The Celtics are a proud and storied franchise with a history that reaches back to the early days of the NBA. There have been many players who have come through the franchise, some good and some bad. We have come a long way from the glory days of the 60's, 70's and 80's. The last 20 years have been marked with tragedies and setbacks and years of mediocrity. There is finally hope for the future as we have a team full of talented young players and are in position to get a top pick in the draft. It all goes back to the last time we had a chance at a top pick in the draft.
The 1985-86 Celtics were one of the best teams ever. They lost only one game at home that season... to the Portland Trailblazers. They ended the season with a 67-15 record and waltzed through the playoffs to beat Houston in the finals for their 16th championship. Bird won his 3rd straight MVP. The Celtics were on top of the basketball world. They had won 3 titles in the 80's and had a core group of future Hall of Famers as well as a top pick in the upcoming draft.
Things were going well. The team had just won a championship behind a deep and talented team. They owned the #2 pick in the draft, from the Gerald Henderson trade to the Sonics, and chose Len Bias out of Maryland after the Cavs chose Brad Dougherty with the top pick. Bias was one of the most exciting players to ever come out of college and the future was looking bright. Two days later it would all come tumbling down and Bias would die of a cocaine induced heart attack while celebrating his selection. This was the beginning of the end for this proud franchise. During the year, injuries to key bench players forced KC to play his starters big minutes. By the playoffs, the wear and tear of all those minutes was beginning to show and they didn't have enough left to beat the Lakers and they lost in 6 games. The Eastern conference finals gave us one of the greatest plays in NBA history and a moment that every Celtic fan relives over and over. They were playing Detroit and the Pistons had a one-point lead and possession of the ball with five seconds left in Game 5 at Boston Garden. Bird stole an inbounds pass from Isaiah Thomas and fed it to a cutting Dennis Johnson for a layup and the victory.
In 1987, the Celtics picked another very promising young player from Northeastern by the name of Reggie Lewis. The Celtics were an aging team by this time. Bias, who was to lead the franchise and rejuvenate the veterans was gone and only Ainge was younger than 30.
In the 88-89 season Bird had surgery to remove bone spurs from his feet. New coach Jimmy Rodgers lead the team to only 42 wins and they were swept by Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.
In 1988 the Celtics drafted Brian Shaw but he left the team to play in Italy. Bird returned from his surgery. But age and injuries were catching up to the team. They lost to the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. The next year, Michael Smith from Brigham Young was selected with the 13th pick and Dino Radja was chosen with the 40th pick. In 1990, they selected Dee Brown with the 19th pick. Chris Ford took over as coach. Things looked to be back on the right track as they jumped out to a 29 - 5 record. But then Bird developed back problems and they struggled through the second half of the season and they lost to Detroit in the second round of the playoffs.
In 1991, the Celtics chose Rick Fox with the 24th pick. This season was doomed by injuries as Bird, McHale, and Brown all missed a considerable amount of time. They were beaten by Indiana in the second round of the playoffs. Bird only played in 4 playoff games due to his back. There was a silver lining, though, as Reggie Lewis emerged as the leader and there was hope once again that the Celtics would rise behind their new leader once everyone got healthy.
As we all know, it didn't work out that way. From here on the Celtics took a steep decline and things went from bad to worse. As in recent years, the Celtics would be a mediocre team, not good enough to win a title but not bad enough to get a top draft pick. From 1992 - 1994 we would choose 21st, 19th, and 8th in the draft. Some drafts would yield a very good player at the 8th pick, but that year, the Celtics chose Eric Montross who never became a dominant player. Bird and McHale would retire due to their injuries. And once again, tragedy would strike the Celtic family. In Game 1 of the 1993 playoff series against the Hornets, Reggie Lewis collapsed on the court. He was later diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. This condition would bring tragic results in the offseason. On July 27, 1993, while shooting baskets at Brandeis University in Boston, the 27-year-old Lewis collapsed again. He was found by paramedics in complete cardiac arrest and died shortly thereafter.
Robert Parish, the last of the Big Three, left the Celtics to sign with the Hornets. ML Carr was named GM. And the Celtics finished with a 32- 50 record and didn't make the playoffs for the first time since the Celtics drafted Larry Bird. In 1995 the Celtics chose Eric Williams with the 14th pick in the draft. The League refused to give the team any cap relief due to the death of Reggie Lewis and so their hands were tied as far as signing free agents. ML Carr took over as coach. They finished the season at 35 and 47 and made it into the playoffs but couldn't get past Orlando in the first round.
In the 1996 draft, the Celtics chose Antoine Walker out of Kentucky with the 6th pick. In this, the 50th year of the once proud franchise, the team finished with a league worst 15 and 67 record. ML Carr was said to have tanked the season in order to try to land Tim Duncan in the draft. The only bright spot in the season was the play of Eric Williams and Antoine Walker.
ML Carr stepped down as coach after the season and Rick Pitino was signed as the new coach and president. In spite of having the worst record (and having tanked to get it), the Celtics picked 3rd in the draft and chose Chauncey Billups from Colorado. They also chose Ron Mercer out of Kentucky with the 6th pick. In February, Pitino pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Billups and Dee Brown to Toronto for Kenny Anderson and Popeye Jones. We traded away a very promising young player for one who was slowed by age and injury. The Pitino years would set the Celtics back years.
With the 1998 draft it appeared as though our luck might be changing when a very talented Paul Pierce fell to us with the 10th pick. Pitino's draft choices lwere Jerome Moiso in 2000 and Joe Johnson, Kedrick Brown and Joe Forte in 2001. Of those, only Joe Johnson became a player and that was after he was traded from Boston. Pitino was replaced by Jim O'Brien for the 00-01 season. Pierce and Walker were playing very well together and it appeared as though we were heading for respectability again.
The franchise posted its first 40 win season in a decade in the 01-02 season. This team had two very important things going for it. They ranked fifth in the league in fewest turnovers per game, less than 14 times per game. In fact, the Celtics finished with the fewest turnovers (1,114) of any Celtics team since 1973-74. The other thing was that this team finished the year first in the NBA in steals per game (9.67). Once again, it seemed that things were finally turning around.
There were new owners for the Celtics with the 02-03 season. Wyc and Irv Grousbeck were among the new owners and were not only owners but also fans. They continued to play tough defense and made it to the Eastern Conference finals but lost to the Nets.
The following year marked the return to the franchise of Danny Ainge as GM. Danny dismantled the existing team and started to rebuild around Paul Pierce, who had become a star in the league. His first draft brought us Marcus Banks and Kendrick Perkins. In his first year he made two major trades that completely revamped the team. As the 2003-04 Celtics were going through Training Camp and preparing for the upcoming season, Danny made a major move on October 20th. The team acquired center Raef LaFrentz, forward Chris Mills, guard Jiri Welsch and a 2004 First Round draft choice from the Dallas Mavericks, in exchange for Tony Delk and Celtics star Antoine Walker. Two months later, on December 15th, the team acquired veterans Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm and Michael Stewart (and a Second Round draft choice) from the Cleveland Cavaliers, in exchange for veterans Tony Battie, Kedrick Brown and Eric Williams. The trade for Ricky was too much for O'Brien and he resigned halfway through the year leaving assistant coach John Carroll as the interim coach. Danny wasn't through and just before the trading deadline, on February 19th, the Celtics acquired veteran guard Chuck Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, a 2004 First Round draft choice and cash from the Detroit Pistons, in exchange for Mike James and Chris Mills. The Celtics made the playoffs but lost to Indiana in the first round.
Because of the trades the previous year, Danny had 3 first round picks in the 2004 draft and he chose Al Jefferson, Delonte West, and Tony Allen. The following year, Danny picked Gerald Green in the first round and Ryan Gomes in the second round. Last year, Danny added Sebastian Telfair, Rajon Rondo, Allan Ray, and Leon Powe Danny made the choice to build through the draft and gather young and talented players that he could use as trade chips. Only Paul Pierce remains from the team that Danny inherited.
This past season we once again had tragedy strike the team when we lost our beloved patriarch Red Auerbach only 4 days before the season started. Then, we lost DJ in the middle of the season. Along with the tragedy, we had injury after injury hit the team. The silver lining of the injuries was more experience for our young players and once again a chance at a top draft pick.
We have been seeing a lot of parallels between this season and the 1997 where ML Carr tanked the season to get Duncan. True, Doc did some tanking of his own this season to put us in a position to get one of the top 2 picks. But, there are even more parallels to the 1986 season. In 1986, we had a chance at a top pick and the top two picks were considered to be franchise players. The top pick was a dominant center and the second pick was a talented wing player. The '86 team was coming off a high point but it was made up of aging players. The '07 team is coming off a low point and the team was made up of very young players. The '86 is where the curse on this franchise began and 20 years later, we are still trying to break out of the string of bad luck, tragedy and mediocrity that has plagued this once proud franchise.
It is about time our luck turned around. We have paid our penance for all of the success we had in the 60's, 70's and 80's. It would be good for the NBA to have the Celtics rise from the ashes and once again be a relevant franchise. Danny has made some mistakes (Sebastian Telfair comes to mind), but he has also made some good decisions. We are due for some luck and let's hope it starts with the May 22 lottery. And that will go a long way toward bringing banner #17 to the rafters.