Wait until next year - if I had a dollar for every time I said that phrase, I would be rich today. Even in the worst of times for the Celtics, I just could never give up on them. It was always this year may have been bad, but wait until next year. The Celtics always bounce back.
Times were great in the 60's when I first started following the Celtics. Every year was a championship year. There were a few years in the 70's when the Celtics faltered, like the 1969-70 season where they finished out of the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. But 2 years later they were back in the playoffs and 2 years after that, they were champions again. After winning the championship again in 1976, the Celtics once again hit a dry spell that lasted until the 1979-80 season when Larry Bird joined the team. The 80's were a fun time to be a Celtics fan as they were contenders every season and won 3 more championships. Then, tragedy hit in 1986 with the death of Len Bias just after their 16th championship and the Celtics would not recover.
Over the next 21 years, things went from bad to worse for the franchise. In the late 80's and early 90's, there was always hope because they had Larry Bird. When Larry was on the court, anything could happen. But, injuries had slowed even Larry Bird to the point where he couldn't work the magic that he once did. Then in 1992, Larry Bird retired. At the time, the hopes that had been pinned on Bird were transferred to Reggie Lewis. Reggie Lewis had developed into a great player and assumed Larry's mantle as team Captain. I could still say "Wait until next year" and believe that next year the Celtics would once again be contenders. But then, in 1993, tragedy once again struck as Reggie Lewis collapsed on the court and died. The Celtics lost their Captain and once again, it would devastate the team for years to come. The 1993-94 Celtics finished 32-50 and out of the playoffs once again.
The most painful season I have endured as a Celtics fan was in 1996-1997 when the Celtics went 15-67. It was hard being a Celtics fan that season, but I could still say "Wait until next season" because we were expecting to get the top draft pick and that would turn the franchise around. We got Rick Pitino, but not the #1 pick and Pitino somehow managed to make a worse mess of the team than it was previously. But, one thing he did right was pick Paul Pierce in the 1998 draft. With one player after another, the Celtics have tried to build around Paul Pierce and every year, it was "wait until next year." We will get new players...our young players would develop... I always had a lot of reasons for hope, but always, it rang hollow. Even with as much green koolaid that I constantly consumed, I never really expected to win a championship. It had gotten so bad that I would get excited if we just made the playoffs, even if we never made it out of the first round. That is so unCeltic-like. As a Celtics fan, it had always been anything less than a championship was a failed season. But that's what it had come to over those 21 years without a championship.
And then in 2003, enter Danny Ainge as the Celtics General Manager with a 5 year plan. And, perhaps history repeated itself somewhat in that in the 2006-07 season, the Celtics finished with a 24-58 record, second only to that 15-67 season for futility. The Celtics were expected to get either the first or second pick and there were 2 players who could be considered franchise players available. Once again, the lottery balls failed to bounce the Celtics way and they would have the 5th pick. Paul Pierce was getting frustrated and was talking about a trade if Danny couldn't bring in a star who would make the team a contender. It was getting hard to stay positive but the Celtics did have a group of young promising players and maybe they could grow together as a contender. So, it was more like wait a few years and then you'll see.
Danny traded the #5 pick for Ray Allen and Big Baby on draft night. That was a pretty good move, but Ray Allen coming off double ankle surgery wasn't enough to re-infuse the Celtic Pride that had been lost over the years of mediocrity. Then, on July 31, 2007, everything changed with the trade that sent 7 players and 2 draft picks to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett. Suddenly I could say wait until next season and really mean it. And that next season was magical, culminating in the Celtics' 17th championship.
And each season after that it was back to I can't wait until next year but then next year would come and there would be injuries and the Celtics would once again fall short in each postseason. In 2009, it was KG's knee injury. In 2010, it was Perk's ACL injury. In 2011, it was the trade and Shaq's injury. The Celtics came oh so close to winning it all in last year's lockout shortened season, but once again injuries took their toll and they didn't quite have enough left at the end.
Now fast forward a few weeks and Danny has once again been busy. He has somehow stretched that 3 year window that began with the signing of Kevin Garnett to its 6th and 7th years by re-signing KG to a 3 year contract. Paul Pierce is under contract for 2 more seasons. Although the Celtics lost Ray Allen, they became a much better team defensively and all around by bringing in Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. They have a rookie with lottery talent and brought back Dooling and Bass. Rondo has been handed the keys to the team and once again, I can excitedly say "Just wait until next season!!" And now I can add another phrase as well, "Anything is possible!!!"