Winning and the Boston Celtics go hand-in-hand. No team in NBA history has won more championships than the 17 of the Celtics as they’ve won titles in five different decades. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Celtics had the greatest dynasty in NBA history as they won eight consecutive titles. And over the years we’ve seen some of the greatest players in NBA history don the famed Celtic green which includes Bill Russell, John Havlicek, and Larry Bird.
Following the Celtics elimination from the playoffs in 2013, the team’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge decided to have a rebuild after it was clear that his core of aging veterans were no longer able to compete at a championship level. But little did we know that the Celtics turnaround would be as quick as it has been. The quick turnaround is the result of Ainge taking a page from the team’s former general manager Red Auerbach in regards to being a very shrewd businessman.
In arguably the most lopsided trade in sports history, the summer of 2013 would see the Celtics trade power forward Kevin Garnett, small forward Paul Pierce, and shooting guard Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets in a deal that would see Boston receive three, first-round picks. The Nets were in “win now” mode and they figured that an aging Garnett, Pierce, and Terry would lead them to an NBA Championship. The Nets would make the playoffs that season, but they would be second-round cannon fodder for the Miami Heat, while the Celtics and Ainge were focused on rebuilding.
Ainge would hire a head coach in Brad Stevens who didn’t have any prior experience at the pro level, but he had made a name for himself collegiately as he led the Butler Bulldogs to consecutive Final Four appearances. The Celtics would only win 25 games under Stevens in 2014, but their foundation was being built.
Ainge was displaying his craftiness through trades in order to obtain more draft picks, while also freeing up salary. And after one year of missing the playoffs, the Celtics were once again postseason bound in 2015.
In each year under Stevens, the Celtics win total has increased which included them winning 55 games this past season with them falling one game short of making the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. And after the Celtics have reached the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last two seasons, they are poised to take the next step.
The trade with the Nets has led to the Celtics building a nucleus of young talent due to the fact that following Brooklyn’s run to the playoffs with Garnett and Pierce in 2013, their fortunes have gone south. Over the last three years, the Nets have only won a combined 69 games, and since they owed the Celtics some draft picks, Boston has cashed in.
In 2016, the Celtics would get the third overall pick of the NBA Draft which they used on swingman Jaylen Brown. In 2017, the Celtics used their right to swap first-round picks with the Nets which resulted in Boston obtaining the first overall pick due to Brooklyn’s horrible record. The Celtics would then trade down to the third overall slot after striking a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers which resulted in Boston being able to obtain more future draft picks. The Celtics would then select small forward Jayson Tatum third overall and he would finish third in the NBA’s Rookie of the Year voting this past season as he averaged 13.9 points and 5 rebounds. The Sixers still owe the Celtics a first-round pick next year which could be obtained from the Sacramento Kings who could be one of the bottom feeders in the NBA next season. The duo of Tatum and Brown helped the Celtics reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this past season, while reinforcements are on the way.
The Celtics were able to do this without the services of a pair of All-Stars for nearly the entire season. Last summer saw the Celtics lure small forward Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz with a four-year deal for $128 million. But in Boston’s first game this past season Hayward would suffer a fractured ankle. Last summer the Celtics were also able to acquire point guard Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 60 games with the Celtics, Irving averaged 24.4 points, but a knee injury prematurely ended his season as Boston could have used his ability to finish in the postseason.
Ainge heads into this summer holding all of the cards as he knows that he can test the trade market for both Hayward and Irving as they are coming off of injuries, while also inquiring about acquiring a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs. Ainge has let it be known that he is not looking to part with either Brown or Tatum, and in the same way that Auerbach did before him, he is going to come out of this smelling like a rose.
The only thing that stood in the way of the Celtics reaching the NBA Finals in each of the last two seasons was small forward LeBron James who dominated the Eastern Conference as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. However James decided to leave the Cavaliers this summer and join the Los Angeles Lakers which has now given the Celtics a much easier path to the NBA Finals. The Celtics have already shown that they can defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in a playoff series, which the Toronto Raptors have shown that they’ll pack up shop in tough situations. And with Ainge’s ability to wheel and deal, it won’t be long before the Celtics find that missing piece that cannot only get them to the NBA Finals, but also to win it for the 18th time. The 1940’s and 1990’s are the only two decades in the history of the NBA in which the Celtics have never participated in the finals, and another green wave appears to be on the horizon.
When Michael Jordan had his first retirement from the NBA in 1993, you wondered which team would step up and take advantage of that which happened to be the Houston Rockets who won the title in 1994 and 1995. And as the question will arise in regards to who’ll take over the East with LBJ in the West, look no further than the team which calls Beantown home.