It’s going to be a long offseason for the Boston Celtics and that’s mostly because the NBA offseason doesn’t even start for another seven weeks. That’s a long time. Sure, things will pick up a bit around the draft lottery on May 17, but nothing will really happen until draft night on June 23. That leaves a lot radio/TV air and internet space to fill, and thanks to the Celtics’ disappointing first-round exit, combined with mainstream Boston media’s general distaste for the NBA, you can expect to see a lot of tired talking points shot into the sky like “Whooooooo wants a T-shirt?”
What follows is an attempt to size up and eliminate five myths you’ll be hearing about the Celtics this offseason before the narrative air strikes crash down and incinerate your brain:
No. 1: The Celtics Will Never Land a Big-Time Free Agent
You know how it goes: The Celtics will never land a big-time free agent because they never have … because it’s cold, because of taxes, because of racism. But here’s the truth about the Celtics and free agency: The team was over the salary cap from 1997 until July 10, 2015.
Writing on Reddit in 2015, Ryan Bernardoni did a great job of breaking down Boston’s journey out from cap hell; the bottom line is that the Celtics were never in the running for serious free agents in large part because they could never afford one.
Even if that wasn’t the case — even if money wasn’t an issue — by my count only 15 big-time free agents have switched teams in the last 20 years. What about the ones that re-signed with their old team? Shouldn’t we count them? Sure, but in that case we need to count Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen on the Celtics’ tab and the whole argument disappears. So let’s look at the 15 who did change cities:
There was Shaquille O’Neal (seven years, $120 million) in 1996. He chose the Lakers over the Celtics and every other team. I think we can say that was more of an LA thing than a Boston thing and that Shaq is a pretty unique case. In 1997, Shawn Kemp (seven years, $107 million) jumped (or at that point kind of waddled) from the Sonics to the Cavs. It was a horrible contract, and the Celtics had just drafted Antoine Walker. If Kemp was willing to move to Cleveland let’s just assume he didn’t avoid Boston for its weather and aesthetics. In 1999, Penny Hardaway (seven years, $86 million) left the Magic for the Suns. This was another horrible contract, plus Boston had just extended Antoine for six years, $71 million and struck gold with Paul Pierce the previous summer.
In 2000, Brian Grant (seven years, $86 million) skipped out on Portland for Miami on a max deal, which made no sense coming off the worst season of his career. That was the same summer the Magic signed Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady (seven years, $92.8 million), and here’s guessing neither gave Boston a first thought. But with 22-year-old Pierce coming into his own at the same position, here’s guessing the Celtics didn’t care.
In 2007, Rashard Lewis (six years, $126 million) left Seattle for Orlando, and this was one of the worst contracts in NBA history. You can understand why the Celtics didn’t touch it, especially considering it happened only a few weeks after Danny Ainge traded for Ray Allen.
LeBron James (six years, $110 million), Chris Bosh (six years, $110 million), Amar’e Stoudemire (five Years, $99.7 million) and David Lee (six years, $80 million) all changed teams in 2010. The Celtics were never in the mix for a few reasons other than “being over the cap” and “being Boston.” At the time, Kevin Garnett still had two years left on his colossal contract and played the same position as Stoudemire, Bosh and Lee. Boston was also fresh off their second Finals appearance in three years, had a contending core in place, and opted to re-sign Pierce and Allen instead of shaking things up.
In 2013, Dwight Howard (four years, $88 million) left the Lakers for the Rockets, and he was never coming to Boston. But either way ,“Hey we just traded Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Rajon Rondo has a torn ACL!” is not a great free-agent pitch.
Finally LeBron went back to Cleveland in 2014. LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe joined the Spurs and Bucks last summer. To that point, let me reiterate that the three biggest free-agent movers of the last two seasons went to CLEVELAND, MILWAUKEE and SAN ANTONIO. To that, let me say one more time that Boston is not the reason that the Celtics have never landed a big-time free agent. It’s not about the city. It’s about 1) cap space and 2) existing talent and the promise of success. The Celtics never had all of that until right now.
No. 2: The playoffs proved Isaiah Thomas isn’t a foundation player
This became a narrative at some point this season, and Isaiah fueled it a bit because he’s a proud guy. But, if anything, these playoffs proved that Thomas IS a foundation player. Anyone that scores 42 points in a must-win game with the entire opposing team focused on stopping him is a guy you want in your corner moving forward. The playoffs also showed that Thomas can’t carry the Celtics by himself, but that was never in question. Of course, the foundation isn’t strong enough if Isaiah Thomas is the entire foundation; but that’s more an NBA thing than an Isaiah Thomas thing. Paul George is the second-best player in the East, and he couldn’t carry the Pacers either.
In fact, for fun, here’s the list of players who have won a title over the last 25 years as the lone active All-Star on any roster.
Michael Jordan: Pippen didn’t make the All-Star team in the first title season (1991) or the last (1998), but he was still Pippen and Jordan was still Jordan.
Hakeem Olajuwon: The Dream did it in back-to-back seasons (1994 and 1995) as the clear-cut best center in the game while the clear-cut best player in the game was off playing a different game.
Tim Duncan: This was in 2003. This was the best power forward of all time in his absolute prime, on his way to winning his second straight MVP. Having old David Robinson, young Tony Parker and 25-year-old Manu Ginobili didn’t hurt either.
Ben Wallace: A unique case given that Wallace was the Pistons’ lone All-Star in 2004 and simultaneously their fifth option on offense. He was also in the midst of an unprecedented stretch of four Defensive Player of the Year awards in five years. And while he was alone at the All-Star Game that season, he played with three teammates (Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups) who combined for 12 All-Star appearances over their own careers.
Dirk Nowitzki: He did with the Mavs (duh) in 2011, but had four former All-Stars (Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic) plus Jason Terry alongside him in the playoff rotation.
Tony Parker: TP did it most recently with the 2014 Spurs, but was surrounded by three future Hall of Famers just past (Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili) or just before (Kawhi Leonard) their primes.
And that’s it. That’s the list. So here are your three arguments:
1) Isaiah Thomas isn’t in the same league as Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki.
2) Isaiah Thomas doesn’t affect a game like Ben Wallace in his prime.
3) The Celtics would have beaten the Hawks this year if you swapped 31-year-old Tony Parker for 26-year-old Isaiah Thomas.
In any case, the argument is boring, obvious or just wrong.
No. 3: Danny Ainge overrated the Nets’ picks
This argument hit a crescendo last summer after Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge tried to move up from 16 to 9 in the 2015 NBA draft, only to be rebuffed because Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan had a crush on Frank Kaminksy. “These picks aren’t what the Celtics thought they’d be!” people screamed into microphones. “The rest of the league isn’t impressed. The Celtics couldn’t move up seven spots!”
First of all, whether it’s basketball or real life, people have trouble believing in something until they see it. Once they do, they believe it in spades. Last year, the promise of those Nets picks was still in its infancy. The Nets themselves were coming off their third straight postseason appearance. The Hawks had the Nets pick and it was only No. 15. In the big picture, it sure looked like Brooklyn was headed for a cliff but in real time they weren’t there yet. Ainge was selling the future and not the present.
But this year is different. The Nets’ unprotected first-round pick has a 15 percent chance of landing in the No. 1 spot and a 46 percent chance of landing in the Top 3. If it is a Top 3 — although preferably a Top 2 — pick then that’s fantastic. Ainge can do whatever he wants. He can shop it like hell in the hope of landing Jimmy Butler or DeMarcus Cousins or Kevin Love or who knows, Paul George. Or if there’s a college player he really likes, he can use it. But in that case the even greater benefit is what happens to the value of the 2017 and 2018 picks. Once one Nets’ pick scores, the value of the other two will skyrocket. Especially when next year’s draft is considered significantly better than this year’s and when — while the Nets are getting smarter — there’s not much they can do to get better.
Of course, there’s also a chance that the 2016 Nets picks lands as low as No. 6. The two most likely scenarios are No. 4 (22.6 percent) and No. 5 (26.5 percent). In that case, well, maybe things won’t be as easy. Maybe the Celtics won’t be able to draft a blue chipper or trade it for a blue chipper, but that doesn’t mean Ainge overvalued the picks.
It just means he got unlucky.
No. 4: The Celtics have too many picks
The Celtics have eight draft picks this summer (three first rounders/five second rounders), but what they really have is flexibility. They have options. They have the ability to take chances, to invest in some long-range stocks. There aren’t many consequences for whiffing on a second-round pick in the NBA, but there’s so much to gain by finding a diamond in the rough. Boston will have more lines in the water than anyone. Worst-case scenario, who knows, maybe they’ll go the Belichick route and start packaging late second rounders for better future second rounders.
But until the draft ends and Boston’s sitting there with eight new players and nowhere to put them, the draft pick problem simply isn’t a problem.
No. 5: The Celtics needed to advance to the second round in order for the season to be considered a success.
This one has already been thrown around a few times since the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks. I’m not totally sure what to say except that I’m quite sure anyone who makes this argument is guilty of at least seven of the following 11 sports sins:
1) Thought Drew Bledsoe should have started over Brady in Super Bowl 36.
2) Thought Jimmy Garoppolo should have started over Tom Brady after the Chiefs game in 2014.
3) Has booed David Ortiz numerous times over the last 14 years.
4) Booed Pedro Martinez numerous times over seven years.
5) Called for Terry Francona’s firing after Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.
6) Trashes Bill Belichick every year during the first few days of free agency and at least twice every regular season after a correct late game decision plays out poorly.
7) Claims a big-time free agent will never sign with the Celtics.
8) Doesn’t think Isaiah Thomas is a foundation player.
9) Thinks Danny Ainge overrated the Nets’ picks.
10) Is upset at the Celtics for having TOO MANY picks in the 2016 draft.
11) Hated this article, is very glad it’s over.
Celtics biggest draft busts