The Celtics have a very storied history. They are the most decorated franchise in the history of the NBA and one of the most decorated in all of sports. With that comes a number of amazing players over the years. From Bill Russell to Larry Bird to Paul Pierce the Celtics have great players lead them to a total of 17 championships. Celtics greats have raised so many banners to the rafters, but who is the best player to ever play for the Celtics and not win a championship?
There are a number of players that immediately come to mind, but it's important to note a couple of things:
Rule 1: Their "Greatness" is determined by how good they were on the Celtics, not during the rest of their career (i.e.: Dominique Wilkins)
Rule 2: Championships only count during their time with the Celtics, players who won championships elsewhere are still eligible for the list
Rule 3: Players who are currently on the Celtics are not eligible for this list
Here is the case for Antoine and the other potential candidates:
Candidate 1: Antoine Walker
Career as a Celtic: 20.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3x All-Star
Walker was truly one of the elite scorers in the NBA during his time with the Celtics as the second option next to Paul Pierce. Walker perhaps never truly got to show how great of a scorer he could be in his prime since he was never the #1 scoring option, but nevertheless proved he was a gifted player. Despite his impressive averages, Walker's main drawback was his lack of efficiency. His career high field goal percentage was only 43.5% and in the two seasons before Boston traded him to Dallas he was even under 40%. Walker's lack of efficiency is ultimately what kept the duo of himself and Pierce from ever breaking through in the Eastern Conference. As Guy Boston Sports Red Sox writer Drew Athans puts it, "I loved Antoine even though some things about his game drove me nuts". That one sentence perhaps perfectly incapsulates Antoine Walker's career.
Candidate 2: Isaiah Thomas
Career as a Celtic: 24.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 2x All-Star, 1x 2nd Team All-NBA
Isaiah was able to captivate crowds like few players in Celtics history have ever been able to do. He was an ultimate showman in his time with the Celtics. The spectacle of a 5'9" point guard dominating opponents in a game that's historically been all about size was a sight to see and no one loved it more than Isaiah. He loved the energy of the crowds and the stunned awes. He loved the spectacle of it all. Isaiah is the only Celtic on this list to finish in the top 5 in MVP voting in a season and the only player to score 50 points in a game. And he did it twice. In the same season. And one was in the playoffs.
It's interesting to wonder how the past year and a half would have been different for Isaiah had he not injured his hip, but as Isaiah commonly says "it is what it is". His size is perhaps too much to overcome for a modern championship team especially with the emphasis NBA defenses have now put on switching. Isaiah's defensive shortcomings had to be constantly managed by Brad Stevens, even going as far as to scheme up defenses that allowed Isaiah just to stand in the corner of defense and look for a three point shooter to guard in order to avoid being forced into playing defense against opposing point guards in isolation. Nevertheless, Isaiah's Celtics career was a joy to watch and is 2016-17 season was one of the best shows anyone under 6 foot has ever put on in the NBA.
Candidate 3: Reggie Lewis
Career as a Celtic: 17.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1x All-Star
Reggie Lewis is one of only two players on this list to have their number retired by the Celtics. Reggie was quickly becoming one of the NBA's top wings before the tragedy of his death. Replacing a legend is never easy, but Reggie Lewis did a pretty solid job once Larry Bird retired. Reggie averaged just under 21 PPG in his final 2 seasons as he was entering his prime years. Reggie is too often remembered for how his life ended and not for how his life was lived. He makes this list because of his basketball talent and his rise from a 22nd pick to one of the NBA's top scorers and an NBA All-Star.
Candidate 4: Ed Macauley
Career as a Celtic: 18.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 6x All-Star, 3x 1st Team All-NBA, 1x 2nd Team All-NBA
I'll admit I never saw Ed Macauley play, and I assume most didn't, but it would be criminal to keep him off this list. The NBA MVP award wasn't introduced until after Macauley's best seasons, but he surely would've been in contention for the award had it been around. He's most well-known for being traded for NBA legend Bill Russell, but his career with the Celtics should not go overlooked. The NBA was smaller so some of his accolades are more a matter of circumstance, but Macauley makes a solid case for best player on this list. After all, he was probably the best center in the history of the NBA at one point in time. He had 2 seasons of 20 PPG and 9 RPG, but was never able to even make it to an NBA Finals as a member of the Celtics.
61 years after the Celtics traded their All-NBA center for another center they traded their All-NBA point guard for another point guard. Maybe it's history repeating itself.
Photo: (Charles Krupa - AP Photo)