As the Celtics meander through the post all-star dog days of the NBA season, it is an appropriate time to assess not only the state of the team, but, specifically, the job Danny Ainge has done as its President of Basketball Operations.
The Celtics are currently 20-18, good, or bad, for 5th in the muffled second tier of the Eastern Conference. A far cry from a team that advanced to the Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons.
Since trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets for three first-round picks following the 2013 season, Ainge has painstakingly rebuilt the roster. The zenith of the rebuild was the summer of 2018 following a seven-game Conference Finals loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Going into the next season, the Celtics had the deepest, most talented roster this side of the Golden State Warriors.
The 2018-19 Celtics were loaded for bear. Perennial All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were joined by Gordon Hayward, who was returning from an injury, only two years removed from being an All-Star in Utah. The “Green” had emerging stars in 2nd year forward Jayson Tatum and 3rd-year guard Jaylen Brown. Tatum and Brown represented the Celtics in the most recent All-Star Game.
The rest of the roster was made up of defensive stalwart Marcus Smart, versatile guard Terry Rozier, forward Marcus Morris, and big man Aaron Banes.
That team disappeared and disappointed in the 2019 playoffs, losing to Milwaukee in five games in the second round.
Less than two years later only Tatum, Brown, and Smart remain. Horford, Irving, Rozier, Morris, and Banes left as free agents while Hayward ended up with Charlotte. Ainge could have executed a sign and trade with Indiana for Hayward, which would have netted skilled big man Myles Turner and other assets. Instead, the Celtics executed a sign and trade with Charlotte which resulted in a $28.5 million trade exception. Ainge has indicated he may not use the trade exception until this offseason.
Hayward has returned to near all-star status as has current teammate Terry Rozier. The two former Celtics are averaging 21.1 and 20.4 points per game respectively for the surprising Hornets. Charlotte has the same 20-18 record as the Celtics.
Irving has been electric with the Nets. Horford, steady as usual with Oklahoma City. Morris is averaging 12 points in 24 minutes per game with the Clippers.
These departures returned nothing. An indictment against Ainge’s roster mismanagement.
One thing Ainge constantly gets credit for is nailing back-to-back picks in Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum. Both were chosen with the 3rd overall pick in the 2016 and 2017 drafts, respectively.
A deep dive into the history of 3rd overall picks in NBA Draft history reveals a treasure trove of all-time greats.
Since 1977, the 3rd overall pick has yielded:
1977 – Marques Johnson
1980 – Kevin McHale
1981- Buck Williams
1982 – Dominique Wilkins
1984 – Michael Jordan
1989 – Sean Elliott
1992 – Christian Laettner
1993- Grant Hill
1994- Penny Hardaway
1997 – Chauncey Billups
1999- Baron Davis
2001- Pau Gasol
2003- Carmelo Anthony
2005- Deron Williams
2007- Al Horford
2009- James Harden
2012- Bradley Beal
2014- Joel Embiid
2016- Jaylen Brown
2017- Jayson Tatum
2018- Luka Doncic
That’s basically a 50% high success rate on those picks. Every player on that list has played in an all-star game.
Jordan (5) and Harden (1) have won MVPs. Jordan, Wilkins, McHale, and Hill are Hall of Famers. Johnson and Billups are hall-worthy, while Gasol, Anthony, and Harden will be Hall of Famers. Certainly, Beal, Embiid, Tatum, and Doncic are on a clear, albeit early, path to the Hall of Fame.
My larger point is, nailing the 3rd overall pick in the NBA Draft is something a competent general manager should do.
Ainge’s other recent draft selections have been best described as, meh.
In 2019 he chose Romeo Langford with the 14th pick. Last year the choice, also at 14, was Aaron Nesmith. So far Romeo Montague and Michael Nesmith, formerly of the group the “Monkees”, have contributed as much to the Celtics as those two young players.
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To be fair, Robert Williams at #27 in 2018 and Peyton Pritchard at #26 in 2020 appear to be outstanding selections.
Two years ago the Celtics roster was loaded. Now it’s made up of two rising stars, Tatum and Brown, a gimpy, 30-year-old, 5’11” point guard, Kemba Walker, and a glue guy, Marcus Smart, who is incredibly overrated by the organization and Celtic Nation.
The talent drain on the Celtics roster over the past two years falls squarely on Danny Ainge. Ainge has been running the Celtics for only three fewer years than Bill Belichick has been in charge of the Patriots. Ainge has authored one NBA title while Belichick has six rings. Yet, Ainge seems to have a better reputation than the “Hoodie” with Boston sports fans. At this point, Ainge’s reputation far exceeds his accomplishments in this his 18th season running the Boston Celtics.
John Sapochetti is co-host of three podcasts heard on Full Press Radio:
-The Pick & Roll NBA Podcast With Jet & Sap
-The Sap & Kat Show
-The Get Off My Lawn Podcast With Keegan & Sap
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