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Talent spouts

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff March 5, 2009 05:58 AM

Fine times here in New England. When winter begins to fade, we will have a spring like no other in recent memory. Simultaneously, all four major Boston teams seem like legitimate threats for a championship.

Wait.

Anyone else feel a draft?

Professional executives say it all the time, of course. You build from within. Boston is now living proof. From the Red Sox to the Patriots to the Celtics to the Bruins, the last five to 10 years has produced an influx of talent. Boston’s draft strategy has produced everyone from Tom Brady and Jon Lester to Phil Kessel and Kevin Garnett, the last acquired with the “chips” Celtics GM Danny Ainge so dutifully collected through the draft.

Let’s start with the Red Sox. Though general manager Theo Epstein did not take over until the fall of 2002, the current Sox administration assumed control before that season. While Mike Port served as interim general manager, David Chadd was the director of scouting, and Epstein was a front-office assistant. That summer, with the very first selection of the John Henry Era, the Red Sox grabbed Lester with their first selection, albeit in the second round.

A year later, Epstein plucked a group of players in the first five rounds that included David Murphy (now with the Texas Rangers) and Jonathan Papelbon. In the first four years of Henry’s ownership, the Red Sox’ initial selections in each draft were Lester, Murphy, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, each of whom already has made a mark in the major leagues.

And in 2005, entirely with compensatory selections for the departures of free agents Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera following the 2004 season, the Red Sox’ first five selections in the draft were Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, and Michael Bowden.

Now let’s move to football, in which good drafts are more critical than in perhaps any other sport. Turnover in the game demands it, particularly in the salary cap era. Unlike the current Sox administration’s, Bill Belichick’s first pick — the dreaded Adrian Klemm — was entirely forgettable, though the same draft produced Tom Brady (jackpot) in the sixth round. Over the next five years, Pats drafts produced Richard Seymour, Daniel Graham, Deion Branch, Jarvis Green, Ty Warren, Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and Matt Cassel. Branch won a Super Bowl MVP award. Most of the others have been to the Pro Bowl.

Which brings us to the here and now.

If you’re looking for perhaps the biggest reason the Pats haven’t won a Super Bowl in four years — oh, the horror — here it is: They have come up relatively dry in the draft. Though the 2007 class effectively produced Randy Moss and Wes Welker — drafts can be used for the benefit of trading, too — the last three New England drafts have been lame in comparison to their immediate predecessors. Belichick’s only surefire hits during that span are Stephen Gostkowski and Jerod Mayo, which means there have been an awful lot of misses.

Which brings us to Danny Ainge.

The NBA being the NBA, rebuilding in the short term is virtually impossible without the benefit of a franchise selection in the top three picks of the draft. Ainge took the patient approach. After orchestrating a draft-day swap to acquire Marcus Banks (ugh) just a month into his tenure, Ainge got hot. His next three drafts produced, in varying capacities, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Delonte West, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Rajon Rondo, and Sebastian Telfair (through trade). When the Celtics then ended up with the No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft, Ainge effectively dealt all of those players (excluding Allen) and the No. 5 pick (Jeff Green) for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

Celtics history was forever altered.

All of this ultimately brings us to the Bruins, who had some astonishingly unproductive drafts from 1998 through 2002. Unsurprisingly, the product on the ice suffered. Then-general manager Mike O’Connell’s decision to trade away center Joe Thornton, the B’s first selection (No. 1 overall) in the 1997 draft, only magnified the team’s ineptitude in drafts. What many neglected to realize at the time was that the move was born out of desperation, because the Bruins had drafted so poorly in the five years immediately after Thornton’s selection.

Not long after, O’Connell was out and Peter Chiarelli was in, bringing a familiar philosophy with him:

The draft.

In the immediate aftermath of the historic NHL work stoppage, the Bruins did start rebuilding with two major free-agent signings, Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard, and the team struggled badly in that tandem’s first season. Nonetheless, very early on in his tenure with the team, Chiarelli made an impact in the draft — anyone detecting a pattern here? — when he selected Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic. His subsequent drafts are too recent to rate. Nonetheless, the Bruins now appear headed in the right direction again, if for no other reason than that they learned to follow the crowd.

“There’s nothing magic about this,” Chiarelli told the Globe in December. “You’ve got to go out and beat the bushes for the players, make sure people are on the same page internally and on the ice and grind it out. It’s hard to do that Celtics-type trade [that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007 and revitalized the franchise]. You can’t do that in hockey.”

Actually, as the San Jose Sharks proved when they acquired Thornton, you can.

But as is the case in any season, you need a steady flow of players to do it.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti

5 comments so far...
  1. Well Done Maz...
    Warm & Fuzzy

    Posted by Gus March 5, 09 08:14 AM
  1. on your last "point" about the sharks pulling off the celtics like trade: the sharks prove nothing by adding jumbo joe. the celtics have won a championship. the sharks have had great regular seasons and done nada in the playoff, just like the bruins did when thornton finally started producing (remember the loss to habs in first round?). the sharks also had a legit centerpiece in marleau, who actually scores goals, while thornton racks up second assists. hockey has 20 guys playing each night, where as basketball has maybe 10 tops, with the top 1-2 guys taking over the game. ive never heard of a "big three" on any hockey team. my point is, chiralli was all overit, you can't build a hockey team thru 1 or 2 blockbuster trades, it takes time and patience. much of your article was good. lose the line about the sharks proving chirellis point wrong.

    Posted by Anonymous March 5, 09 10:45 AM
  1. Mass,

    And the trend will continue. These players are still chips in play, including the late draft picks like Cassell.

    The only criticism I have of this article is the evidence you present to justify the Pat's lack of a Superbowl. You cite five drafts and ten pro bowl players that resulted from them. Then you say that the most recent Pats' drafts are lame.

    2006 draft: Yes, Maroney has been a disappointment, and Chad Jackson didn't pan out, but Gotskowski has made a pro bowl, and 5th rd pick O'Callaghan played 15 games for them in 2007. (1 pro bowl)

    2007: Brandon Meriwether, Randy Moss, Wes Welker (2 pro bowls)

    2008: 1st-LB Jerod Mayo, 2nd- CB Terrence Wheatley, 3rd-LB Sean Crable, 4th- QB Kevin O'Connell, 4th-CB Jonathan Wilhite, 6th-LB Bo Ruud.

    First, only three rookies made the Pro Bowl in 2009, and one (Jake Long) was a replacement. So it's too early to tell how successful 08 is. I know this, Cassell would not be expendable if the Pats didn't have something in O'Connell; Mayo was very good last year; Wheatley started in 1st 8 games before an injury ended his season; Wilhite started the last four games and performed well. He contributed to special teams and special defensive packages.

    Shawn Crable and Bo Ruud were injured for most of last year, but could provide depth at LB and special teams in 2010.

    When you have a championship-caliber team, the opportunities for draft choices to make an impact are limited. The Pats didn't win the Super Bowl last year because of a flukey, miracle play that resulted from four failed sack attempts, a miracle heave, and an airborne, stick 'em catch made on the one of the hardest hitting safeties in NFL history. That has nothing to do with the draft, really. It was a play that didn't break the Pat's way. If you give the Pats the Superbowl, this article is moot, which means the evidence is weak not the draft.

    Posted by Chris March 5, 09 12:02 PM
  1. The Celts traded Rondo?

    Posted by bjm March 5, 09 01:12 PM
  1. OH THE HORROR..why is this guy writing about football...once again he proves he knows nothing about the game. since the last time we won the super bowl, the patriots have had numerous chances to get back and win it all. if not for a pick in denver we would have won the super bowl that year...if not for a complete collapse in indy we would have won the super bowl that year....if not for some miracle and lack of holding calls we "should" have won the super bowl that year...if not for brady being injured we would have won the super bowl last year.....yeah yeah...say what you want, but the pats have been contenders every year...even when they don't make the playoffs at 11-5....draft pick topic is too technical for the massy...keep him off of football.

    Posted by the potentate March 6, 09 08:18 PM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
Tony Massarotti is a Boston Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. He is currently spotlighted as a featured columnist on Boston.com.
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Tom Caron serves as studio host for NESN's Boston Red Sox coverage.
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Bob Lobel was a WBZ-TV sportscaster for 29 years, anchoring more than 10,000 sports reports.
Chad Finn is a sports reporter at the Globe and founder of the Touching All The Bases blog. Before joining the Globe, he was an award winning columnist at the Concord Monitor.

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