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The Celtics made one of their biggest moves in franchise history eight years ago Sunday.
In the midst of the 2013 NBA Draft, the Celtics said goodbye to longtime Celtic Paul Pierce and NBA legend Kevin Garnett in a trade that sent them to the Brooklyn Nets. In addition, the Celtics gave up Jason Terry and D.J. White for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, and Keith Bogans. The players the Celtics got back were more or less used to match salaries though as the sweet spot in the deal for Boston came by acquiring Brooklyn’s 2014, 2016, and 2018 first-round picks, plus the right to swap first-round picks in 2017.
As we reach eight years since the trade that changed both franchises, let’s take a look back at the reaction to the trade, how things played out, and where the players and teams are now.
When the trade was first reported on draft night, it would’ve been tough to find anyone that liked the deal for the Celtics.
Then-ESPN analyst and writer Bill Simmons, a noted Celtics fan, set the tone for the reaction when the details first emerged during ESPN’s NBA Draft coverage.
“Gerald Wallace’s contract is terrible. It’s $30 million for three years. It’s a big contract to take on for three first-round picks that aren’t lottery picks,” Simmons said during ESPN’s draft coverage that year.
“My first reaction though, Paul Pierce drafted by the team in 1998, played the last 15 seasons, and was somebody I hoped would retire with the Celtics,” Simmons added. “That’s only happened a handful of times where somebody gets drafted, plays 15, 16 years with the same team and retires. So, just to see him another team will be weird. KG’s another guy who’s going to get his number retired.
“I thought this was 35 cents on the dollar. There’s no guaranteed any of those picks will get in the lottery. Look at what just happened with Oklahoma City. They thought they were getting this juicy lottery pick and it ended up being No. 12. [The Celtics] are gutting the team, and it’s not like they have salary cap flexibility because [Rajon] Rondo makes big money. Jeff Green and Wallace combined make $20 million next year. So, it’s not like they’re gutting the team getting to start over.”
Then-ESPN Celtics writer Chris Forsberg gave any Nets fans that may have been worried about getting Pierce and Garnett at such an old age assurance that they could still be integral parts to a title team.
“The Nets should be pretty good for the foreseeable future,” Forsberg wrote. “Three guys with rings are a nice return for what could be three late first-round picks — and, hey, if nothing else, Boston took Gerald Wallace’s contract off Brooklyn’s hands. There’s a lot to like in this deal for the Nets, and you’ll especially appreciate what they got when the playoffs roll around.”
Heading into the 2013-14 season, the Celtics and Nets had complete opposite expectations.
After acquiring two surefire Hall of Famers, the Nets expected to at least challenge the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, who were still led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Led by first-year head coach Jason Kidd and a starting lineup that also consisted of All-Stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, the Nets had the fourth-best odds to win the title that year.
Meanwhile in Boston, the Celtics hired Brad Stevens to replace longtime head coach Doc Rivers just days after the trade was first reported. Stevens’s Celtics squad was expected to be one of the worst in basketball that year, having the fifth-lowest over/under total.
The Celtics’ season matched the expectations, going 25-57 that year, finishing with one of the league’s worst records.
The Nets, on the other hand, had a disappointing year. Pierce, and especially Garnett, showed their ages. Pierce scored 13.5 points per game that year, his lowest ever at the time, and Garnett had career lows of 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
At 44-38, Brooklyn still made the playoffs, defeating the Raptors in seven games in their first-round series. However, their season came to an end at the hands of the Heat, who knocked them off in five games in the second round.
What once looked like a great trade for the Nets would soon begin their epic downfall. Due to their relatively poor record, the Nets’ 2014 first-round pick became the No. 17 pick in that year’s draft, which the Celtics used to select James Young. Weeks after the draft, Pierce departed Brooklyn as a free agent, signing a deal with the Washington Wizards.
The Nets’ struggles continued into the 2014-15 season. After putting up similar numbers in year two with Brooklyn, Garnett was traded back to his first NBA home in Minnesota with the Timberwolves at the trade deadline. The Nets barely made the playoffs, getting the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed with a 38-44 record.
As the Nets began their descension, the Celtics started their ascension. A trade deadline deal that saw Boston acquire Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix sparked a playoff push for a Celtics team that was still thought to be rebuilding. The Celtics made the playoffs as a seventh seed. Even though both teams were dealt first-round exits, it was clear which side was in a better place, and who had to hope for a change in fortune.
When Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made the trade in 2013, he didn’t think the trade would pay dividends so quickly, let alone becoming so valuable.
“I thought Brooklyn was going to be good,” Ainge told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach in 2016. “I thought that maybe the 2018 pick might have a chance to be a decent pick, but I really didn’t believe that 2016 pick would be where it is. I thought they had a chance to be a good team — like, a really good team.”
Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck recalled the day the trade was made in an appearance on “The Bill Simmons Podcast” in 2018.
[Ainge] came to me with that deal on draft day [in 2013] and said, ‘We’re going to get two first-round picks from Brooklyn for [Garnett, Pierce, Terry, and White], and take on some contracts,'” Grousbeck said. “And I said, ‘OK, are [the picks] unprotected?’ And he said, ‘Yes, in fact, they are.’ I said, ‘Great. Let’s go get a third pick.’ And he goes, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ but, ‘All right, I’ll ask.’ And he’s not afraid to ask, he wasn’t pushing back. But he went and asked, and he said, ‘Unbelievable. We got a third pick. This is great.’
“And I said, ‘Great. Go get a fourth pick. I think these guys have deal fever — we’re going to keep going until they say no. I think they’ve been told by ownership to get the deal done, so let’s go back.’ And Danny sort of gave me a look, like I don’t want to lose the deal by pushing too hard. Normally we try to play down the middle of the road with people, [but] I said, ‘Go push aggressively for a fourth pick.’
“And so he went back, he came back to me and he said, ‘OK, you’ve got your wish. They’ve said no now … they’re not going to give us a fourth pick.’ I said fine, make that fourth pick into a swap. Because swapping a pick doesn’t feel like you’re losing a pick. You still have a pick, and it’s pretty unlikely that we would be able to swap — that would mean we were better than they are. And we think they’re going to be pretty good with this trade. So just get the swap and call it a day.”
Billy King, who was the Nets’ general manager when the trade was made in 2013, was removed from his role in 2016. In 2018, he still expressed deep regret for the trade, admitting that it still bothered him.
“I should have said, ’Give me a day to think about it, let’s talk in the morning,” King told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix. “I should have regrouped everyone, and gone through it again. I should have told Danny, ‘Give me a day.’ I probably would have revamped it. I should have said, ‘Look, Danny, everything looks good. Let’s finish the draft and let’s talk in the morning.’ That’s one thing I would have done differently, for sure.”
While the Celtics already received their first pick from the Nets in 2014, they didn’t really start to reap the benefits of the deal until 2016. The Celtics’ progression continued in 2015-16, with Thomas becoming an All-Star and leading the team to a 48-34 record that year.
The other highlight of the Celtics’ season was the continued downfall of the Nets. Brooklyn began to strip down their team, waiving Williams and Johnson that year as the team finished with the third-worst record in the league. With the Celtics owning their first-round pick that year, Boston ended up picking third-overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, selecting Cal forward Jaylen Brown.
Boston and Brooklyn’s trends further progressed in the 2016-17 season. After signing star Al Horford in the offseason, the Celtics finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference that year before falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Nets embraced the rebuild, shipping veterans who could help them win games for draft picks. The result ended with the Nets having the worst record in the league that year, and with the Celtics owning the right to swap first-round picks, it was the Celtics that won the Draft Lottery that year. Boston traded down from the No. 1 pick though, swapping it for the No. 3 overall pick, used to select Duke forward Jayson Tatum, plus a future first.
The Celtics decided to fully cash in on what they received from the Nets during the 2017 offseason. They shipped the 2018 first-round pick they got from the Nets along with Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Žižić to the Cavaliers for star point guard Kyrie Irving.
Everything looked like it was falling into place for the Celtics to be a legit title contender in the 2017-18 season. In addition to acquiring Irving and Tatum, the Celtics signed All-Star forward Gordon Hayward from the Jazz.
Their preseason hopes looked to have been dash just minutes into the season though. Hayward suffered a gruesome ankle injury that ended his season.
But Irving and the young Celtics responded well. After losing their first two games, Irving thrived as a top player, leading the Celtics to a 16-game win streak. Boston continued to its status as a title contender throughout the season, not just because of Irving, but also due to Tatum (who scored 13.9 points per game that year) and Brown (who went from scoring 6.6 points per game as a rookie to 14.5 points per game in Year 2).
The Celtics’ title hopes took another gash late in the regular season when Irving had season-ending knee surgery. However, Tatum and Brown stepped up to the challenge in the playoffs. The two led the team in scoring during the postseason, getting series wins over the Bucks and 76ers to set up another Eastern Conference battle against the Cavs. The Celtics went toe-to-toe with LeBron James for most of the series, with Cleveland eventually pulling away in Game 7.
Despite another Eastern Conference Finals loss to Cleveland, the future looked bright in Boston. Brown and Tatum looked ready for the spotlight. Irving and Hayward would be back next season. And James was moving out West.
When the 2018-19 season kickstarted, the Celtics were in the same spot the Nets were in five years earlier (a loaded starting five and bench appearing to be title favorites) while the Nets were in the same spot the Celtics were in at that time five years prior.
Irving, who was set to be a free agent at year’s end, quieted any rumors of him leaving Boston in October that season. But after a disappointing start to the year, Irving signaled in February that he was willing to test the free agent market and was later seen talking to Kevin Durant about possibly teaming up that offseason.
The Celtics’ season fell shy of the hopes many had. After a 49-33 regular-season, the Celtics’ season came to an end in the second round in a five-game loss to the Bucks.
In the same season, the Nets looked similar to the Celtics of a few years prior. After acquiring former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell in a trade with the Lakers, the Nets made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons behind Russell and several other young players acquired in recent years.
Despite a first-round exit, the Nets had hope on their side. They had cap space to sign two players to maximum contracts, and they did just that. On the first day of free agency in 2019, the Nets agreed to deals with Durant and DeAndre Jordan. They also signed Irving away from Boston just two years after the Celtics used a Nets draft pick to get him.
Boston did rebound to replace Irving, signing All-Star Kemba Walker from the Hornets. However, they lost Hoford, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris in free agency just a year after all contributed to a deep playoff run.
The Celtics seemed to rebound nicely in year one post-Irving. Walker fit in seamlessly while Tatum and Brown took the next step in their progression, with Tatum becoming an All-Star and Brown turning into a 20-point per game scorer. Another Eastern Conference Finals trip was in the cards for Boston, and again, it lost. This time it was at the hands of the Miami Heat.
In Brooklyn, the Nets were without Durant for the whole season due to his Achilles rehab and Irving played in just 20 games due to multiple injuries.
This past season pinned the two franchises head-to-head for the first time since the deal as both appeared to contend for Eastern Conference supremacy at the start of the year. However, the Christmas Day matchup between the two teams would tell the story of the season. Durant and Irving combined for 66 points while Brown and Tatum combined for just 47 of their own in a Celtics loss.
The Nets added star power in January, acquiring James Harden from the Rockets, giving up nearly a similar trade package they did for Pierce and Garnett eight years prior (three first-round picks, four pick swaps, and three players).
With Harden now in town, the Nets looked to be one of the league’s best teams and finished with the second-best record in the East. Meanwhile, the Celtics continued to receive little production outside of Tatum and Brown en route to a .500 season.
The Celtics’ problems continued when Brown needed season-ending wrist surgery in May, leaving Tatum as the lone star in the Celtics’ first-round matchup against…the Nets. Despite valiant performances from Tatum, including a 50-point scoring night in Game 3, the Celtics’ season came to an end in five games because the Nets’ Big 3 was too much for them to handle.
Just hours after the season ended, so did the Ainge-era in Boston. The longtime executive stepped down from his post as Celtics president of basketball operations after 18 years, getting replaced by Brad Stevens. In replacing himself, Stevens tapped Nets assistant Ime Udoka to be the Celtics’ next head coach.
As for Brooklyn, its season ended in Round 2 after a seven-game loss to the Bucks. The Nets, however, were without Irving for the final three games of the series and were without Harden for most of the first four games.
The Celtics have already gotten to work on changing the roster for next season. They shipped Walker to Oklahoma City to reunite with Al Horford (and also acquiring Moses Brown). If Horford brings back the record the Celtics had in his time in Boston, maybe we’ll see an epic Celtics-Nets playoff matchup in the near future.
Here’s where some of the other people involved in the trade are now.
Paul Pierce: The Celtics legend retired after a two-year stint with the Clippers in 2017. He spent four years as an NBA analyst for ESPN but was fired in April after a controversial viral video. He’ll be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame later in 2021.
Kevin Garnett: Garnett lasted another season in Minnesota before calling it quits in 2016. He attempted to become an owner of the Timberwolves, but that failed. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in May and will have his number retired by the Celtics in the near future.
Jason Terry: Terry played four more years in the NBA after his lone season in Brooklyn, coming off the bench for the Rockets and Bucks for two years each. After retiring in 2018, Terry became the general manager of the G League’s Texas Legends. In 2020, he became an assistant coach for the Arizona men’s basketball team.
James Young: Selected in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Celtics, Young spent just three years in Boston after struggling to crack the rotation. He now plays for the Hapoel Tel Aviv of the Israeli Basketball Premier League.
Billy King: King hasn’t worked for a team since departing the Nets. He’s now a contributor for NBA TV and is a co-host for the WIP Morning Show in Philadelphia.
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