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Larry H. Russell

Larry H. Russell

Senior editor and featured columnist for CLNS Radio. Celtics Beat Podcast Executive Producer. Celtics writer and historian. E-mail: LHRussell@clnsradio.com

Friday, 31 October 2014 00:51

For the NBA, Less Would Be More

Major League Baseball is in the midst of a crisis due to their ridiculously long games.  Could this become an issue for the NBA as well?

Boston Celtics Mad Scientist Plan Could Blow Up in Their Face

Monday, 08 September 2014 11:15

Source: Brandon Bass Selling Home in Needham

Boston Celtics Forward Brandon Bass May Be on the Move

Thursday, 17 April 2014 14:33

The 2014 Boston Celtics: Everybody Wins

The Boston Celtics may have lost a lot of games in 2013-14, but everybody won.  Especially the Boston Celtics fans.

Rajon Rondo is still with the Boston Celtics…for now.  But will he be in a few months? Who knows? And don’t we ask this all the time?

 

Here’s something you see quite frequently: The words “Rajon Rondo” “Boston Celtics” and “trade” all mentioned in the same breath.

For one, I have never truly been opposed to it.  Heck, a little more than twelve months ago I argued that the Celtics “must” trade Rondo.  Although that was part of a rebuild-on-the-fly plan – something that isn’t feasible now with a 20-some win roster filled with young and unproven players.

To put it bluntly, I’ve never been a fan of Rondo’s game.  In short, his inability to get the free throw line and greater inability to convert such chances is far more detrimental than one believes.  He’s no longer a two-way player.  And most importantly, he’s not the most effective player in close-end-of-game-situations.  To get more detail on the claims this writer just made, feel free to read the previous piece as hyperlinked above, as well as this column and this column.  Yes, all were written by me.

For a player to be a star and for a player to be paid like a star – they absolutely must be able to do those aforementioned things.  No ifs, ands, or buts.

Then you throw the ACL-tear a little more than 14 months ago on top of this? Good God, you think I’d be driving this bandwagon like these guys (yes, I just linked one of my favorite music videos ever.)

But not so fast.  As I said, the scenario is far different than it was in say, February of 2013.

Right now the Celtics roster is barren of any proven playoff talent other than Rondo.  Despite his flaws, and he has a lot more than people, especially Celts fans are willing to acknowledge – he still has proven himself when it counts – in the playoffs.  He was the best player on a team that was minutes away from the NBA championship.  And the second best player on a team a quarter away from the NBA Finals.  Developing these players, particularly the environment Boston is currently in (you know, losing basketball games 70% of the time they step out on the court) is not easy.

And besides, what’s out there? Who really wants Rondo, and who would be willing to cough up something, anything, worth a damn?

Well according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, the New York Knicks really, REALLY want Rondo.  The Lakers, Rockets, and Pacers have reportedly kicked the tires over the years.  There was that bizarre Sacramento rumor we heard a few months earlier.  What else? What could Boston fetch?

Well this writer has put his thinking cap on.  Below are trades that make sense, don’t make sense, and/or have no coherence whatsoever.  What a shocker.  And of course, I give my stamp of approval for all.

***

Rajon Rondo to the Sacramento Kings for: Jason Thompson, Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, and two first round draft choices

 

Ah, the famed Sacramento deal.

Two words: No thanks.  There’s limited chance at star potential there, even if the picks sent over are unprotected (they’d almost have to be.)  You run the risk of becoming the early-2000s Bulls, just TOO young.  With that comes no leadership (even if Rondo’s leadership isn’t great, which it isn’t, he’s still a veteran that players need to respect.)  And you don’t like paying Gerald Wallace through 2015? Well you sure as hell won’t like paying Jason Thompson through 2017.

Thomas and McLemore are the two most interesting pieces.

Since being drafted as the NBA’s Mr. Irrelevant – Thomas has been a standout.  He’s one of the league’s most efficient scoring guards, and is actually having a better season than counterparts the likes of Kyrie Irving (quick caveat: wouldn’t Kyrie be the ideal Rondo swap?).

However, he’s 5’9”.  We all know how long those guys last.  And once the little guys even lose the slightest of athleticism and their first step isn’t what it was – they’re useless, and are out of the league at the drop of the hat.

McLemore is intriguing.  But right now, he’s all…there’s that word – potential.

And the draft picks would likely be late lottery picks or mid first rounders.  A Rondo-Rudy Gay-DeMarcus Cousins core won’t win a title, or likely even compete for one.  But it’d be good enough to make Sacramento a playoff, or fringe playoff team.

LHR’s Approval: 3

Rajon Rondo to the Orlando Magic for Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo, Mo Harkless, and two first round draft choices.

 

Would Orlando do a package centered around Nik Vucevic? Doubtful.  Because I would.  But we’re going to have to be somewhat realistic here.

I haven’t written about it anywhere on CLNS, but I might as well make it clear now: I am a huge, huge fan of Afflalo.  If this team were to get dangerously young this off-season with a Rondo trade, it would be in the Celtics’ best interest to swap Avery Bradley in a sign-and-trade with Orlando for Afflalo (who is owed seven million dollars next year.)  Sure he’s a bit older, but his veteran presence would essentially be required if Ainge were to take this team the way of the Oklahoma City Thunder circa 2008.  You just need to have at least some veteran experience on your team.  Afflalo would provide you with that – a great mentor for some of the younger players who need to know what it takes to carry themselves and eventually succeed as professionals.  Most importantly, Afflalo would provide above average two-way play at the two guard spot, at least for the next few years.

Oladipo would essentially be the centerpiece of the trade.  Is he a future star? Magic Insider Josh Robbins seems to think so.  But he isn’t having as good of a rookie season as people seem to believe.  After all, he has a lower PER than Kelly Olynyk.  Because this draft class was historically poor, we seem to be desperate to anoint someone, anyone, from the forgettable and wretched 2013 NBA Draft.

Oladipo has certainly shown flashes.  However, emphasize the word “flashes.”

Harkless is in the midst of a terrible sophomore slump.  If it is a slump.  Maybe he’s completely fizzling out as a player.  Again, another lesson for tankers: Young players, even with seemingly the physical talent, tools, and skills just do not develop as well as they would, or even as well as lesser players do in a winning and competitive environment.  The previously mentioned Jason Thompson and Mo Harkless – who have had nice stretches in their careers and have shown they can play in the league before fading – are prime examples.

The two, and necessary, first round draft choices could come from God knows where.  Because after the Celtics, no team owns more first rounders than the Orlando Magic (acquired three in the Dwight Howard trade alone.)

LHR’s Approval: Certainly a beard-scratcher, but after long thought – likely a no.  I’ll give it a gutless 5.

Rajon Rondo and Gerald Wallace to the Indiana Pacers for George Hill, Evan Turner, Chris Copeland, and two first round draft choices

 

Could Rondo be the pivotal piece used to get rid of the Gerald Wallace stale-fart-in-the-room?

Don’t sell this trade short: Pacers’ boss Larry Bird has always been a fan of Rondo’s – trying to trade for him on occasions such as December 2011.  If Indiana, who has really fallen off the past month and a half, implodes in the post-season, could they try a major trade that remakes their team?

And could Boston, seemingly desperate to dump Wallace, part with Rondo to do so?

In a word: doubtful.  While sending Wallace and his contract out the door with him would be a treat, that cap space would be useless (well not entirely useless as you can always use cap space in trades and to absorb bad contracts for draft picks) because no one, and I mean no one would want to play in Boston.  Think Boston isn’t the most attractive place right now? What about a team barren of recognizable talent? Forget it.

Evan Turner (the second overall pick in the draft a few years ago)…stinks.  And I mean stinks.  He’s a cap-filler, as is Copeland.  Hill is a nice point guard.  But that’s it.  He wouldn’t have much value on a team flooded with rookies and second and/or third year guys.  The two first rounders would also be in the late-20s.

LHR’s Approval: 2

Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass, and the 2015 Los Angeles Clippers first rounder to the Houston Rockets for Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, and Terrence Jones

 

I like it.  But does Houston?

Houston’s another team that has been linked to Rondo in the past.  But to say they may not be willing to hand over Chandler Parsons may be an understatement.

Parsons has improved dramatically since coming into the league and is one of the league’s most unique forwards, equipped with an extremely versatile offensive game.  He also earned serious brownie points from the organization as he was crucial in recruiting Dwight Howard to the Rockets as a free agent.

But Houston, as stated on the most recent Celtics Beat podcast, is seemingly one player away.  How are they going to get that third wheel to go with Howard and James Harden so they can get to that next level and seriously compete for championships?

The question is whether or not they feel Rondo is that guy.

For the Celtics, this is a pretty substantial haul.  If there was ever a dollar for spare change trade – this is it.  Not only is Parsons a stud, but Terrence Jones has emerged as one of the best players from the pleasantly surprising 2012 draft class.  Even with Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk already on the Celtics’ roster – having Jones would be a luxury, and could make trading either of the three to address other needs that much easier.  Jones may very well be the best of the bunch, albeit all of them possess much different styles of play, particularly on the offensive end.

And Omer Asik is that rim protector that Ainge seems to so dearly covet, although paying him 15 million dollars next year before he once again hits the market the following summer isn’t exactly appealing.

The return greatly favors the Celtics.  In fact, as stated above, they’d likely have to throw in a first round draft choice to get it done – which is something Houston has apparently been looking for over these past few months.

LHR’s Approval: 9

Rajon Rondo to the Los Angeles Lakers for Steve Nash and the 2014 Lakers’ first round draft choice

 

Stipulation: It has to be in the top five, and since the Lakers likely won’t trade it if it’s top three, then lets call it the #4 or #5 overall draft selection.  Which to more accurately put it: Dante Exum.

I guess it could be, say, #7, but if Boston were to take that Nash contract, LA would almost certainly have to add another sweetener or three.  Rajon Rondo for, say, Marcus Smart plus having the privilege and honor of handing Steve Nash nine million bucks next year wouldn’t cut it.  I’m not exactly positive where the Lakers stand on draft picks, but I know they have to send another one to Phoenix (Nash trade) and Orlando (Howard trade), so I’m not sure how much they have left over.  As we know, the Stepien Rule prevents teams from trading first rounders in consecutive years, and the Lakers are operating in the red in this regard.

However, if you’re a fanatical Laker Hater, and Lord knows those exist amongst the Celtics fanbase as well as even in the organization itself – be wary of this trade.

Not just sending Rondo to LA and giving the Lakers a desperately needed young (borderline) star, but taking that Nash deal off their hands.

Sure, the return could be exceptional for the Celtics, (would a dream not be winning the lottery, drafting Joel Embiid, and then trading Rondo for Exum and then roll with that pair for the next decade?) – but this trade could help kickstart the Lakers’ rapid rebuild – something they’ve become notorious for over the last, oh geez, 40 years.

With Rondo in place and that dead Nash money out of the way, the Lakers have one (borderline) star, and virtually a wide-open cap sheet.  Signing Kevin Love as a free agent outright in the summer of 2015 (with the Lakers’ having to surrender zero assets) becomes that much easier for them.  Then once they get Kobe Bryant’s corpse out of there in 2016, they’ll have another max, or near max slot to offer…oh God…Kevin Durant?

For some, that would be a tough pill to swallow.  After all, if the Celtics can’t win a championship, their next ‘goal’ is generally the Lakers not winning it.

But still, the thought of Exum paired with the other high draft selection the Celtics will get in this draft, plus maintaining all of the poker chips the Celtics currently have as well as endless flexibility in the summer of 2015 may be something too juicy to pass up.  And yes, there’s always the possibility that Rondo’s best days are behind him.  Meaning Boston could come away like bandits.

At the very least, think of this as a détente deal struck between the United States and the USSR during the height of the Cold War.

LHR’s Approval: Rondo for Steve Nash and the rights to Dante Exum? 7.7 Rondo for Nash and the sixth pick or beyond with another first rounder as well? 3

Rajon Rondo to the New York Knicks for … ?

 

…A morning coffee and a crumbled up two day old tabloid found in a recycle bin at Penn Station?

Because that’s about all the Knicks have to offer.   New York cannot trade any of their first round draft choices from 2015-2017 because of the Stepien Rule (they owe draft considerations to Denver because of the Carmelo Anthony trade, and they owe another first to Toronto for the Bargnani trade.)   So the earliest they can trade a first rounder would be in 2018, and then they cannot trade another one after that because league rules prevent teams trading first rounders that far down the line.  So technically, all Boston could get from New York is a first round draft choice nearly five years from now.  Forget it.

Which is a shame because it’d be fantastic to fleece the Knicks, as it always is.  An aging Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo core is not going anywhere.  Even with a third “star” to go with them.  So those draft choices would’ve been enticing.  Alas, they do not exist.

And the rest of the roster? I’d rather eat horse manure.  Just as long as I can at least smother it in balsamic vinegar of course.

LHR’s Approval: Doughnut

***

So there you have it.  As one can see, the options are fairly limited.  And the return just doesn’t seem to be there.  The teams that want Rondo the most (i.e. New York) have nothing to offer.  The teams that certainly have interest in Rondo in some capacity (Los Angeles, Houston) may waver on what they’d be willing to surrender.

Trading star players isn’t always easy.  In other sports like baseball or football, it seems to work out for the merchant as much as it does the recipient (the Herschel Walker Trade being the prime example, or the Seattle Mariners replenishing their roster so the Houston Astros could rent Randy Johnson, etc.)

However, historically in the NBA, the list is endless.  Endlessly bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are still trying to find their footing after shipping out Chris Paul two years ago.  Minnesota has never recovered from the Kevin Garnett trade seven years ago.  Philadelphia has never recovered from the Charles Barkley trade 20 years ago.  The Milwaukee Bucks have never recovered from the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trade 40 years ago.

Rondo ain’t those guys.  Not even close.  But the lesson always seems to be: be wary of trading a dollar for two quarters, four dimes, and a couple of nickels.  It may seem to add up on the spreadsheet, but it never has on the court.

However, if the opportunity presents itself that Ainge could trade his dollar, Rondo, for some coinage that surpasses the value of said dollar? Then, of course, he has to consider it.

And he will.

Boston Celtics historian Larry H. Russell of CLNS Radio takes a look at the worst members in the history of the Boston Celtics.  Owners, executives, players, you name it.  Today is final part of the three part series that ran over the weekend.  Who is The Devil himself?

 

Thursday: Part I Friday: Part II

The Devil: Rick Pitino  

Apologies for the lack of drama – but I don’t think there is any debate.

Rick Pitino arrived in Boston on his white horse.  He advertised himself as the savior.  The fans were desperate, and I mean desperate, for a savior.  On that alone it seemed like a perfect match.

There were reasons fans, and more importantly, Paul Gaston and M.L. Carr, were so giddy.  If you wanted him, there was a catch: He wanted complete control of the organization, not just being a coach.  And there were no qualms of that at the time.  No hyperbole: There may have been no coach to ever hit the market in American sports who was hotter than Pitino was in the summer of 1997.  He had built himself quite the résumé.

His first head coaching job was at Boston University.  Yep, that small hockey school crammed between a slew of Dunkin Donuts and Boston Chickens along the train tracks of Commonwealth Avenue.  He got them to appear in the NCAA Tournament.

His next head coaching position was at Providence – winners of a grand total of 11 games in the season prior to him taking the job.  Two years later? Final freakin’ Four.  Providence College!

He then went to the pros to return home to coach the New York Knicks, who were one of the worst teams in the league for the past few seasons.  In his first season, they became a playoff team, and in his next, they won a division championship.

He then went back to the college ranks to take over the Kentucky program, arguably the greatest program in the history of college basketball.

But Kentucky wasn’t Kentucky at this point.  In fact, they were merely a pile of rubble.  Mired in scandals both in recruiting and academics left by then-coach Eddie Sutton (shocker!) – the program was on probation.  But yes, a few years later, Final Four.  And a few years after that? Arguably the greatest team in college basketball the last 30 years – the 1996 Wildcats.  His team reached the Finals again in 1997, (and even won it all in 1998 with Tubby Smith coaching the very players he recruited.)

In just a short period of time, Pitino took a program on probation and had one of the great stretches college basketball had ever seen with talent being produced like it was made in a factory: Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Tony Delk, Nazr Mohammed, Travis Ford, Scott Padgett, Jamaal Mashburn, Walter McCarty, Mark Pope, Chris Mills, Derek Anderson, Jamaal Magloire, Wayne Turner.  Just an incredible amount of talent brought in and churned out in such a short period of time.

Celtics fans already had a script written.  The Celtics were going to get Tim Duncan in the draft, pair him with a sure-fire developing bona fide superstar in Antoine Walker – Pitino would take it from there and banners were on the not-so-distant horizon.

Ok, well they didn’t get Duncan in the draft, so the anticipation going into the 1998 season feigned (but no Todd Day!).  But following a shocking opening night victory at home over the dynastic Chicago Bulls, the excitement over the future of the team and the Pitino regime was far beyond a boiling point – it was uncontainable.

And that was it.

It was all downhill from there, after one game.

Walker pretty much peaked as a player, as scary as that sounds, living off his potential the rest of his career.  He never shook the awful habits by being able to freelance in the ’97 tank-joke-of-a-season, and Pitino was never able to straighten him out.  Worse, Pitino never budged when it came to trading him when it was clear he, nor anyone else, could get through to him.  AND EVEN WORSE, Pitino caved and gave him a maximum contract extension when Antoine had done very little in the league.

Pitino then spent the rest of his regime shuffling players in and out as if they were Topps baseball cards.  He used the third pick in the draft on Chauncey Billups, then traded him 50 games later for Kenny Anderson – a career underachiever who was sporting a fairly hefty contract.

He had intriguing role players on his roster in Bruce Bowen and Adrian Griffin – but he never really allowed them to stick around and they went on to help winning teams elsewhere.

After missing out on Duncan, he became resigned to get a big by any means possible.  He renounced the rights of David Wesley and Rick Fox so he could use the money to throw big bucks at Travis Knight (Wesley discussed this with the Celtics Beat podcast.)  He shipped out Knight a year later.  By mid-1999, still looking for a center, Pitino sent out a lottery pick (as the team was floundering) for…Vitaly Potapenko (also making some good coin.)

Other players like Eric Williams, came, went, and then came back again.

Pitino even jettisoned famed public address announcer, Andrew Jick – feeling Jick didn’t add enough excitement to the game.  Jick was a pro and was to the Boston Garden what Bob Sheppard was to Yankee Stadium.  But Pitino wanted to “liven up” the Fleet Center.  Good to know he had his priorities straight.

By 2000, things were starting to get ugly.  Real ugly.  Outside of Paul Pierce, who by the grace of God fell to the Celtics to the tenth pick in the draft in 1998, the team on the floor was horrific and most of them were grossly overpaid.  And those players were tuning out the coaching of Pitino – who brought his famed full-court press from Kentucky (yeah, like that’s going to work over an 82 game schedule), and his military disciplinarian style of communicating with players who were making more money than him (the highest paid coach in the league.)

As everyone remembered, it all bottomed out after yet another close loss late in the 2000 season.  Pitino lost it.  He ripped the media, he ripped the fans, and he ripped the city of Boston.

The biggest crime of all was when he shamed the organization, saying the standards of excellence set by prior teams and players were too high, and new expectations should be set.  Just three years prior, this was a man who advertised himself as a savior, and one who’d carry the torch of Red Auerbach (whom he demanded to have his ceremonial title of “Team President” removed and placed upon him the summer he arrived) and return the franchise to its famed winning ways.  Now he was saying having even a competitive team was too much.

While predecessors such as John Y. Brown before him tried, Rick Pitino killed Celtic Pride.  The Celtics, now going on 15 years of losing, no longer were the Celtics.  Generations of players began to view the organization as what it was under Pitino, and not what it was always meant to be – the crown jewel franchise of professional basketball.

The Pitino failure also drove Gaston into obscurity, as he no longer cared to fix yet another mess on his hands.

And worst of all, the fans were driven away from the team.  The process of regime change after regime change, with each selling a while new bill of goods, was exhausting.  They weren’t going to get fooled again.  Eventually they had had enough and began to think they were never going to have those Celtics again.  Maybe it was all Red after all.

Some, even with the recent success of the organization, haven’t come back.  They’ve learned to live without the NBA.

And that remains the real crime of the Pitino era.  That Celtics lore, while restored somewhat, was all but lost.  It survived post-Russell.  It survived John Y. Brown.  It even survived M.L. Carr, as the Celtics were still a big enough name where they could attract someone who had the pedigree of Pitino to the organization at the time.

But it died with Rick.  What we see now isn’t Celtic Pride of tradition, honor, and excellence.  It’s Celtic Pride 2.0 – something that had to be completely revived and even modified to appeal to the modern sports world.  It’s good, but it isn’t great.

And greatness was what the Celtics were, and haven’t been since.

Boston Celtics historian Larry H. Russell of CLNS Radio takes a look at the worst members in the history of the Boston Celtics.  Owners, executives, players, you name it.  Today is Part II of a three part series, going further into the depths of hell.

 

Yesterday: Part I

Satan’s Servants  

John Y. Brown: The main culprit for the team’s implosion during the late-1970s.  A meddlesome egomaniac, John Y. Brown thumbed his nose at the great Red Auerbach and all but pushed him aside and made him a figurehead.  The players he brought in were predominantly his, and decisions were made by him alone.

And oh what horrible decisions they were (McAdoo, “Bad News” Barnes.)  His way of doing things poisoned the culture and made the organization toxic.  As mentioned earlier, Brown was letting his wife make trades with Knicks executives over cocktail dinners for players she enjoyed watching.

The McAdoo trade, and how it went down, nearly forced Auerbach out of town.  The three first round draft choices sent to New York drove Red mad – as those were something he carefully accumulated in hopes to truly cash in with a big move (hmmm…where have we heard this before?)

Rumor has it that Auerbach was on his way to the airport to interview for a job with New York before a cabbie, yes a cabbie, talked him out of doing so.

The Leprechaun was still breathing though.  Brown found a new hobby – running for Governor in Kentucky.  Out of nowhere, he sold the team and Red regained his stature within the organization and immediately returned the organization to glory.

Had Brown not made that run for Governor and stayed on as owner for a few more years, this may sound utterly incomprehensible now, however it would have been likely that the Celtics would not be playing in Boston today.  That’s how bad things were in those few short years under JYB.

Paul Gaston: If John Y. Brown was like a vicious cyclone ripping through a prairie, Gaston was a steady Category 4 hurricane that seemed to go on endlessly.

Nicknamed “Thanksdad” by Dan Shaughnessy, Gaston took over the team from his father (the best owner in team history sans Walter Brown) in 1993 and immediately took the team into the pits.  Everything the kid touched turned to horse manure.

His first major decision was to hire M.L. Carr as GM…over Larry Bird.  …The hell?

Gaston then became enamored with the hottest college coach in years – Rick Pitino.  Bird tried talking Gaston into hiring him as GM and Larry Brown as coach, especially when Bird found out that Pitino wanted to do more than just coach the team.  But Gaston wanted none of it, and Larry Bird, the most identifiable member of the Boston Celtics organization was essentially forced out and has since never returned.

Gaston handed complete control of the organization to Pitino and we know the rest of that story.

After it was clear that Pitino wasn’t nearly as close to as advertised, Gaston became all but invisible and completely uninterested in the organization.  He disappeared to Greenwich, CT…I mean…I think…God knows where he went, but he was nowhere in sight after the late 1990s until that press conference where he sold the team.  Basically, he took the Jeremy Jacobs, Wizard of Oz approach.  Behind some invisible wall, and viewing the Celtics organization as an accounting spreadsheet – nothing more and nothing less.  Even as the team made an improbable run in the 2002 Playoffs and got within two wins of the NBA Finals – Gaston was nowhere to be found.

But like JYB, Gaston seemingly sold the team out of nowhere.  There was no talk of a sale, no putting the team on the market – nothing.  I still remember where I was on that Thursday afternoon back in September of 2002.  Skipping out of cross country practice early and returning home from school because I didn’t want to run in the rain – my dad picked me up and the old 1510 the Zone was on, and the news had broken.  Gaston had sold the team to a venture capitalist group led by Wyc Grousbeck.

Good riddance, Thanksdad.

Chris Wallace: Like Papile, he was a relentless snake oil salesman whose only goal was to sell himself to the media and fans (as ownership under Gaston couldn’t give a hoot) and not soundly construct a team.

When Pitino was running the show, it was Wallace who became General Manager of the team (coming a year into the Pitino regime.)  There wasn’t a thing Wallace did besides allot himself positive spin for what eventually became Pitino mistakes.  Adrian Griffin? According to Wallace, that was his discovery.  The 1999 lottery pick that was ill fatedly traded away for Vitaly Potapenko? “Well, if we would’ve had that, I would’ve picked Shawn Marion!” Wallace would say.

It was all a sham.  Assigning blame, when nothing actually got done.  When Pitino stepped aside in January of 2001, there was now no one left for Papile and Wallace to blame.  It was their team, and with three first round draft picks in the coming (and loaded) draft that summer – Wallace had a chance to rebuild the Celtics quickly.

Quick caveat: That’s another thing about Gaston and how little he cared.  999 times out of 1000 when a situation was as bad as Pitino, it would result in a house cleaning.  Yet Gaston could not be more apathetic with the organization and Wallace stayed on.

Wallace executed the worst draft in team history, and quite frankly, you could make a case that it was one of the worst in SPORTS history.  With three first round picks in a stacked draft, Wallace came away with Joe Johnson (traded by the trade deadline in his rookie season), Kedrick Brown, and Joe Forte.  And yes, Wallace found a way to blame the Forte pick on someone else besides himself.  “That was Red’s pick! I wanted Tony Parker.”  Whatever, Chris.

To make it even more agonizing, there were many other opportunities that the Celtics seemingly missed that night.  1.) They took Denver’s pick in that draft when they had the option to roll it over and watch the protections on the pick dwindle every year.  The Celtics could’ve had either the fifth pick in the following draft or the third pick in the 2003 Draft (Carmelo Anthony) had Wallace just been patient.  And it wasn’t like the Nuggets were a powerhouse franchise as they were just a few seasons removed from SEVENTY LOSS seasons.  Yet Wallace jumps on a back-end lottery pick.  Nice.  And 2.) There were rumors that Chicago would’ve traded Elton Brand and the third pick in the draft for Antoine Walker and one of the Celtics’ lottery picks as well as the Celtics’ 21st pick (Boston would’ve kept one lottery pick.)  Wallace never entertained trading away the grossly overrated Walker.

But wait, there’s more! The following summer, Wallace felt the Celtics didn’t have a “post presence” (geez, Chris – couldn’t Elton Brand have been that post presence? Or couldn’t you have used ONE of those three first rounders you had on one the prior draft?) What does he do? He goes out and sends a valuable expiring contract for, who was, unquestionably the most overpaid player in the league – Vin Baker, he of alcohol problems, attitude issues, a rapidly declining game, and a 13M per season salary until 2006.

One could make the case that Wallace executed the worst trade in Celtics history (Baker) and the worst draft.  If we were to award a trophy to the worst GM the Celtics ever had – it’d be Wallace.  Not M.L.  And that’s downright scary.

The (Un)Holy Trinity  

Sidney Wicks & Curtis Rowe: They’re a package.  You can’t mention one without the other.  Wicks and Rowe.  Rowe and Wicks.

Following the Celtics championship in 1976, Paul Silas asked to be paid appropriately.  His frontcourt partner, Dave Cowens, asked management to do so.  It basically came down to then-owner Irv Levin not wanting to pony up.  Silas was shown the door.

But the Celtics had to replace Silas.  They needed someone along the front line.

Instead they got two.  Levin was so excited that he proclaimed that the Celtics got two better players than Silas at the same price that they would’ve paid for one.  Enter Wicks and Rowe.

Wicks was purchased from the Portland Trail Blazers.  A standout at UCLA, his pro career was questionable as he was branded a selfish player.  He didn’t help his cause in Boston as players such as Cowens weren’t too fond of playing with him.  And of course, Portland would go on to win the championship immediately after giving away Wicks to Boston for a few currency notes.

Rowe was the guy who always said the right things.  When he was acquired in a three-team trade that shipped out Silas, he enamored the media and fans by saying how he was truly honored to be a Celtic.  Putting on the jersey would make him magically kick his bad habits and history.  Even as he struggled and it was clear he was detrimental to the team, he was still signing the same old song and dance.  But the fans and media weren’t buying it.  Eventually, yes, Rowe broke and laid it all out there, once saying: The Ws and Ls don’t show up in my paycheck.

Following the disastrous 1979 campaign, the Celts cut bait with Wicks.  Rowe returned to camp the next year.  On the first day of training camp, he made snarky remarks to teammates about the “new white boy” the Celtics drafted (that Bird guy.)  We all know the rest of Larry’s story following that day.

Curtis? He was cut a few hours later.

Fitting.

Todd Day: There was never a Celtic whom I hated more.  Todd Day ruined my childhood.

The Doldrums, the Dark Ages, whatever you want to call it – were brutal.  Immediately, when I think of those seasons, when I think of the play on the court – I think of Day gunning and chucking away like there’s no tomorrow.  Like the Wicks and Rowe of the late-1970s Celtics, Day is that and then some to the Doldrums Celtics.

And that’s saying something considering he was a Celtic for less than two full seasons.

I’ve talked about the anti-Celtic, how McAdoo was perceived to be it for the longest time.  But Todd Day was the preeminent anti-Celtic.

Famed member of the Philadelphia 76ers Darryl Dawkins once mentioned how the Celtics were as great as they were over the years because they had the best black players playing “white guy basketball” – not worrying about stats but the little things – team defense, setting picks, cutting to the basket, decoying, etc. 

Whatever basketball Todd Day played – it wasn’t that.  Todd Day played Red Army basketball: Don’t ask questions, just shoot.  And he had the accuracy of the lowest ranked Nazi brownshirts.

You had to have been there.  You had to have put up with Day, as I did, when I was a highly emotionally invested young Celtics fan; watching the team night-in-and-night-out no matter how terrible they were.  Day just did what he wanted.  When he wanted.  And to whom he wanted to do it too.

I am still convinced to this very day that Antoine Walker coming onto a team with Todd Day firing away like there was no tomorrow sabotaged his career.  Then-coach M.L. Carr didn’t put a leash on Day (or Walker), and Walker developed awful habits being around Day and his worst-in-NBA-history “decision”-making.  Those Celtics were venomous for young players, particularly talented rookies like Walker.  And Day was THE culprit.

After the Celtics lost the ’97 Draft Lottery, even the most casual of Celtics fans were mortified.  Hiring Pitino was certainly exciting, but the Duncan-whiff took away so much of the luster.  The buzz for the 1998 campaign wasn’t what it should have been.

Throughout that summer, there was actually a question on whether or not to bring Day back.  As the Celts were cutting bait on valuable role guys like David Wesley and Rick Fox, and then “loading-up” in free agency with Travis Knight and Chris Mills (yes, please laugh) – Day and his contract lingered throughout the summer.  And yes, I was hooked.  It consumed me.

No Duncan? Fox and Wesley renounced…for nothing? Huge contracts to Travis Knight and Chris Mills? Still no center? I don’t care! Just, for the love of God – GET TODD DAY OUT OF MY LIFE!!!

It was a Kennedy Assassination moment for me. I remember where I was, coming out of the Dunkin Donuts next to Mary Ann’s on Beacon Street – newsflash on WEEI on a mid-August morning in Cleveland Circle: the Boston Celtics have moved on from Todd Day.

 

Sunday: The Devil

Boston Celtics historian Larry H. Russell of CLNS Radio takes a look at the worst members in the history of the Boston Celtics.  Owners, executives, players, you name it.  Today is the first part of a three part series.  An introduction and kicking things off.

 

We interrupt your daily programming with some urgent, late breaking news.  According to a study conducted by an array of some of the most respected historians: The Boston Celtics are in the midst of one of their worst seasons in franchise history.

Doesn’t seem that way, does it?

Outside of what seems like a blink of an eye (even though the six years of 2007-2013 were certainly enjoyable) – the gigantic pile of muck that was post-Larry Bird and pre-Kevin Garnett still seems not too far off in Celtics and NBA fans’ memories.

And as a Celtics fan, boy were those years tough to deal with.

To this writer, those years are still very tough to take.  That was my childhood – the games meant infinitely more to me then than they do now (which is in fact, very little, particularly compared to when it seemed as if it was life-and-death back then.)  Oh, the things I’d do to trade the 2008 Celtics championship, which was certainly a happy experience, to occur in say, 1998.

But it didn’t.

While fans and general observers of the team can even point out single occurrences and separate seasons and certain games during the 2007-2013 years, The Doldrums was essentially the equivalent of The Middle Ages in Europe, more commonly referred to by scholars and historians as The Dark Ages.  Which is thousands of years of history all piled up into one big stack of nothingness.

Do you really differentiate the 1995 Celts of Nique, Sherm, Fox, and Wesley with say, the 2000 C’s with Toine, Pierce, Vitaly and Kenny Anderson?

Maybe.  If you’re a complete diehard and/or savant.  But 1993-2007 was just an array of lousy Celtics teams, with equally lousy if not worse management, and utterly uninteresting talent.

Going even further back, many of the old timers reference the late 1970s.  Now while these years really only lasted right after the team’s championship in 1976 until the moment Larry Bird was introduced into the starting lineup on Opening Night in October 1979 – to the old time Celtics base, there was a flood of turmoil, scandals, drugs, and general embarrassment heaped upon the once-proud Celtics franchise.

For such a historic franchise, what with the 17 flags and a sea of retired jerseys hanging in the Garden rafters…boy were there some real pieces of crap in Celtics history.

Ever since LeBron James started his whole Mount Rushmore talk a few months ago, that has seemingly started a trend of #MountRushmoring everything.  From basketball players to flippin’ candy bars.

For the Celtics, theirs is inarguable: Red, Russell, Bird, Cousy.  It wasn’t just their talent, (for you could certainly put many players such as John Havlicek over Cousy), but what they meant for the organization.  Teddy Roosevelt certainly isn’t one of the four best Presidents in American history, but considering his influence – bringing America into the geopolitical landscape that they are still in today (him along with Woodrow Wilson) – his spot amongst the true greats up in the Dakotas is secured.  Literally.

But what about the sinners, the heathens, and yes, The Devil himself? Who are they?

Well, since this column started off with a jest mention of a study, this writer and historian will conduct a real study.  Below are the worst Boston Celtics…in…history.

Now, I must mention one short disclaimer.  This space is going to be reserved for the real detrimental figures to the organization.  Being a lackluster, insignificant player isn’t the qualification – although that certainly doesn’t hurt.  You will see no Joe Kleines, Brett Szabos, Ruben Wolkowyskis, or Stojko Vrankovićs here.

With that said …

Honorable Mentions  

Hank Finkel: Okay, I lied…a bit.  Here’s a guy who is on this list, albeit an honorable mention, basically because he sucked.  Poor Hank.  Nobody wants to be the guy who replaces The Guy, and certainly not when you’re Hank Finkel and possess his (lack of) talent.

After Bill Russell retired in the summer of 1969, the Celtics picked him up in a trade and plugged him in at center to replace Russell.  Celtics fans loved that.  Finkel was boo’d, heckled, and jeered throughout the 1970 season, mercilessly.  The Celtics went from champs to chumps and Finkel was the poster boy for the dismal season(s.)

The bad press and jeering got so bad that Finkel was pushed to the brink of retirement, even at a young age.  Oddly enough, Finkel hung on, sucked up the ire from the fans and won a championship a few years later.

Gerald Wallace: A not-his-fault kind of placement on this list.  It wasn’t his fault he had a respectable career for a many of years that ended up with Nets GM Billy King shelling out a ridiculous 4/40M contract to him a few summers ago.  It wasn’t his fault that he took the deal.  It wasn’t his fault that he was traded to the Celtics.  And it wasn’t his fault that league trade rules prevent teams from making trades with significant salary disparities (you think Danny Ainge was signing up for Gerald’s services when he traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett primarily for the three first round draft picks? Hardly.)

But Gerald is in Boston, and he’ll likely be here for a while.  Him….well not really him, but his contract will be here to stay for a few more years unless the Celtics use one of their valuable assets to get another team to take him off their hands.  He’s the stale fart in the room.

Raef LaFrentz: Like Wallace, not his fault.  He was a piece in a trade to match up salaries in an effort to acquire draft picks.  But still…stale fart.

Theo Ratliff: His expiring contract that was covered by insurance was traded for Kevin Garnett.  But he deserves a shoutout here.  He was on a near-max contract, played two early season games before knowing the team he was on stunk, and then peaced out for the rest of the season.  The Celtics, no matter how bad, aren’t quitters.  And Theo Ratliff quit.

Jeff Green: The biggest excuse maker in Celtics history?

Michael Smith: Selected with the 14th pick in the 1989 NBA Draft over Tim Hardaway and Shawn Kemp (the TBS cameras showing a distraught Hardaway as the Celtics passed up on him is an image ingrained in my mind) – this guy sucked so bad it essentially forced the hand of the Gaston family to take even more personnel authority away from Red Auerbach (unofficially but officially retired at this point) and Jan Volk and go out-of-family and hire Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt.

Stephon Marbury: (…sigh)

Travis Knight: Arrogant, overpaid, lazy big stiff.

Pervis Ellison: Somewhat arrogant, overpaid, and EXTREMELY lazy big stiff.

Greg Minor: Following the death of Reggie Lewis, the Celtics were never on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the rest of the decade.  Unless you want to include this one.

Jim Paxson: The 1989-90 season for the Boston Celtics was beyond dreadful (more on this later.)  No fans like a team that underachieves and this might have been the biggest underachieving team in the history of the franchise.

Poor coaching, finger pointing, locker room issues were fervent throughout the season.  Here was one of the likely locker room-cancer culprits.  It has never been officially confirmed, but it was likely Paxson who was the unknown and unsourced player criticizing Bird during the 1990 season in the papers.

Huh? Jim Paxson? Who?

Good God! Don’t criticize The Legend.  Especially when you’re a chump Jim Flippin’ Paxson.

And that’s what these guys above were and are: chumps.  But now it’s time to move on to the real Bad Guys.  Guys that deserve a special place in Basketball Hell for their contributions towards degrading one of the beacon franchises in all of North American professional sports.

Occultists  

Marvin Barnes: The Celtics following their 1976 title went into a near immediate downward spiral.  Yes, the team was getting older, but the pivotal move was refusing to re-sign Paul Silas.  This infuriated team captain Dave Cowens so much that he eventually took a leave from the team during the 1977 season because he lost his interest for the game of basketball.  For a player as tenacious as Cowens – that’s pretty severe.

The Celtics brought in a basket of bad apples.  One of those rotten apples was Marvin “Bad News” Barnes.  The nickname was well earned, as he was a notorious druggie and convicted felon.

At the time, the league was un-marketable to most of America, White America in particular.  African-Americans with surly personalities (at best) who carried off-court baggage had zero endearment towards White America.  And a city like Boston, which was going through a tumultuous and violent stage of racism and race riots following court-ordered busing absolutely detested the Marvin Barneses of the world.

Whether it was driven by racism (which much of it was) or not, Barnes and his baggage was an absolute disgrace.  And he was one of the leading culprits for taking the Celtics into the pits at such a rapid pace.

Charles Smith: I mean, he killed a guy.

Sebastian Telfair: Danny Ainge was once a fan.  A big fan.  And boy did he get lucky…that Brandon Roy’s knee fell off, and he was able to package Theo Ratliff and his expiring contract for Kevin Garnett, which was acquired when Ainge traded for Telfair.  Otherwise Celtics fans would’ve been talking about this for years.

What did Ainge see in Telfair that warranted giving up a high lottery pick in a decent draft? Telfair had already been in the league a few years, and had done nothing.  But Ainge traded the seventh pick in the 2006 draft, along with shaving a year off Raef LaFrentz’s salary (which turned out to be very important) for Telfair’s services.  A few months later, Telfair was on commercials with the team mascot and Ainge himself trying to sell season tickets.  Danny literally thought that much of the guy.

Telfair’s stay in Boston was disastrous.  It wasn’t just the play, the lack of respect shown towards the coaching staff – the whole season culminated with gun charges in April of 2007.  Wyc Grousbeck didn’t even wait for a verdict.  He stripped Telfair’s locker and told the media that he wouldn’t be a Celtic next year no matter what.

You forgot all of that, didn’t you?

Jimmy Rodgers: The Bird Years were great.  But they weren’t perfect.  Two years reeked.  1989, which shouldn’t count as Larry never played a game past the sixth game of the season going down with surgery on both of his heels.  And then his return season, 1990.

Rodgers coached both of them.  And it wasn’t pretty.

Because Rodgers was the hot, young assistant during the 1980s, (ok, he really wasn’t that young – just hot.  Think Norv Turner circa 1993, Joe Maddon circa 2006 for some cross-sport parallels), teams were banging down the door to interview him.  But the Celtics’ brass wouldn’t budge promising Rodgers the eventual Head Coach position.  Because of this, by 1988, this eventually led to somewhat of a force-out of K.C. Jones so they could get Rodgers in there.

The first season as stated, was something of a throwaway.  But it wasn’t good.  After all, Chris Ford had a less talented and aging team in 1992 where Bird barely played, and that team still won 52 games, as well as an EVEN LESS talented sans-Bird team in 1993, and they still won 49.

But the second season, there were no excuses.  The 1990 season was an unmitigated disaster and remains one of the most disappointing seasons in Celtics history, capped off by a humiliating playoff collapse (choke?) against the hated New York Knicks.

The whole season was a mess.  Bird at point forward? Larry didn’t think too fondly of the idea, but Rodgers insisted on it.  There were also locker room issues throughout the season (Jim Paxson!), and although aging, the team just didn’t have that chippiness or that edge that was one of their defining team characteristics during the mid-1980s heyday (a lot of people blamed this on the team trading away Danny Ainge.)

Following the shocking playoff exit to New York, Rodgers was predictably dismissed at the end of the season.  The Bird Years are generally broken up into three stages: Stage I: Start of his career, early success (one championship) but ending in 1983 with an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.  Stage II: The Golden Years of 1984-1988 – Bird using the Milwaukee sweep as motivation to take his game to his peak (three MVPs in a row), and a dominant team (two championships, and the last NBA team to appear in four NBA Finals in a row), with an nearly intact starting five all the way through.  And Stage III: The Twilight – The Aging Big Three, but glimmers of hope provided by exciting, young athletes such as Reggie Lewis, Dee Brown, Brian Shaw, and Rick Fox.  Ask any Celtics fan who followed the team then, and they’ll tell you how much they thoroughly enjoyed the 1991 and 1992 squads.

The two Rodgers seasons? It’s like they’ve been erased.

Leo Papile: Some might say: Who? But this guy might be the biggest bozo the Celtics have ever employed.  If I had a nickel for every time he brought up how “We would’ve picked Shawn Marion in the 1999 Draft had Pitino not traded away our lottery pick!” – I wouldn’t be writing this column because I’d be living in a glass house.

(Actually I still probably would …)

But for all of his Monday morning quarterbacking, this “Advanced Scout” didn’t find, in the words of Jim Mora, diddly-poo in his years working for the Celtics.  Guy was a rotten snake oil salesman, and that’s being kind.

Druids  

ML Carr: While Carr was the edgy (dirty) role player who was reviled throughout the league, particularly amongst Lakers and Sixers fans (always a big plus for Celtics loyalists), all of that was thrown out the window and then some as he took over the GM role in 1994.

For all of the whiny tankers who say, “you need to get bad to get good in the NBA” and then use the mid-1990s Celtics as the example, they seem to forget the most important thing.  Carr made player development irrelevant and started handing out massive contracts to aging role players on a team with zero young talent.  Anyone with a brain knows this isn’t the way to go, and unless you’re the New York Knicks nowadays, there isn’t a franchise in the NBA today that would adhere to the mindset Carr applied as soon as he got control of the team (over Larry Bird for goodness sake!)

Pervis Ellison, Dominique Wilkins, Dana Barros, Dino Radja, Dee Brown, and Sherman Douglas were all grossly overpaid by M.L.  Because of this, the Celtics had no cap space and no flexibility (THAT’S how you truly get “stuck in the NBA middle.”)

M.L. locked the Celtics in mediocrity jail for years.  And threw away the key.

Vin Baker: No explanation needed.  Right?

Marc Blount: Blount was more than just an “overpaid stiff” on the Celtics much like the way a Travis Knight or a Raef LaFrentz were.  He was a borderline crook.

During the second half of the 2004 season, Blount morphed from fringe NBA player to a more-than-serviceable starting caliber center in a blink of an eye.  An aloof, clueless tall guy with one talent (weakside shotblocking) all of a sudden was all over the court, grabbing seemingly every rebound in sight, and protecting the rim like he was Dikembe Mutombo (ok, not THAT, but you’re starting to get the drift.)  I still have vivid memories of his 28-21 game.  Yes, a 28-21 game from Marc Blount!

But as he was going on this run, many fans began to question him.  Blount was set to be a free agent at the end of the season.  Was this newfound intensity nothing more than a contract run?

Um, yes.

Blount took the money, and that was it.  Not only did he go back to being Marc Blount, he became a smug, complacent slug who couldn’t get off the team fast enough.  With his new, pricey contract – that wasn’t easy.

Ainge found a taker about a year-and-a-half later in his friend Kevin McHale.  In Blount’s first meeting against his former team, Ricky Davis hit a game winning shot from the baseline and Blount proceeded to mob Davis like the Wolves had just won the championship.  The clip is, of course, nowhere to be found on YouTube.  But the celebration is a near carbon copy of this.

Antoine Walker: This may not be the most popular choice as Walker still has his fervent fans.  But for those who’ve been reading me over the last few years, you know where I stand on this.  I don’t want to rehash everything I said, so in 6,000 words, I give you my column on Antoine back in March of 2012.

Bob McAdoo: For the longest time, Doo was the anti-Celtic.

Throughout their glorious history, the Celtics have never had a player lead the league in scoring.  Ever.

And it’s something they say with pride.

During the 70s, McAdoo won the scoring title three years in a row.  But many perceived that it was at the expense of his team.  Doo was perceived as a “my-stats-first-wins-second” guy.

Add on top of that, McAdoo despised the city of Boston.  He thought of it as a racist town, which it almost assuredly was, and had no interest in playing in The Hub.

So his style of play wasn’t Celtic-like, and he hated Boston....yet…he became a Celtic!

Then-owner John Y. Brown went out to dinner with his wife, model Phyllis George (yes, the one who eventually became a pre-game “analyst” for the NFL on CBS in the 1980s), and George told him how much she loved Bob McAdoo.  Can you imagine this? An owner’s wife and who her favorite player is – yes, personnel decisions in the late 1970s were made like this for the Celts.

McAdoo became a Celtic during the horrific 1979 campaign and ballhogged his way for the remainder of the season.  Fortunately for Boston, Brown moved on to other endeavors and Auerbach regained control over personnel decisions.  First thing’s first: Get McAdoo out of dodge.

McAdoo was sent to Detroit as part of a compensation package, which ended up netting a pretty nice return, (M.L. Carr and what became the first overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft – yes the pick which was packaged to acquire Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, in what is arguably the biggest heist in NBA history.)

 

Friday: Part II of the Worst Members of the Boston Celtics Ever

What happens during the NBA Draft Lottery is out of the Boston Celtics control.  But to fans and media members, just remember to look at the bigger picture.

 

A little more than a week ago, the Boston Celtics had the audacity to win not one, but TWO home games in a row in a season that is supposed to be all about the draft and nothing else.

Not maintaining a winning culture.  Not player development.  Not the coaching staff establishing and adjusting their plans and techniques.  Nadda.  Just lose, baby.

What a waste! Or so they are saying.  Many of the knights of the keyboard were fired up, and still are, but that’s no surprise.  They’re fans.  They’re emotionally invested fans.  So they always want what they think is best for the team, which in their mind this year for the Celtics is losing games.

The media? Well, they’re a different story.  You really don’t know what they want.  Are they emotionally invested? Perhaps, but not the way fans are.  Do they want what is best for the team? You presume so; especially considering much of the Celtics discussion that takes place is on Comcast Sports Net (the TV station that broadcasts Celts games), and 98.5 FM (the radio station that broadcasts Celtics games.)  So you’d think, business wise, they’d want what is best for the organization.  You’d think they’d go a little Pravda with the propaganda.

But I don’t know.  Either way, whether it’s a ruse or just plain stupidity, Michael Felger, Dan Shaughnessy, and Lou Merloni did a segment on Comcast following the Celtics two game ‘winning streak’ that was, predictably, utterly cringe-worthy.

Good God …

Whether these guys are emotionally invested or not – the segment was based off the personalities’ emotions and not their brain-power (or so we hope.)

This is what it takes to get this kind of reaction? Two wins in a row, one in a game the Celtics were just three point underdogs in, and another in which they were FAVORED?

The ‘points’ those three made were:

The season would be a “wasted year” if the Celtics go into the draft lottery in either the 4-6 position. ”If you’re going to be bad, you’ve got to try to be ‘the worst.’” (Yes that’s a direct quote.) If Tim Duncan were in this draft, then the Celtics should tank all over again (ummm, pretty sure Duncan, nor a player anywhere near his caliber when he was coming out of Wake Forest being the dead-mortal lock to be a franchise-changer, is not in this draft.) Even though the Celtics lost the ’97 lottery – they still came away with Chauncey Billups, and every Celtics fan should take a player of his caliber in this draft (even though Chauncey Billups types are routinely found in the 20s, and players like Tracy McGrady were picked well behind him in that draft, but whatever.) It’s “scary” that outside of 2-3 teams in the East, the Celtics are “as good as any of those teams.”

Tanking logic: So easy, a caveman …

One really has to stoop to a low-level of intelligence to speak similar languages with fans and media members who have been so rigorously advocating the tanking mechanism.  Because it is all they think about, and nothing more.

And guess what? This writer will do so.  Here’s a pretty simple Fact or Fiction.  Served up just for you.

***

Fact: Boston already has a young franchise, or borderline-franchise, caliber talent in place.  Of all the other bottom feeders in the league, only Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins) and Detroit (Andre Drummond) can say this.

This is a prime case of Daniel Kahneman’s WYSIATI – What You See Is All There Is (found in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.)

Coming into the season, for most, it was about nothing but the draft.  The incoming so-called loaded NBA Draft.  So it became easy to forget about the actual team at hand, the talent on the roster.  Just lose games like the rest of the losers.  Beat Philly, Milwaukee, Utah, et all to the punch.

And that’s the problem with that mindset.  That’s all that they think about.  Whoever loses the most will likely one day win.

Those that think that way are unintentionally clouding the big picture for themselves.  Those teams (Philly, Utah, Milwaukee, and others) have a roster barren of star talent.  That’s why they stink more than the Celtics and are losing more games! Duh!

They may have some intriguing pieces (the Sixers with Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Magic with Nikola Vucevic, etc) – none of them have certified stars.  Some may say Giannis may turn into one, but I’d argue he’s just as likely to turn into Jonathan Bender as well (remember the hype surrounding him back in the early-2000s?)

As mentioned, there are only two other NBA losers with established, and young enough, star talent – Detroit with Andre Drummond, and Sacramento with DeMarcus Cousins.  I’m not counting New Orleans with Anthony Davis – they aren’t a bottom feeder (and it’s inexcusable that they are as bad as they are with – the roster, outside of Davis, is just a mess.)

No matter, what you think of Rajon Rondo – and I don’t tend to think highly of him as noted here, here and here – he’s still regarded around the league amongst executives and players as a star (and that’s all that matters.)  He was the best player on a team that was a sliver away from a championship, and the second best player on a Conference Finalist.

Whether the Celtics trade him or whether they keep him and build around him – Boston already has one star in place.  Something that all these teams are desperately hoping this draft will produce for them.  Would you sign up for a player that is as good as Rajon Rondo’s caliber for your coming 2014 draft pick?

I know I would.  And so would all these other teams like Philly, the Lakers, the Kings, the Jazz, etc.

Boston is one step ahead.

Fiction: Not going the Philly route at the deadline and holding onto veterans such as Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries is only helping the Celtics gain ‘unwanted’ wins.

Yes, I’ve actually seen this float around some spaces in the Internet.  Are these people aware the Celtics have won just two games since the deadline back in mid-February? Bass and Humphries are solely responsible for these two ‘unwanted’ wins in the past month-plus?

And this is before getting into the foolish notion of giving away players who have value now, as well as this summer (Bass in a trade, Humphries as a re-sign or a sign-and-trade with another team) for nothing.  All in the name of losing games.

We’ll just end this idiocy here.

Fact: Boston has a proven ownership and a proven general manager both firmly in place.  Some would even say a proven coach, but that remains to be seen.  Regardless, the ownership, management, and coaching situation is set in stone for the Celtics for years to come.  Other teams? Not so much.

Organizational stability.

It’s what Miami preached when they were trying to woo LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach (and what they will tell them, particularly LeBron, as those two possibly consider other options this summer.)  It’s what has kept the Spurs, well, the Spurs all these years as they seemingly shuffle in-and-out an endless array of characters.

These other teams? The Lakers? The D’Antoni experiment will end in a few weeks, and LA will look for their fourth head coach in the last two years.  Five head coaches since 2011? (chuckles) Are Billy Martin, Bob Lemon, or Buck Showalter available?

Utah? Ty Corbin seems as if he’s on his way out the door too, and it’s doubtful the Jazz will be able to attract a legitimate head coach to Utah.  They’ll likely get a retread or some young, cheap, unproven assistant.

Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown are completely unproven and are in Year 1 together.  Rob Hennigan and Jacques Vaughn are in Year 2 together, and again, are unproven.  And I couldn’t even tell you who the Milwaukee Bucks coach and GM are.

Danny Ainge, in the summer of 2003, took over a team in infinitely worse shape than this, and had them hoisting a flag in five years.  Wyc Grousbeck et all have already proven they’ll spend the money when it counts.  Good Lord, he was willing to pay Doc Rivers his seven million dollar annual salary as the team headed for the pits.

And Brad Stevens – yes, unproven (although no one has been displeased thus far), however one thing is clear: He has the organization’s back.  And because he has that, it becomes that much easier to gain the players’ respect knowing that he’ll be in Boston for the long haul.

A turnstile the Celtics organization is not.

Fiction: The Celtics roster doesn’t match up with the young talent on other NBA losers.

It doesn’t?

Sure, there are some teams whom have rosters more attractive.  But if that’s the case, it isn’t by much.

Sacramento with a young DeMarcus Cousins – they have the big name, but the rest of the roster? Meh.  To boot it’s flooded with bloated salaries such as Jason Thompson and Rudy Gay.

Orlando? I’d say Boston is right there.  For all the hype Victor Oladipo is getting, um…13.66 PER.  And he’s supposedly their most attractive young piece.  Jared Sullinger, just a few months older than Oladipo, has a 16.3 PER and plays a more premium position.

Even Kelly Olynyk, who some have criticized as a ‘bad pick’ is third in rookie PER for the 2013 season.  And he’s 22.

Utah has Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, and it’s arguable their crop of young players beats out the Celtics.  However, key word: arguable.

Detroit sports the big guy – Andre Drummond.  But that’s it.  Greg Monroe has since fizzled and is likely going to find a new home this summer.  And for anyone who complains in Boston about Gerald Wallace being the stale fart on the Celtics cap sheet, well…how’d you like to have Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings?

The Lakers may have the benefit of playing in LA, but that’s a completely different argument.  Right now, their roster is utterly barren.

The Scranton Wilkes-Barre…errr, the Philadelphia 76ers and their laughable NBDL roster?

And once again, I won’t even get into the Bucks.  Or the Cleveland Cavaliers and their situation with Kyrie Irving.

Fact: The Celtics have a treasure trove of draft selections, which are now ultra valuable with the new CBA.  Boston has more assets than any other NBA bottom feeder…and it isn’t close.

Why does this continue to be glossed over?

The Celtics own NINE first round draft choices over the next five years – all unprotected.  Some other added bonuses are the rights to swap selections with the Brooklyn Nets in 2017, and potentially another first rounder in 2015 providing the Philadelphia 76ers make the post-season.  Not to mention a few extra second round picks to kick around.

Quick caveat: Does that mean the Sixers will try to tank once again? So they can keep their first round pick? As Tom Ziller pointed out when he was dissecting the mess in Cleveland, it ain’t so easy turning the tank button on and off.  The Cavs have found out that you can’t tell your guys: “Ok, we’re going to take it seriously and win now!” Their situation has become poisonous after years of deliberately trying to lose to stack lottery picks.  Will Hinkie play with fire once again next year just to keep a first round pick?

But we’ve seen how absurdly valuable (and I deliberately use that adverb) first round draft choices, even if they are late, have become since the new CBA.  The Bucks could not even get a first rounder for J.J. Redick.  The Bulls couldn’t even get a guaranteed first round draft selection for Luol Deng, a borderline All Star in his prime.  The Suns would not part with one of their four first round draft choices this season for Pau Gasol.

Reminder: Ainge has nine, possibly ten of these, with no strings attached.  Each one of these picks is infinitely more valuable than a few percentage points of ping-pong balls.

Because every star that hits the trade market – Boston will be a player in any one scenario it wants to be.  There will be no “we just came up short” as they did a few years ago with Chris Paul.  Ainge and the Celtics will bring the most chips to any table.

That’s just reality.

***

And the ultimate reality is: What happens with the ping-pong balls happens with the ping-pong balls.  Exhale, and take a look at the bigger picture.  And also remember one thing – to quote Kahneman again, but here’s the most relevant equation of life:

Success = talent + luck Great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck

The Boston Celtics organization has three of four of those variables.  The last one certainly would not hurt.

But it’s out of everyone’s hands...

…for the time being.

The following column is Larry H. Russell's debut column for CLNS Radio: Re-published from March 15th, 2012

 

22 years ago today, March 15th 1992: Boston Celtics 152 Portland Trail Blazers 148 in double overtime. Larry Legend 49-14-12 including an insane three pointer to force the first overtime that needs to be seen to be believed. Of course, if you’re a Celtics fan you don’t need to see it to believe it. Every Celtic fan of all ages will tell you exactly where they were on that gorgeous Sunday afternoon in mid March when that game happened.

Yes, even 15 year olds who weren’t even born yet will tell you they jumped a mob pile at their friends’ house after Gamble hit a baseline buzzer beater to force a second overtime. That game was literally that epic and is cherished by almost every Celtic fan as much as any game the last 20 years save for 131-92.

Read that last sentence again: “That game was literally that epic and is cherished by almost every Celtic fan as much as any game the last 20 years save for 131-92.”

And you know what? It’s true, which makes it that much more amazing. The Boston Celtics are the greatest franchise in the history of professional basketball (sorry LA fans, but the scoreboard still reads 17-11.) Not only have they had the most championship success but also no franchise has been involved in more memorable games.

From the first true NBA classic, Game 7 of the 1957 Finals, to “Havlicek stole the ball!” to the ‘Greatest Game Ever Played’ (that’s the 3OT thriller vs. Phoenix in Game 5 1976 Finals, and you’re not much of a Celtics fan, let alone NBA fan if you don’t know that), to “And there’s a steal by Bird….” and right down the rest of the laundry list of NBA classics the Celtics were involved in.

For a franchise so rich in success, usually Celtics fans don’t cherish many moments that did not happen in the post-season. After all, that’s usually reserved for fans of lesser franchises to harp on regular season buzzer beaters, and to hang division banners. But not only was it the greatest regular season game in basketball history, but it was the final legendary performance submitted by a mortally wounded warrior/legend/basketball god.

***

For those that need their mind refreshed a bit, or for those who (gasp) don’t know much of this momentous occasion, well, I guess it’s necessary for a rundown. 20 years ago today, March 15th 1992 the 35-29 Celtics took on the first place 46-18 Portland Trail Blazers on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in mid-March in Boston in a nationally televised broadcast on NBC. Following the Celtics’ 1991 playoff loss to Detroit, (the third time they lost to their rivals from the Motor City in the last four years), it was clear that the Celtics of Bird-Parish-McHale were no longer true contenders. The Blazers came into the Garden smoking-hot, and even worse, steaming mad. They had just gotten humiliated in the marquee match-up of the year on national television against Chicago two weeks to the day prior.

The Blazers were clearly the cream of the Western Conference, winning the conference two seasons prior, and choking it away to Magic's Lakers in ‘91. Magic Johnson retired right before the season, which left absolutely no legitimate threat to the Blazers to regain the Western Conference throne.

The Blazers had two all-stars (one Hall of Famer) in the absolute peak of their careers (Drexler and Porter), and a stocked supporting cast full of future or former all stars (Cliff Robinson, Danny Ainge, Kevin Duckworth, Buck Williams) who all played at high levels. They had one of the best coaches in the game in Rick Adelman.

Following the beat-down in Chitown, the Blazers ripped off seven in a row, firmly established their position as the clear cut favorites in the West, and went into their nationally televised broadcast against the Celtics to make a serious statement to the whole league.

The Celtics on the other hand, limped around the ’92 season as a team that struggled to stay above .500. To put it bluntly, Boston was just about dead meat for this match-up.

Celtics Hall of Famer Larry Bird, in the summer of 91, got off-season back surgery to remove a disc. Following games in the ‘92 season, Bird was virtually paralyzed. Bird said that he played in “total agony.” Bird was in the twilight of twilights of his career.

Here’s how bad it was for Bird: he could never have his back in any other position but vertical. He either had to be standing up straight or lying down. He could never sit on the bench on the sideline (or anywhere); he could only lie down stomach-first. Following games, he had to spend hours upon hours in a full-body brace to recover, either at home or in a hospital bed.

It was utterly excruciating for Celtics fans to not only know they would probably never see their legend perform like, well, a legend again. But it was equally excruciating to watch Bird go to war for the Celtics franchise and Celtics fans with six bullet wounds to his body. Heck, there were even debates during that season that the Celtics may have been better without Bird even PLAYING.

While NBC certainly advertised the game as a marquee match-up between two of the top teams in their respective conferences, the game had little hype in Boston as many Celtics fans expected the Blazers to come into the Garden and take care of business and dispatch the Celtics. However, fortunately for Celtics fans and anyone who appreciates the game of basketball in general (and ESPECIALLY executives at NBC), the game went a little differently than expected.

***

For the first 47 minutes, the Blazers clearly proved their point to the league. Boston came out of the gates hot and took an early lead, but from the middle of the second quarter on, Portland was working with a comfortable lead all game.

Bird grinded and battled through the unimaginable back pain and was dialing up a virtuoso 1985-like performance, hitting fadeaways in the block, making three pointers, finding the open man, and getting rebounds on the defensive end firing a quick outlet.

However, even that was not looking like it would be enough. But Bird’s performance alone, by far his best of the season, actually kept the Celtics within striking distance of the far superior, far more talented, and far more athletic Portland Trail Blazer team.

Clyde Drexler (tallying 34 points in regulation) was stellar himself, and the Blazers were well on their way to that statement victory on national television they talked about. Portland was sporting a five-point lead with 20 seconds to go after Drexler was 1 of 2 at the line. The Celtics faithful began heading for the exits, Marv Albert began reading off the credits of those who at NBC who helped bring the game to a national audience and thanked them for their efforts, and the tens of millions of figure skating fans around the country (uh, yeah I exaggerated that a bit) were anxiously awaiting the conclusion of the game to watch NBC’s coverage of the World Figure Skating Championship.

Bird and the Celtics kept battling, scoring on a reverse layup, but Portland tacked on two more free throws, so it was back to a five-point lead with 14 seconds left and Boston didn’t have any timeouts. But Bird scored again, and the game kept going on, much to the chagrin of all eight of the American figure skating fans. With seven seconds left, Jerome Kersey was fouled and only needed one to ice the game. After missing the first, all of a sudden, 47 minutes of soundly dominating the Celtics very well was about to come down to one free throw.

Marv Albert and Mike Fratello felt it, and so did the fans, who let out a “holy crap, if he misses this, we get the ball down three and Larry’s cooking today” type of cheer.

As soon as Kersey released it, he knew it wasn’t good. Worst of all, what he did was the worst of scenarios that could happen for Portland: Kersey was called for a lane violation for stepping into the paint before the ball hit the rim. It stopped the clock (again Boston had no timeouts), and the Celtics got it side-out in Portland’s backcourt (rather than having to grab a rebound in traffic with a running clock AND go the length of the floor.)

Immediately, what was left of the Garden crowd let out a deafening, and familiar “Larr-y! Larr-y!” cry, hoping for one more miracle moment to improbably send the game to overtime. The moment had the perfect build-up. All of a sudden, the fans that left the game frantically returned to their seats. After finally getting it across the frontcourt, the ball got to Bird and the Garden faithful gasped as soon as he got near the three-point line. The Blazers had him covered like a blanket as they had Bird looking like he was playing on roller skates. There was nothing left but an absolute desperation, one-handed shot-put heave at the rim – a ball that had utterly no arc and went towards the basket like a screaming line drive off the bat of Wade Boggs.

The ball barely cleared the rim, then all of a sudden, rattled around, and in. The Garden was set off like the Celtics just won the championship, and the Blazers were absolutely stunned. Overtime was a formality.

***

Throughout the overtime, the Blazers seemed to restore order. The Celtics rode the adrenaline of the home crowd to stay close with the Blazers, but Portland seemed to gain control. Incredibly into the overtime, Bird was still dealing, hitting a tough fadeaway to tie the game early in the session, and then using one of his trademark moves that only he could do. While being doubled posting up at the elbow, he took a fadeaway and drew two Blazers in the air. Then, incredibly, at the last second he changed his mind and fired a no-look bullet strike to a cutting John Bagley for a layup which was his 10th assist of the afternoon, and secured the improbable triple-double by a player who was virtually flippin’ handicapped.

After Bird missed a potential go-ahead three pointer that would have very well brought the Garden to the ground had it gone in, Portland had the ball up two with under 30 seconds. Once they secured an offensive rebound with four seconds, all they needed were two free throws to ice it once again.

However, IT happened again. What has always plagued Rick Adelman teams. Buck Williams at the line missed the first one horribly, and the Garden crowd once again sensed it with an “uh oh, here we go again” cheer. He missed the second, and Bird secured the rebound and Boston had life.

Once again, the crowd began calling for another vintage Bird moment, and the millions of people who tuned into NBC expected it as well, (except for those figure skating fans who at this point were tweezing their scalp hair out.)

But this time Bird was a decoy as Chris Ford drew up a perfectly executed play (hey, imagine that, a Celtics coach who draws up a play at the end of games rather than giving the ball to their best player 40 feet from the hoop and let him do some work while four other guys do nothing.)

Kevin Gamble inbounded the ball to John Bagley, who penetrated, drew the Blazer defense and then kicked it back out to Gamble who at this point slid uncovered over to the baseline 15 foot from the hoop. Gamble nailed it. At this point the Garden was absolute bedlam. Celtics fans around Boston and the rest of the world were delirious watching this final curtain call for their aging team and their crippled star.

The NBA world and the rest of the national audience could not believe what they were seeing. Bird and his Celtics may have been fading from the basketball picture, but they sure as hell weren’t going down without a fight. At this point, there was a good chance that the dozens of figure skating fans began patting oil on their bodies to potentially light themselves on fire.

***

When the game was headed for a second overtime, Bob Costas was back in the NBC studios. He apologized that the game had cut into the World Figure Skating Championship coverage, but then saying that it was very well worth it as we were watching possibly the final masterpiece of a legend. Marv Albert echoed similar tones, telling his NBC audience that we were witnessing a “regular-season classic.”

This time in overtime, the Celtics were just too much for Portland. The Blazers were self-destructing and Boston and Bird had their adrenaline going roughly a zillion miles an hour. Bird (again) pulled off his trademark move on the elbow. Faking the shot on the fallaway and then hitting Eddy Pinckney under the hoop for a reverse jam.

Quick tangent: Here’s the list for those in the debate for the title of greatest passer of all time: Magic Johnson, Pete Marvich, and Larry Bird. That’s it. That’s the list. Don’t let anyone try to argue someone like John Stockton, Jason Kidd, or even Rajon Rondo being the best passer ever. It’s one of those three, period.

But Portland wouldn’t go away themselves. After Bird hit a home run pass to Rick Fox for a dunk, Danny Ainge (who scored 19 off the bench for Portland) hit a 38 footer to keep the Blazers’ faint hopes alive. Five points in about two and a half seconds, just another wrinkle to this gem of an NBA game.

Portland was forced to foul down two with just 15 seconds left, and Clyde Drexler gave the foul, his sixth. He fouled out with the line of 41-8-11. And in something you’ll never see in an NBA game again, the fans at the Garden universally got on their feet and gave Drexler a rousing ovation for his valiant performance. No knock against the fans who go to the New Garden today, but the patrons at the old Garden were some of the most highly educated fans in any venue in any sport.

What made Drexler’s foul-out even more remarkable was that he was the sixth, yes SIXTH player to foul out. Each team had three aside, and every one of them were All-Stars or former All-Stars (Portland: Drexler, Buck Williams, and Kevin Duckworth. Boston: Reggie Lewis, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale.) The chance of that happening today? Somewhere between 0 and 0%.

By contrast, after Dwayne Wade fouled out of the Heat-Lakers game played on March 4th 2012 that was the first Heat player to foul out in 88 games. Yes, you read that right. The Blazers-Celtics classic fouled out three Hall of Famers and three All-Stars. The present-day Heat haven’t had one guy foul out since the Renaissance, or something like that.

After Eddy Pinckney made one of two free throws to make the score Celtics 152 Blazers 148, the final buzzer sounded just a few seconds later. And it was over. Amidst an exuberant crowd, the whole basketball world saw one of the greatest basketball games ever played. And after 58 minutes of basketball, it was over just like that.

The 49-14-12 line from the borderline-paralyzed Bird, who played 54 of the 58 minutes, with the worst back anyone since the death of Christ has played basketball with. Drexler with 41-8-11. Nine players with 15+ points. Six foul outs. Two buzzer beaters. An 18-14 score in the 2nd OT (that’s usually a score for most quarters in NBA games these days.) But it was all worth it. In my mind, and many others, we just saw the something we’d never see again.

***

The victory turned the Celtics season around. Following the miraculous victory, the Celtics would only lose three games the rest of the year and would crawl all the way back to steal the Atlantic Division title from the Knicks. The game ended up truly being Bird’s final curtain call as he was not much apart of the Celtics’ furious finish to the '92 season, missing all but a few games.

He never even played a playoff game until Game 4 of the East semi-finals against Cleveland. But while the 1992 campaign surprisingly ended up being an enjoyable one after months of frustration, we all look back on that Sunday in March.

***

I remember exactly where I was for that game, and all the memorable moments that transpired during that game. Almost every Sunday, my family and I ate at the Union Oyster House. The Celtics almost always played on Sundays back then, and a good portion of the time, they played in the afternoon on NBC. That was no different on that day. When the Celtics had the ball down three with seven seconds left in regulation, everyone there was glued to the small television that was over the bar. Even the grannies who were eating in the restaurant with the rest of their family, just enjoying a Sunday in downtown Boston were reacting to every play as diehard fans, and soaking in every last final great moment of Larry Bird’s masterpiece.

For years, this game used to be replayed on the old Classic Sports station (and later ESPN Classic), and every time it did, I always called any friends that I had and demanded that they stopped whatever they were doing and turn on some obscure channel to watch an NBA game played in 1992. Whenever someone argued with me what Bird’s position was amongst the all time greats, (when I was a younger, more irrational fan, I always argued to anyone that Bird was the greatest player ever, which as I know right now, he’s not… I think.) This was the game I’d show them. “Watch Bird’s passing, look at his will to win, watch his smooth as silk setshot, and do you know he’s doing this with his body as stiff as a board?” And now, 22 full years has passed.

As the old, and lame saying goes, time sure flies by when you’re having fun. Too bad, we could go another 50 years without ever seeing what we saw on March 15th, 1992.

***

Excerpt from the Legendary Performance:

 

When you have the time, I suggest watching the whole game from start to finish. Here’s the game:

 

http://www.veoh.com/watch/v875533S8mCMPgQ

 

(One final and totally unrelated point: How can you watch that and not see how horrific ABCs coverage of the NBA. Hopefully the folks at ABC watch that. Look at NBCs lead-in. THAT’s a lead-in, folks. You get the entire feel for the game, and NBC makes it feel like something epic is going to happen, which ended up being the case. ABC does none of this, usually using some lame music video to open their games that has no relation to the game or basketball in general. Heck, the music that NBC uses for the starting freakin’ lineups in this Celts-Blazers game is actually superior to whatever Pussy Cat Dolls, or horrible Led Zeppelin covers of classic songs that ABC uses to lead-in to games. When does the contract for the NBA on ABC end again?)

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