Will point guard Kyrie Irving be a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers when the NBA season begins?
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.
When New York Knicks owner James Dolan named Phil Jackson as the team president in 2014, there was a renewal of excitement for a fan base that had lacked in the category for a very long time. As a player Jackson was a part of the only two NBA Championships in Knicks franchise history, while he would go on to re-write the record book by winning 11 titles as a head coach. But there were still skeptics who were wondering if Jackson was going to be able to have that same success as a front office executive.
Jackson’s success as a head coach came on the strength of his famed triangle offense. And Jackson attempted to attach the triangle to the Knicks when he named Derek Fisher as the team’s head coach in 2014. Fisher played for Jackson when he was the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers as these two helped the franchise win five NBA Championships. Fisher had just wrapped up his playing career in the NBA and Jackson was eager to groom him in regards to being a head coach.
However Fisher would never have that success with the Knicks as his first season would see New York lose a franchise worst 65 games. For the 2015-2016 NBA season the Knicks would get off to a 23-31 start and Jackson decided to part with Fisher as his maturity was brought into question. Fisher missed practice on several occasions due to the fact that he could not make it back from Los Angeles after spending time with his girlfriend who also happens to be the former wife of current NBA player Matt Barnes. Reports also surfaced about Fisher potentially being linked to a woman who was also involved with Tim Hardaway Jr., who happened to be on the Knicks roster at the time. And as the locker room began to go against Fisher, Jackson had no choice but to fire him as it marked his first official failure as Knicks team president;however there would be more to come.
When Jackson joined the Knicks front office, he inherited a star player in small forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is one of the better scorers of this era and now Jackson was going to attempt to sell him on the qualities of the triangle offense which could potentially lead to an NBA Championship for the Knicks. However Anthony was no closer to winning an NBA Championship than he was when Jackson joined the Knicks.
At first it appeared to be a marriage made in heaven when Jackson gave Anthony a contract extension in 2014 to the tune of a five-year deal for $124 million. But things began to sour quickly as a knee injury would limit Anthony to just 40 games in the first season under his new deal. Anthony would continue to put up solid numbers, however Jackson would publicly admit that the Knicks were rebuilding which was going to limit Anthony’s chances of winning a title. Jackson took it a step further this past season when he began to publicly criticize Anthony as it was a classic “bait and switch” with Jackson attempting to irk Anthony in order for him to waive his no-trade clause. However Anthony never budged on waiving his no-trade clause which left Jackson with egg on his face.
Jackson’s greatest claim to fame as Knicks team president was selecting power forward Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 NBA Draft. At first the selection of Porzingis was welcomed with many boos, but he quickly was able to win over Knicks fans as in two seasons in New York he has averaged 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. However aside from the selection of Porzingis, Jackson’s time with the Knicks has been a train wreck.
Last summer Jeff Hornacek was hired to be the Knicks new head coach in a move that was influenced by Dolan which made people wonder if some of Jackson’s power within the organization had been taken away as Hornacek isn’t a head coach that consistently operates the triangle offense. This past season we saw the Knicks go 31-51 for their fourth consecutive losing season as the team owner, president, head coach, and star player were not on the same page. And just when you thought that things could not get any wackier at Madison Square Garden for the Knicks, Dolan decided to part ways with Jackson earlier this week.
In three years under Jackson, the Knicks never won more than 31 games in a season and they never came close to making the playoffs more less being able to win an NBA Championship as he joins a long list of basketball legends whose careers came to die at Madison Square Garden while being associated with this franchise.
As good as Jackson’s triangle was for him, it worked when he had the likes of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant playing for him. Jackson never attempted to adjust his style and in watching Anthony play during his time in the NBA, he should have known that his skill set doesn’t fit that system. Now instead of Jackson simply being revered as one of the greatest head coaches that the NBA has ever seen, he now must take with him the stain on his time with the Knicks. But as bad as Jackson’s time with the Knicks was, he does not deserve all of the blame.
When Dolan hired Jackson, he hired a man who didn’t have any previous front office experience in the NBA. At first Dolan gave Jackson full autonomy as for the first time he was going to attempt to be a “hands off” owner. But in giving Jackson free reign, Dolan allowed his team president to force his triangle on players that did not fit system. And as Jackson’s arrogance got in his way, it also prevented the Knicks from having any success. Jackson’s public criticism of Anthony got him in trouble, while the calamity of errors that is the Knicks franchise has already frustrated Porzingis in just two seasons in New York. Jackson’s idea of remedying the issues with Anthony and Porzingis was to attempt to ship both of them out of them out of town which is when Dolan finally decided to intervene.
So now Jackson will limp off into the sunset knowing that he could not attain the same success in the front office as he did on the basketball court, but it will be hard to feel sorry for him since Dolan recently signed him to an extension. And as Jackson has left New York, the question of who will fix the Knicks comes around the bend once again to which there is no answer as you simply cannot polish a turd no matter how hard that you try.