in his final season in Sacramento, he averaged 20.3 points per game. Thomas was then traded to the Phoenix Suns where he averaged 15.2 points in 46 games. Thomas would then be traded to the Celtics in 2015 and he has gone on to become a household name.
Thomas has averaged 24.7 points per game during his time with Celtics and this past season saw him become an MVP candidate as he averaged 28.9 points. And once you factor in the emergence of Thomas, along with the overall improvement of the Celtics, things are changing as far as this organization’s reputation around the NBA.
Now Boston is once again becoming a popular destination among free agents around the NBA which was illustrated by Hayward joining the Celtics, and there is more to come.
The draft picks that the Celtics are in possession of gives Ainge plenty of flexibility if he needed to get another star player to team with Thomas and Hayward. This past season saw Brown show flashes of his potential, while Tatum has gotten off to a hot start in the NBA’s Summer League as the Celtics now have one of the deepest teams in the league.
Ainge has built the Celtics into a contender simply off of the fact that there is always a sucker in regards to making a trade. Ainge was able to find that sucker in the mode of former Nets general manager Billy King who mortgaged the future for three washed up players. Pierce and Garnett are retired, while Terry is currently playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Nets are still on the hook for one more first-round pick to the Celtics.
Ainge learned from one of the best as far as making trades as former Celtics general manager Red Auerbach knew how to exploit loopholes in the NBA’s rule book, while also finding a sucker to make a trade with. And this ability by Auerbach allowed the Celtics to draft Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, while acquiring Robert Parrish to form one of the best front court’s in NBA history as the combination helped Boston win three titles in the 1980’s.
Now Ainge is writing his own chapter and as he doesn’t appear to be slowing down with making moves, the 18th NBA Title for the Celtics doesn’t appear to be that far around the corner.