By: Dylan Porcaro
On July 12th, 2013, Danny Ainge officially completed the deal that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets. A trade that clearly marked the start of the rebuilding process for a franchise that has displayed a winning culture that dates back to the late ‘50s. At the time, although Celtics fans were prepared for several rough seasons, the vast majority figured this would eventually help their team out in the long-run.
The Celtics received the Nets 2014 first round pick, same with 2016 and 2018, and then the rights to swap picks in 2017. Let’s fast forward a year and a half later to December 18, 2014, when Danny finally finished dumping the last of the remaining developed talent on the team, when he dealt Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks for Jameer Nelson, Brandon Wright, and Jae Crowder. Now Celtics fans could really start focusing on tanking and looking forward to the draft for help, right? Wrong. Well, half wrong. Danny Ainge discovered a way to draft in the lottery along with winning. Yes, it actually is possible, and “trader Danny” somehow found a way to pull it off.
Later in the 2014-15 season, on February 21, Danny traded Marcus Thornton and a first round pick to the Suns for Isaiah Thomas. Through the last 30 games of the season, the Celtics went 20-10 and got the 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. Although they got swept by the Cavs, it was a shocking run to the playoffs. They followed that up with a 5 seed in 2016, but suffered from a disappointing series loss to the Atlanta Hawks in 6 games. As nice as it would’ve been to win a series, Danny had put the team in great position and it was clear the team had sped up this rebuilding process.
This past offseason, Ainge managed to sign the biggest free agent in Celtics’ history, bringing in Al Horford. Along with Al, Danny had the number 3 pick in the draft from the Brooklyn deal, in which he picked Jaylen Brown. With Crowder and Thomas proving themselves as starters (Thomas an all-star), the 2016-2017 season looked promising. A team with Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Horford, Smart and Brown looked like a great core going forward.
Today, almost 4 years removed from the Pierce/KG trade, the Celtics sit in first place as we enter the postseason. Not to mention they are in line for the first pick in a highly anticipated draft, as Brooklyn has finished in last place. To put that in perspective, let’s look at former teams with the number 1 pick. In the 1993 NBA draft lottery, the Orlando Magic got the first pick, while they had a 41-41 record, 11th worst in the league that season. They are the best team since the lottery started to ever have the first pick. Other than that, every single team with the first pick has had a losing record and finished in the bottom 3rd of the league. The Celtics are 53-29, the top seed in the East, 4th best in the NBA. If they are to get the top pick, it would truly be unprecedented. Danny Ainge deserves more credit and recognition for getting this team to where they are today. Having said that, they are basically playing with house money, because the reality is that it’s debatable if they should even be in the playoffs.