When the Boston Celtics traded the two centerpieces of their franchise to the Brooklyn Nets this past summer, it was clearthat they were looking towards the future in hopes of eventually rising back to championship contention. This rebuilding process can be done either one of two ways. The team can play their hearts out with whatever young talent they have, become a middle-of-the-road playoff team, attract a couple big name free agents and go from there, or they could purposely lose a lot of games, otherwise known as “tanking’, in hopes to land a high lottery pick in the following year’s draft. Very much to my surprise, it appears as though the majority of Celtics fans are pushing for the green to do the latter this season. I personally think they should be ashamed of themselves.
While the obvious motive for this approach would be landing one of the many stellar potential first round draft picks next year, specifically Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Julius Randle, when you look at history, a top draft pick does not necessarily transform you into a championship team. In fact, in the last 15 years, not one player who was drafted first overall has led the team that drafted them to a championship. The only first overall pick over that span who has even won a championship is LeBron James, but that was after he decided to join the South Beach All-Stars, also known as the Miami Heat. And let’s be honest, chances are there won’t be a LeBron James in this upcoming draft. Players like that don’t come around every year. If you want to go beyond the first overall pick, only one second overall pick in the last 15 years has won a championship, Tyson Chandler, and once again it was not with the team that drafted him. Furthermore, Chandler wasn’t necessarily a crucial piece to the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 championship team.
Celtics supporters also seem to forget the failure of the Celtics last-minute decision to tank in the 2006-07 season. The Celtics actually went into that season hoping to be a playoff team, but when an injury to Pierce resulted in an 18-game losing streak and a last place finish in the Atlantic, the tank was in full effect. Celtics fans had their eyes set on any one of two potential superstars in Greg Oden from Ohio State and Kevin Durant from the University of Texas. With the luck of the ping pong balls (it’s called a lottery for a reason), the Celtics fell to the fifth pick of the 2007 draft. Just as Celtics Nation thought all was lost, Danny Ainge pulled two of the greatest trades in team history, shipping most of their young talent to Minnesota and Seattle in return for future hall of famers Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, who were able to bring Boston a championship in their first season in green.
That’s another thing that Celtics fans forget. Danny Ainge is a genius. It’s no coincidence that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are showing their age in Brooklyn and find themselves behind the Celtics in the standings. Danny knew just the right time to pull the plug and start building around the talent that he already has. And anyone who says that this team doesn’t have talent, well, they clearly haven’t been watching so far. Jordan Crawford appears to have outgrown his reputation as a senseless gunner and has done an excellent job assuming the role of starting point guard in the wake of Rajon Rondo’s absence. Jared Sullinger has proven himself to be a fantastic low-post presence and has developed into one of the best rebounders in the game. When Jeff Green gets hot and stays aggressive, he’s one of the most talented scorers in the league, with a Paul George-like arsenal of offensive skills. Rookies Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani have been impressive as well. Olynyk is one of the most coordinated, versatile 7-footers you will ever see while Faverani has great defensive instincts and shot-blocking ability. In all honesty, I’ve had more fun watching this year’s Celtics team than last year’s. Last year’s team was expected to contend for another championship but instead showed signs of slowing down. This year’s team was expected to finish in last place, yet, a month and a half into the season, they find themselves atop the Atlantic division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. It may be one of the weakest Eastern Conferences of all-time but hey, that’s all the more reason to play your ass off and contend for a decent seed in the playoffs.
Fans who are in favor of the Celtics tanking this season clearly need some help in understanding what it takes to build a winning team. Probably the biggest part of building a competitive team is developing a winning attitude among every player on the roster. Any team that finishes among the bottom five in the NBA is sure to have some disputes and disagreements in the locker room throughout the year, resulting in some unhappy players, which can only make matters worse.
Fans also fail to realize the immense pressure that first-year coach Brad Stevens is under. Considering the track record of recent college coaches that have tried to make the jump to the pros, and it’s not very impressive, a last place finish in Stevens’ inaugural season would surely label him as just another bust, thus driving away any potential big name signings.
Above all else, where is the Celtic Pride? We’re talking about the most storied franchise in the history of the game of basketball. We’re talking about 17 championships hanging in the rafters above the parquet floor at the TD Garden in Boston, one of the proudest sports cities in the world. Tanking is for desperate teams who have yet to form an identity. Teams like the Charlotte Bobcats or the Sacramento Kings. The Boston Celtics already have an identity. It was formed in 1957 when Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Tommy Heinsohn hoisted their first championship trophy and it has been carried on ever since. It was built on all-out effort every night for 48 minutes, especially on defense. Effort wins championships, tanking does not, has not, and never will.