For many Celtics fans and followers, the first taste at the top tier of the NBA was when the Garnett-Allen-Pierce trio formed. The "Ubuntu" Celtics and their championship run was as exhilarating an experience as any during this recent run of Boston sports dominance.
But given the ages of those legends, their run was expected to have a relatively short shelf life. Five years of championship contention was more than most predicted, but after Allen left for South Beach, Doc left for Hollywood, and Pierce and Garnett were traded go Brooklyn, Boston was quickly back to the drawing board.
Fast forward to 2016 and options are aplenty for Boston's rise back to top.
For an accelerated climb, acquiring a veteran via trade (DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler) or free agency (Kevin Durant, Al Horford) may immediately put Boston at the top of the east, as it did in 2007.
What's behind door number three, to this Celtic observer at least, is the most intriguing possibility: drafting a player who will be cornerstone for this franchise for over a decade.
Exiting the college ranks after just one season, enter LSU's Ben Simmons into the equation.
Before playing a single moment of college basketball, Simmons was widely seen as the prize of this year's draft class. Former Duke small forward Brandon Ingram's rising stock serves the challenger to
Simmons being selected as the number one pick.
If the Celtics were to be as fortunate to be in position, ESPN's Kevin Pelton and Chad Ford believe Simmons is the selection the Celtics should make.
Simmons wouldn't come without potential red flags, as poor outside shooting and a lack of competitiveness in crucial moments raise the most concerning questions.
Ranked 21st in the nation to start the season, LSU underachieved to a 19-14 record. After a 71-38 drubbing from Texas A&M in the SEC tournament semifinals, the Tigers announced they wouldn't compete in any postseason.
Critics wondered how and why the biggest pro prospect couldn't produce better team results. Nonetheless, the Celtics and their fans should not be deterred.
LSU head coach Johnny Jones, who owns a career collegiate coaching record of 285-213, is not Brad Stevens. Jones was crushed all season for his team's poor performances. ESPN's Eamonn Brennan wrote on the matter last December.
When you strip out everything you know about LSU's best player, and shed all the unspoken baseline assumptions therein, and you just take the Tigers for what they are at this moment, you get a questionably coached team that looks disjointed and disorganized against even semi-competent opponents. You get sporadic, easily exploited defense. You get poor rebounding and worse outside shooting. You get zero counters to create spacing or minimize the Tigers' well-known weaknesses in the key moments of close games. You get seven unremarkable wins and five bad losses.
If back to back playoff appearances are any indication, it's safe to assume Stevens would put Simmons in better positions to succeed.
As for his competitive spirit, it's also safe to assume practicing and playing along side Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart could fix that as well. And while it's not guaranteed that his outside shooting will improve by leaps and bounds, perimeter players like Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade didn't enter the league with a heralded jumper either.
Not to compare him to the likes of those greats, but there is reason to be excited. He averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game on a team that left a lot to be desired. Since his prep days at Montverde Academy near the Orlando area, scouts have raved about Simmons passing and court vision. At the college level, the wins didn't fellow Simmons, but praise over his skill set has.
Remember this about Ben Simmons. In league where speed's at all-time premium, he immediately makes your team faster w/handle/passing @ 6-10.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) May 6, 2016
Listed at 6'10" and 240 lbs, the Australian already has an NBA body, and in a league that's drifting toward smallball and position-less players, it isn't inconceivable with his size and athleticism to project that Simmons could play for moments as a stretch-five or stretch-four.
Paul Pierce, Kevin McHale, and Larry Bird are some of the last foundational players drafted by the Celtics to spend over a decade in Boston. Ben Simmons could be next in line and to get hopes even higher, he wouldn't turn 21 until July 2017.
Free agents and trades might bring success immediately, but a player like Simmons might be worth the wait.
Photo Credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Follow Patrick on Twitter at @PatBernadeau Patrick Bernadeau 5/10/2016 10:01:00 AM Tweet Edit