The upcoming Celtics season hasn’t yet begun, and already it’s drawing comparisons to 1996-97, when the Celtics won 15 games, the second-worst record in the league behind the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Boston was believed to be “tanking” that season to land an ideal position in the 1997 draft.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was adamantly against the idea that the Celtics would tank next season in an effort to land one of the top spots in a draft that he had previously called “top-heavy,” with the most-coveted player being Andrew Wiggins.
“We are not tanking,” Ainge told the Globe. “That’s ridiculous. This is the Boston Celtics.”
There’s logic behind the theory about 1996-97, though. After all, a Wake Forest forward named Tim Duncan was available in that 1997 draft, and he has only turned out to be arguably the greatest power forward of all time during his long tenure with the San Antonio Spurs.
M.L. Carr was the coach and general manager of those ’96-’97 Celtics, and he takes particular offense to the idea that they were tanking that season.
“We weren’t ‘tanking,'” he said Monday in an interview with the Globe. “That’s the wrong terminology. We were ‘experimenting.'”
Read into that what you will.
But, allegedly, the order came from on high – from Celtics’ owner Paul Gaston, specifically – to play hard without succeeding (i.e., “tanking”).
And Carr, who was paid $1 million to coach the team, was the man who had to oversee it.
“I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me and say, “Hey, man. Thanks for taking one for the team,'” Carr recalled.
“It was more brutal than I expected.”
There was no payoff, either. The pingpong balls bounced the other way and the Spurs landed the top pick in the 1997 draft and, thus, Duncan.
Carr, for one, said he truly believes that Ainge will lead the team back to success.
“He knows how to get to the top,” Carr said. “I have all the faith in the world that he’ll get it done. If anyone is capable of doing it, it’s Danny. I say that without any reservation.”
Carr added, “I tell you what everyone needs to do is take a deep breath, step back, watch Danny and let him do his thing.”