I remember July of 2007. It was an interesting, strange time for me as a basketball fan. I had been following Kevin Garnett's career in Minnesota for so long, that even though I had never once set foot in the state of Minnesota I thought of the Timberwolves as my team. I knew all of their history. I had spent hours on the various Timberwolves message boards. I had invested in their young players that I had followed since the draft. For a decade, they had been the home of my favorite player, which made them my basketball home.
But the Timberwolves had decided to move on. The writing had been on the wall for a long time; that the team no longer believed that they could build a contender in the short term and they wanted to start over. The press and fan base had been speculating for a year or two that Garnett might soon be traded. In June of 2007, GM Kevin McHale had even agreed to trade Garnett to the Celtics, only to have KG refuse. KG had always been loyal to the Timberwolves, almost to a fault, and had no intention but to retire in Minnesota. But the front office made it clear they were moving on, the media and much of the fan base followed suit, and eventually KG decided to accept it as well.
This left me in the aforementioned strange situation. Because I had a whole lot to say about the deal, but I no longer had a "home" to say it in. The Timberwolves fans were primarily interested in moving on, so they didn't care to hear how they were making a mistake. And on the other side, I was a newcomer to the Celtics. I was like the new kid at school – no one really cared to hear my opinions, and I was starting over.
Six years later, Boston has become my basketball home. The only basketball jerseys I own, besides my old Timberwolves #21, are green. For Father's Day a couple years ago, my gift was a picture of my four-year old and two-year old both wearing Celtics gear. I flew out to LA in 2010 with my infant son, both of us wearing Garnett jerseys, and sat down in the Staples Center in that sea of Purple and Gold and proudly cheered the C’s to within a few minutes of #18. I've watched thousands of hours of Celtics games, written thousands of words about the Celts on various blogs and message boards, and embraced the blue-collared Celtics' heritage as my own.
But suddenly, again, my favorite player is on the move. And I have a whole lot to say about it, but again I don't know who would really wants to hear it. That’s all right. I'm going to say it anyway.
I think the Celtics have made a mistake. I don't know who to blame, per se, as the momentum for this seemed almost universal. Fans and media have been pushing the idea that a rebuild had to be coming. Ray Allen had already jumped ship. Doc decided to leave. Danny decided to blow it up. Who knows, maybe even KG and Pierce may have decided that it was time to move on.
But whoever's decision(s) it was, I don't think that trading Garnett and Pierce for the package that they got back was in the best interest of the CELTICS. For a myriad and variety of reasons.
Some have touched on the questions of loyalty, perhaps even sentimentality, and the value that is there. And I do believe there is value there.
Some have touched on the ideas of mentorship and championship culture which walked out the door with Garnett and Pierce, and there is huge (and underrated) value there.
But one thing that I believe, that many (most? all?) others seem to moved away from, is that prior to the trade the Celtics still had the legitimate ability to contend for titles in the foreseeable future WHILE STILL facilitating a reload for the new generation. The Celtics were the unique situation that had that opportunity. And now it is gone.
People get so caught up in the "now" and the "recent", that sometimes it is hard to keep perspective. As such, it is easy to forget that for literally every season that Garnett and Pierce were together, a championship was at least in play. Last year ended with a first round exit after a (basically) .500 season. But last year also ended Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger on the shelf for half of the year. Not to mention Avery Bradley and Jeff Green had missed (or relearned to play basketball through) the first half of the year. Between them, these are the four best players on the Celtics besides Garnett and Pierce, and their injury/recovery issues en masse were more than just a little significant.
Put another way, a squad that could enter the season with Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, Green, Garnett, Sullinger, Terry, Bass, and Lee (and perhaps either a free agent or another young player) as the rotation would have very similar production, potential and ability as the San Antonio Spurs that just came within some nervey/chokey moments of a championship. And for those that doubt this statement, remember: The '13 Spurs playoffs merely replicated the '12 Celtics' playoffs, with the only difference being that one was in the West and the other in the East with the Heat. Needless to say, I'm not blowing smoke here. The Boston Celtics that entered this off-season still had championship upside.
And on the flip side, the Celtics immediately prior to the trade ALSO were well on their way to "rebuilding" or "reloading" or whatever your "re" word of interest is. Rondo is 27 years old. Green is 26 years old. Bradley is 22 years old. Sullinger is 21 years old. Those are four players that all could be top-seven rotation players on a contender. Rondo is already a multiple-time All Star and future fixture on All-NBA teams. Green appears to have 18-20 ppg capability, and at worst 3rd/4th option and at best 2nd/3rd option on a titlist ability. The Celtics also had this year's semi-lottery pick (that actually became a lottery pick), as well as three first rounders in the next two seasons, plus whatever comes of Fab Melo. That is a serious kernel of young talent that mixes outstanding production from young vets, great upside from even younger vets, and a plethora of potential from rookies and upcoming picks.
The key to the whole "let's blow it up!" meme is also the most overlooked aspect of a rebuild. That the hardest championship attributes for a team to gain are the superstar and the culture. There is a reason that every championship team of the past 25 years (except the 2004 Pistons, who might deserve an injury asterisk) features at least one player with at least one MVP award on his shelf and a space locked up firmly in the top 25 players of all time. Those players are exceedingly rare, exceedingly few and far between. People that wanted to blow it up can point to the fact that the most likely place to get one of those type players is from the top of the draft, which is more likely with a terrible team. But the flip side of that sentiment is that even among teams that stink, it is STILL exceedingly rare to get that player. There's also a reason that so many of the teams that are terrible seem to remain terrible year after year. Because getting that superstar cornerstone out of the draft is about as rare as winning the lottery.
Not to stint the second part of my above statement, another key aspect of that championship team comes from the culture and the support. While a transcendent superstar like LeBron, Duncan, KG, Kobe, or Shaq could bring the culture with them in their primes, championship teams ALSO can get that culture from players like that past their primes. If you look at the lion share of championship teams, in addition to the transcendent superstar, you also find the past-their-prime championship vets. The 30-something David Robinson there with Duncan. The 30-something Shaq next to Wade. The 30-something Ray Allen joining 30-something Rob Horry, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, etc. etc. etc. as the championship-experienced vets to make huge plays to get their new teams over the title hump. Remember, the Timberwolves HAD the transcendent player in Garnett for the entirety of his prime, but couldn't put the support with him. Fighting for that title is more than just getting absurdly lucky with the superstar, you ALSO have to have all the rest.
It would have been difficult for the C’s as constituted to get bad enough to have a shot at the #1 pick in the next few years, it is true. But what isn't mentioned enough is that THEY AREN'T REALLY IN ANY BETTER POSITION TO GET THAT PLAYER AFTER THE TRADE!!! They went from having all of the young assets that I mentioned above, to having those same assets but with an additional pick next season that is almost certainly going to be late in the draft, and two other picks that they won't see for another 3-5 years, respectively. Having future draft considerations is nice, but it doesn't move the needle much on the chance of getting the next LeBron. And the remaining Celtics aren't really bad enough to push for a top-five pick next season, unless they plan to gut things even more by trading their talented young vets for nothing (which again leaves them grasping at the hope of getting the next great young rookie, but now with NOTHING in the cupboard around him.)
And the COST of that incremental improvement in future considerations is nothing less than the absolute core of who the team has been, who the team is, and WHO THE TEAM COULD HAVE BEEN FOR THE NEXT FEW SEASONS! Put another way, for the benefit of improving their get-a-superstar-odds from say 1% to 5% in the next three seasons, the Celtics have dropped their contending-team odds over the next two years from about 20% to 0%. You can quibble with the numbers I chose for odds, but I don't think you can quibble with the statement that there was a legitimate shot that the Celtics would have been facing the Heat in the 2014 playoffs with the chance to replicate what they were in 2012 or San Antonio was in 2013. But now there is ZERO chance of that happening. And on the flip side, in my opinion, there isn't a corresponding bump in the chances that the team comes out of their now downward spiral anytime soon.
I am of the opinion that the 2014 Nets now have a legitimate chance to win a championship, which is great for KG and Pierce. I believe that the 2014 Clippers could compete in the West, which is great for Doc. Everyone believes that the 2014 Heat will compete for a title, which is good for Ray. I even believe that Danny Ainge will have fun and potentially make some moves with his now plethora of picks, which is good for Danny.
The 2014 Celtics are now much worse. And the odds of the team being much better in 2015, or 2016, or beyond aren't really much different now than they were when the Celtics still had their team's hearts and the fans still had a team that they could pull for to win.
So while the moves of the last year may be good for all of the principal parties of the Celtics,the moves of the last week have been bad for the actual Celtics themselves. And that's a shame that maybe all of us in Celtics Nation share the blame for, and will pay the price for.