With the Boston Celtics making big changes to their roster this summer, the biggest issue going forward for the team is what to do with point guard Rajon Rondo. Currently recovering from season-ending knee surgery, Rondo no longer has the talent around him to make the Celtics a championship contender, but he himself might be too good of a player to allow the team to tank and get a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Next year’s draft is supposed to be the best draft since the LeBron James/Dwayne Wade/Chris Bosh/Carmelo Anthony draft in 2003, and there are a lot of terrible teams in the NBA, so tanking is not going to be easy.
Rondo, while very intelligent and very talented, has some major flaws in his game that would prevent him, in my opinion, from being the elite franchise player many Celtics fans think or hope he is. He is a bad shooter, which makes him a liability at the end of games since he is afraid to go to the three point line. While Rondo is a great performer in big games, his complacency in games that are not nationally televised is staggering. People seem to forget that before Rondo got hurt last season, the Celtics had a losing record and were out of the playoff picture. Rondo has gotten into conflicts with his coaches at every level, whether at the University of Kentucky or the Boston Celtics or Team USA. While he is talented, the idea of having him be your best player should scare Celtics fans.
One of the most frustrating things about Rondo’s game is that he’s found a way to make the assist into a selfish statistic. He is a phenomenal passer and his ability to distribute the ball adds a great dynamic to the Celtics’ offense. The problem is that sometimes it looks like he’s choosing the plays he makes based on what will most likely credit him with an assist and not necessarily the most efficient scoring play. Too many times I’ve seen him have an open look to drive to the hoop, only to make a flashy pass behind his back at the last second instead and risking a turnover instead of taking the easy two points that were in front of him. Rondo is also one of the most overrated defensive players in the NBA today a as he cheats and plays for the steal instead of focusing on the man he should be covering. These are fixable flaws, but NBA stars tend to get stubborn the longer they play and the more people tell them how great they are.
The issues with Rondo being a franchise player go beyond Rondo himself. In recent years, it seems that basketball fans and writers have overrated and overvalued the point guard position. The last team whose best player was their point guard to win the NBA Finals was Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons in 1990. Take a look at the best PGs of the last 30 years excluding Thomas and Magic Johnson. John Stockton is the NBA’s all time assist leader and widely considered the best pure point guard (since Magic could play any position if needed) in the history of the game. Stockton has as many championship rings as I do. The same can be said for Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook. While one of the best point guards of all time, Jason Kidd was 38 years old and the fourth or fifth best player on his team when he won his championship ring in 2011. Rondo’s one ring came as a young player and the fifth or sixth best player on the Celtics behind Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins, and (arguably) James Posey. Tony Parker is a great player and has three rings, but Tim Duncan has been the man in San Antonio as long as he has been there. For all the hype these players have gotten, it hasn’t amounted to championship glory when they were their team’s best player.
It will be interesting to see how the team handles their star point guard this season. They could sit him out for an extended period of time to make sure his knee is fully healed. New coach Brad Stevens will need to assert himself with a player notorious for undermining even established coaches like Doc Rivers and Mike Krzyzewski. If things are not going well, maybe the Celtics could move him at the trade deadline. It would be nice to have Rondo around to help the new lottery player the Celtics could potentially draft, but the prospect of Rajon Rondo being the leader and the best player in the next Celtics championship team seems far fetched.
The Celtics are likely going to be bad this upcoming season, but there’s plenty to be excited about. With Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Doc Rivers all not walking through that door, it’s a new era in Celtics basketball. Although things didn’t turn out so hot for Mr. Pitino when he told it like it is regarding the Original Big Three, there is hope for the latest college coach the Celtics have hired.
Brad Stevens has six years of head coaching experience at any level. During that time, he took the Butler men’s basketball program to the NCAA National Championship game twice, losing to schools with much greater recruiting power in Duke and UConn. People in college hoops circles thought he’d eventually leave for a prestigious program like Duke or Indiana, but the most prestigious NBA coaching job was made available to him before that. At 36, he’s younger than Kevin Garnett, and he has never dealt with egos as big as the ones in an NBA locker room (To be fair, neither have most NHL coaches. NBA players on average are some of the most spoiled athletes you’ll find anywhere.), but his track record of success has shown that no moment is too big for him so far. The Celtics have been at their best when innovating. They were the first NBA team to sign black players, pioneers of the fast break, and of team defense. There will be growing pains, but Danny Ainge may have hired the next great Celtics head coach this week.
In a lot of ways, Stevens reminds me of Chip Kelly. The former Oregon Ducks football coach was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles last winter without any experience playing or coaching in the NFL. The New Hampshire native developed an exciting and creative brand of football as the offensive coordinator at his alma mater UNH which caught the eye of the University of Oregon. After two years as Oregon’s OC, he was promoted to head coach and took the Ducks to a BCS game four times in four years. His fast paced no-huddle offense was adopted by Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, and not the Eagles are looking to turn his collegiate winning ways into NFL wins. It’s a risky hire for sure. Not a lot of college coaches land on their feet when jumping to the NFL, but after the success Jim Harbaugh experienced with the 49ers, it was a risk Philly was willing to take. As a fan of Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks, I am really excited to see what he does in the pros this year, and I’m also more excited about this Celtics season than the last couple for the same reason.
The Celtics will likely be tanking this season to get a high draft pick next year, but that doesn’t mean they cant develop the young players on their roster in the meantime. Who could be better than a college coach to make these kids better while there isn’t any pressure to win now? Doc Rivers struggled in making guys like Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo much better, but he was also focused on winning as much as he could while he still had his aging stars on the roster. The Celtics gave Stevens a six year contract, which means they are serious about having him rebuild the Celtics. This means veteran players like Rajon Rondo need to either fall in line and behave or expect to get traded.
It’s not going to be the best season in Celtics history, but it could be the start of the next great Celtics team.
As if this week couldn’t get any worse, the book closed on the Paul Pierce Era in the history of the Boston Celtics when the Celtics and Brooklyn Nets agreed in principle (the trade can’t be finalized until July 10 per NBA rules) on a trade that would send Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to Brooklyn in exchange for Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband, a bunch of players I’ve never heard of, and Brooklyn’s 1st round draft picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018. Ultimately, this is a good deal for the Celtics, who need more draft picks to improve their roster and ran the risk of being sentimental and letting The Truth and The Big Ticket retire without getting anything in return. It’s not the Celtics’ job to be sentimental (although they are as an organization, as evidenced by their bajillion retired numbers, but that’s another blog post for another day), but as fans it’s still sad even if it was the right thing to do.
Paul Pierce has been playing for the Celtics since I was in 3rd Grade. He was a key piece in the organization through good times and bad times. Grew up a Lakers fan in Inglewood, but went on to be one of the greatest players ever to wear Celtic Green. He stuck with Boston even after getting stabbed. People across the country found out how great he really was after he started playing with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but Celtics fans knew what he was long before that. He was a good scorer, and underrated defender, and he was never afraid to take the big shot at the end of a game.
Garnett was the guy who changed the culture in Boston back to a winning one. He was drafted by legendary Celtic Kevin McHale, and the two of them are both top five power forwards in the history of the NBA as well as top fifteen (at least) Celtics of all time. McHale, who was the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, traded KG to his former teammate Danny Ainge in Boston, and along with the acquisition of Ray Allen that same summer, the New Big Three Era in Boston began. Pierce, Allen, and Garnett won the NBA title their first year together in 2008, and they should have won a second, but it never happened due to age and injury. Ever since the Celtics lost Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, fans knew it would only be a matter of time before this day came.
Pierce and Garnett will be joining a Brooklyn team coached by their contemporary and former rival Jason Kidd, who most recently met them in the playoffs this past April as the impossibly old yet surprisingly effective point guard for the New York Knicks. They are joining a talented roster in Brooklyn and have a chance to compete with Miami yet again, but no matter what they do, they will always be Celtics. Garnett said himself that he bleeds green, and they are most definitely the last Celtics ever to wear the numbers 34 and 5. They were such selfless superstars that it’s fitting that their last act as Boston Celtics was getting traded to put the team in a better position to be a contender sooner. Thank, guys! We’ll miss you, but best of luck in Brooklyn. I’ll play you guys out.
Something was going to change with the Boston Celtics. It was only a matter of time. As sad as it may be seeing the New Big Three Era being slowly dismantled, we all new it had to happen for the team to get better. I thought it would happen as soon as the Purple and Gold confetti started falling at the Staples Center in 2010, but Danny Ainge had other ideas. He tried to keep the core of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and head coach Doc Rivers together as long as possible, and they probably got their “one last shot” a few times too many. Ray Allen left last summer to take his talents to South Beach, and this week, he earned his second championship ring with a scoreless effort in Game 7 (although he did hit a clutch three pointer to get the Heat to overtime and save their season in Game 6), and Pierce and KG’s futures with the Green remain uncertain. Rivers didn’t want to be part of a rebuild, and did not commit to the Celtics despite being under contract for three more years. Today the Celtics agreed to release him from his contract in exchange for a 2015 1st round draft pick from the Los Angeles Clippers.
While I love Doc as a coach, it does not make sense to pay 7 million per year for a coach who doesn’t really want to be here on a team that is no longer a lock to make the playoffs. It’s time to start acquiring assets, draft well, and accumulate enough talent to make the next KG trade. Despite their rich history, the Celtics don’t have the advantages Miami and LA have of being a desirable location for NBA players, who prefer to live and work in places with warm weather and/or low taxes. The next Celtics championship roster can’t be built overnight, but this is an important step.
There will be more to write about when the Celtics make trades and hire a new coach, but for now it’s a good time to appreciate the Doc Rivers Era for what it was. The Celtics were not great when he started. He had trouble developing young players and keeping veterans disciplined, but once he had a good roster, he ran with it, and in 2008, the Celtics raised their only championship banner in my lifetime. In the years that followed, they were never an easy out, but were never able to finish the season with a win again. For a long time, they were the biggest thing standing in LeBron’s way. Kendrick Perkins was Dwight Howard’s personal kryptonite. Ray Allen was in Rip Hamilton’s head…and in Kobe’s head. Garnett and Pierce were the veteran superstars that players around the NBA hated, but were beloved by their own teammates. When Jason Collins publicly came out of the closet last month, Paul Pierce was the first former teammate he told. There was a lot to love about this team, and it all started with Doc Rivers. He had a knack for saying the right thing, and not just because it was what we wanted to hear. He, David Ortiz, and former Patriot Joe Andruzzi were the most eloquent and inspiring voices in Boston sports after the tragic Marathon Bombing in April. It’s for that reason that it hurts for me to see him pack his bags for Los Angeles so soon. You got the impression that he truly was a green-blooded Bostonian, but the prospect of coaching Chris Paul and Blake Griffin seemed more appealing than rebuilding around the moody Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics might be bad next year and the years to come, while Doc is coaching another contender, but we shouldn’t make the way he left his entire Boston legacy. Nobody coaches in the same city forever anymore. Gregg Popovich is the last of a dying breed in that regard. The next great Celtics team will be coached by someone else someday. It was great while it lasted. Ubuntu. Anything is possible. Good luck in LA, coach!
It had to happen eventually. We thought it might have happened in the summer of 2010, when the Boston Celtics’ Big Three couldn’t get the job done in Game 7 against the Lakers. I remember thinking at the end of that game “they played hard, but that’s the last we’ll see of Garnett, Allen, and Pierce together with the Celtics.” It might have happened the following year, after Kendrick Perkins was traded to Oklahoma City, and the DNA of the basketball team was changed more drastically than Danny Ainge could have envisioned. The Celtics went from a stout defensive team to old, soft, and unable to run with the Talents in South Beach. It may have ended in the summer of 2012, and in a way it did. Ray Allen took less money to leave Boston for Miami, but the 2012-13 season showed us that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, The Big Ticket and The Truth, were the real heart and soul of the Celtics. We also learned this year that heart and soul can only take you so far in the superstar driven NBA.
When the Celtics transformed almost overnight from chumps to champs, it revitalized a city with a rich history in the NBA after twenty years of futility, tragedy, and squandered opportunities that clouded the legacy of one of the most successful franchises in all of sports. Less than a year after Red Auerbach’s death, the Celtics were back. They played Celtics basketball with modern stars checking their egos at the door and doing what was best for the team. A lot of great things have been written about the Celtics the last six years, but for me personally, I loved that they won as a team and lost as a team. It reminded me what was so lovable about the Celtics Glory Days before I was born, and reinforced all the things I hate about today’s NBA. Great players aren’t loyal to the teams that draft them, and they don’t care about history, unless it’s New York, LA, or somewhere warm. A city like Cleveland can get their collective heart and NBA relevance ripped out just because LeBron James wants to play in Florida with his friends. Now Miami has the best team in the league just because that’s where James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh all decided to play together. That’s not right. If geography has that much influence on building a team, why should the Milwaukee Bucks even try? I have nothing against Milwaukee, but every star player who ever played there wanted to leave as soon as they arrived.
This season has been a roller coaster ride for Celtics fans to say the least. Last summer Ray Allen left town, but it wouldn’t be that bad because the C’s signed Jason Terry and drafted Jared Sullinger, right? Then they get off to a slow start because they were not scoring enough despite Rajon Rondo putting together a record breaking streak of double doubles. Then Rondo suffered a season ending knee injury, then the team went on a hot streak, then Jared Sullinger suffered a season ending back injury, then they fell back to earth and backed into the playoffs. It was and up and down season even without the trade rumors, first involving Rondo, and later Pierce and Garnett, that threatened to blow up what was left of the roster that won the NBA Finals in 2008. On deadline day, the stars stayed put, but Danny Ainge did not do a whole lot to improve the team. The only significant trade sent Jason Collins, who went on to make headlines this as the first openly gay player in major professional sports, for Jordan Crawford, who did little, if anything, to help the Celtics with his undisciplined, selfish, defensively challenged style of play.
There was hope that the Celtics could steal the first round series against the New York Knicks. While talented, the Knicks had not won a championship since the 70s, and had not won a playoff round in the 21st Century. Carmelo Anthony was a selfish player, and was the NBA’s leading scorer as a result. He plays no defense. He was, and is, everything the Celtics are not. The Celtics, despite winning 17 NBA Titles, have never had a league scoring champion on their roster; not Bill Russell, not Sam Jones, not John Havlicek, not Larry Bird, not Reggie Lewis, and not KG, Ray Allen, or Paul Pierce. Carmelo is the anti-Celtic: a star player who was not satisfied in Denver, the city that drafted him, and demanded to be traded to New York, where he could still be an All Star who never wins anything, but also be able to be on TV and hang out with celebrities. In the first three games, the Celtics appeared overmatched by the Knicks. They were younger, more athletic, and had far more to prove. By Game 4, all we wanted as fans was to not get swept by Melo and company.
That’s when the Celtics showed a glimpse of the Celtics of old. They stole a game they deserved to lose and headed back to New York with some added swagger. It was at this time that the Knicks decided to raise the irrational trash talk. The New York squad showed up to Madison Square Garden in all black. They were going to the funeral for the Boston Celtics, they told reporters. Irrational trash talk is an integral part of sports, but that’s not the kind of stunt teams that are up 3-1 typically pull. To add insult to stupidity, they declared they were going to the funeral for the BOSTON Celtics. The C’s are synonymous with the city of Boston, a city that had recently endured its share of tragedy with the bombing of the Boston Marathon a few short weeks ago. Winning franchises don’t participate in trash talk that low, and classy franchises don’t pull stunts that tasteless. Even though they won the series, it showed how behind the times the Knicks are in comparison to the Celtics. Their roster may not be as talented, but the C’s are much more the class of the NBA than the Knicks will ever be.
The Celtics won Game 5 in New York. The Knicks’ funeral antics just added fuel to the fire of a team that showed the most substance in the face of adversity. They probably didn’t need that extra bulletin board material to win that game. This team had enough heart to begin with. As Bill Simmons wrote the other day, “[the Celtics] understand that they aren’t playing in Boston as much as playing for Boston. Big difference.”
The Celtics played all of Game 6, which was back in Boston, from behind. The Celtics showed their age, and the Knicks’ shots were falling that night. Pierce and Garnett had each played the majority of Game 5, and those old legs can only carry the team so far. All hope seemed lost, but in the 4th quarter, the Celtics found one last bit of Big Three Era magic with a stunning 20-0 run. The energy in the TD Garden was electrifying. While the Celtics eventually came up short, and the Knicks advanced to the next round, the Celtics could leave with their heads held high. They were the Rocky Balboa of the NBA, the perennial underdogs who never quit, were never afraid of their more physically gifted opponents, and always went the distance, taking every series as far as they could possibly take it. It’s a testament to the work ethic that Garnett, Pierce, and head coach Doc Rivers instill in the Celtics. Those guys would have fit in really well with the Red Auerbach/Bill Russell/Bob Cousy teams of the 50s and 60s, the Tommy Heinsohn/Dave Cowens/John Havlicek teams of the 70s, and the Larry Bird/Kevin McHale/Robert Parish (the Original Big Three) teams of the 80s.
The future is uncertain for the Celtics as an organization. This summer, Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge will have some difficult decisions to make. The team is not good enough to contend for a championship as it is currently constructed. Even with Rondo and Sullinger expected to come back healthy next year, they lack depth at the center and point guard positions. KG and Pierce will be a year older. Ainge may decide that the best way to improve the team would be to trade Paul Pierce, the childhood Lakers fan who has been a Celtic for the duration of his NBA career, becoming one of the four best Celtics of all time along the way, for younger assets. With Pierce gone, Garnett might be more willing to waive his no-trade clause, and Ainge will be able to move him for even more young assets. If the C’s are in full rebuilding mode, Rondo, Sullinger, Avery Bradley, and Jeff Green might also be used for trade bait should the right deal be out there. As sad as it would be to see Pierce play in a different jersey, it might be worse to see the team return to futility while he is still in green. No matter what they do for the rest of their playing careers, Pierce and Garnett have already cemented their places in the pantheon of all time great Celtics. Even though Garnett has only been in Boston for six years, it’s as if he was always meant to be a Celtic. Drafted out of high school and tutored by legendary Celtic Kevin McHale in Minnesota, Garnett knew what it meant to be a Celtic long before he ever wore green. Garnett will be the last Celtic to wear the number 5, and Pierce will be the last Celtic to wear 34 no matter what teams they finish up with.
There are many directions this team could go, and there is a very real chance that the Boston Celtics will be really bad before they get really good again, but this is as good a time as any to look back at how good it has been the last few years. The NBA is a top-heavy league where the superstars dictate the terms more than any other. When a team falls to the cellar, it could take decades to become relevant again. I was two years old when Larry Bird retired, I was 17 when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen landed in Boston, and I might not have hair on my head the next time the Celtics reach the NBA Finals. That’s the nature of the league, but we’ll always have 2008. We’ll always have The Big Ticket, The Truth, and Jesus Shuttlesworth. We’ll always have unlikely heroes like Leon Powe, Nate Robinson, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis lighting it up out of nowhere in the playoffs. We’ll always have Doc saying the right thing at the right time, and not just because that’s what we want to hear. We’ll always have the memories that make LeBron, Dwight Howard, and Kobe Bryant seem mortal, while ESPN plays their flawless highlight reels long after their playing days are over. For better or for worse, we will always have the Celtics. Even if this is not the end, thanks for the memories guys. LET’S GO CELTICS!!!