The Boston Celtics‘ roster is certainly much different from the squad that won it all in 2008. The core of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo is much different than the current core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart. However, how did this roster, for the most part, make this change in only eleven years? The blockbuster deal where Danny Ainge fooled the Nets.
For background, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry (and DJ White) were traded to the Nets, who were trying to build a championship roster led by their trio of stars: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez. They also received a ’17 1st rounder (Kyle Kuzma), which subsequently was traded to the Lakers in a deal that involved Brook Lopez and D’Angelo Russell. They added Pierce and Garnett to complete their starting five, but chemistry issues and age hit them hardest, never even reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. In exchange, the Celtics received five players who didn’t affect the team much (Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, and Kris Joseph), but it was the picks they received, ’14, ’16, and ’18 first, with a ’17 pick swap, that made the biggest difference.
2014: The Celtics were not a good team in the 2013-14 season. Coming off this trade, they sat at a lowly 25-57 record, giving them the 6th pick in the upcoming draft. While this wasn’t the pick that the Nets had given them, it was directly by the trade, so the deal heavily influenced the pick. Here they drafted one of their core pieces, Marcus Smart. At the time, the Oklahoma State product was known for his defense and explosiveness, and these skills translated to the NBA. While it took a couple of years, Smart has finally found his place in the NBA as one of the best perimeter defenders, being named to the last two All-Defensive 1st teams. While the Nets pick they received was used on James Young, one of the biggest busts of that year’s draft, they still got their money’s worth with Smart, especially in a class that featured little talent among the top prospects.
2016: This was when the deal started to pay off. With the Nets beginning their rebuild, the Celtics benefited, using all of their acquired picks on young talent. With the third pick, the Celtics were expected to take either Kris Dunn or Buddy Hield. But they rolled the dice on Jaylen Brown, a young California wing who was projected to go no earlier than 6th overall. While his first season made him look like a bust, only averaging 6.6 points, he took his game up a notch, becoming one of the best young players in the NBA. Last season, he averaged a career-high 20.3 option on a Celtics team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals. His explosiveness and unpredictability on the offensive end have increased the level in which he plays, making him one of the tougher players to guard in the NBA. His success has skyrocketed so far this season, where he’s averaging over 26 points per game. He was certainly a draft pick well used, and he’s most definitely an anchor in Boston for years to come.
2017: After the Nets finished with a league-worst record of 20-62, the Celtics landed the #1 overall pick. They inevitably traded with the Philadelphia 76ers down to the 3rd pick, where the guy that they wanted was still there, and they selected him. Jayson Tatum, a highly-touted forward from Duke, changed the culture in Boston. Playing his first season with Kyrie Irving, he played a supporting role in their success, averaging 13.9 points. However, he slowly got more touches and more shots, and he developed into one of the NBA’s best players. A first-time All-Star last season, as well as a first time All-NBA team member, Tatum consistently drops 25 points a night. Becoming the leader of the Celtics. He took them to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, falling to the Miami Heat, but he continues to average stellar numbers that put him in a conversation among the NBA’s best. He is definitely the leader of this team for the future, and this became the best draft pick the Celtics made from this trade.
While the Celtics traded away their 2018 pick in a blockbuster trade used to acquire Kyrie Irving, they still cashed in on their other picks that they got from the Nets. This not only proves how smart of a General Manager Danny Ainge is, but it also shows the fallibility of the Nets’ front office. Whether it was Billy King in 2013, or Sean Marks now, the Nets’ organization continues to mess up good situations for their team.
Now, why bring this up now? The Nets made a trade today that took the NBA world by storm. They finally pulled the trigger, trading for James Harden, assembling possibly the best trio of NBA players in the game’s history in Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. However, this trade can be compared to the 2013 trade as well, considering how much they gave up. In exchange, they gave up Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, four first-round picks (’22, ’24, ’26, and ’28), plus four pick swaps in ’21, ’23, ’25, and ’27. Now, not all of this was given to the Rockets, but it certainly seems like a lot for an out-of-shape James Harden who you might only have for two seasons.
If this team doesn’t at least get to the Finals, they will be labeled a disappointment, and Kevin Durant will have to opt-in during free agency. Assuming that happens, they have Kyrie and KD for two more seasons, but James Harden for only one, and knowing what’s important to him, there is a legitimate possibility that he leaves in 2022. While this might not be good for the Nets, it opens up opportunities for the Celtics, 76ers, and Bucks to compete on a more even playing field. Not saying that this Nets team will fail and regret this trade, it just certainly seems like this could be 2013 all over again.