It is logically established that this team was built in the busy summer of 2007 with the major trades of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Seven players left our young and vulnerable squad and we received too future Hall of Famers that combined with our Captain Paul Pierce would become the new Big Three. The rest of the story we all know: our Boston Celtics have made the NBA Finals in two of the three years since those trades were made. But as we wait for this year's epic and magical last fight for the championship between the two best teams in the world, I would like you to take a look back in time.
Sometimes, the sands of time seem to be accidental, some other times the word coincidence comes to our minds. In this case, maybe there is a magic hand moving all of what happened at the beginning of the 2003/04 season.
November 2003 marks the beginning of Danny Ainge's rookie year as GM of the franchise. Without Danny Ainge, there would probably not be any of the players that belong to our franchise now. That season was marked by the Antoine Walker trade to Dallas for Raef LaFrentz and some other corpses (as TB would say ;). Back then, Danny admitted it was a step back in the aspirations of the team but a step forward in the future of the franchise. He had a vision for this team, and the famous ideal was starting to build in his mind. The team was starting to regenerate, to get rid of bad contracts (Walker, Baker...) and in search of young talents for the team. Most of those talents were collected, taught and prepared to be sent in future trades with the expiring contracts that the team had, such as LaFrentz (which would turn into Ratliff and later into Garnett) or Ricky Davis (who would turn into Wally and later into Ray Allen). Some of those talents would stay long enough to participate and be part of the glory of 2007, as was the case of Kendrick Perkins, a just arrived prospected arrived from Texas. But as the young and raw Perkins of November 2003 the Celtics team would need to wait some time to become real.
In the meantime, Danny's coach in Boston was Jim O'Brien.While they both got along quite well, it was well documented that they didn't share many of the basketball ideas for the franchise style of play. O'Brien had let the team become the Paul Pierce isolation show and the Antoine Walker shoot your sneakers à la Iversonwhenever you want program. In the following months, O'Brien would lose patience and would finally leave. Ainge had another coach in mind, the right fit for his philosophy. He needed a coach who got along with his players, who would have patience with the young ones and who had proven that he could excel with a team with subpar rosters. He needed a motivator, a teacher, someone who would push up the tempo and could run with those players into a fresh new team. That coach was Doc Rivers. He would later convince the other only member of that team that would survive to the roster changes until now: the Captain Paul Pierce.
By the beginning of the 2003 season, Doc Rivers had been fired from the Orlando Magic. After being coach of the year some seasons before, the team had finally failed to repeat heroics with limited rosters and some bad luck with injuries (Grant Hill's drama years). It would have been logical in all this story that Grant Hill would have signed with us last offseason as you will soon notice that history brings all of us together...
Here comes the funny part of the story: Doc was the chosen coach way before he was officially signed in April 2004. By then, the two minds involved in the genesis of the team were working in full strength to build the future champion that we all admire now. Doc had a whole year to evaluate talents in the league and so did Ainge who had already targeted a young Rajon Rondo whose team - the Oak Hill Academy- had a 38-0 record that year. As documented previously, Rondo scored 55 points in a game in Spain that year against Sergio Rodriguez, current New York Knick. We all know that Doc Rivers was in love with the selection of Tony Allen in the draft of 2004, having impressed in Oklahoma State during the 2003-04 season in which they made the Final Four.
In the meantime, Ray Allen had a rough season of injuries with the Seattle Supersonics (with Rashard Lewis as a young promise) in which he had already started some trash talking battles with Kobe Bryant. Allen was starting to earn a place in the heart of the Sonics fans, who had said goodbye to the team's star and icon Gary Payton. Payton had joined the Los Angeles Lakers later in the season in an attempt by our most hated enemy to build an equivalent an extended version of our Big Three: Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant would start the season together, aiming for a shot at the ring. As Allen and KG, Malone and Payton were seasoned veterans who had never won a ring with their teams. I am sure Doc and Danny were paying a lot of attention to this experiment and how it unfolded. Before we comment on the end of that Laker quest, let me remind you that Payton would end up being a Celtic in Doc's first season in Boston and that Danny Ainge was at Karl Malone's door once free agency opened that year.
The most important part of this melancholic journey to the past will take us to the last month of the 2003-04 season. The Celtics have been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by the Indiana Pacers, Doc is officially the new coach of the team and he comments for the channel ABC the playoffs, notably the NBA finals. Those were the playoffs in which Kevin Garnett and his Wolves finally advanced from the first round, with future Celtics in their roster (Sam Cassell, Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi). Garnett was brutal that year, earning the MVP award and taking his team to the Western Conference Finals. There, only the grizzled and experimented veterans of the Los Angeles Lakers could beat them. It must have been then when Danny and Doc forged the idea of the future champion: blending the ultimate star of Kevin Garnett with the wisdom and experience of veterans hungry for the glory they had never achieved.
The irony and beauty of life would tell us that Doc Rivers witnessed and commented live the fall of those Lakers that didn't have the "Ubuntu" orientated philosophy needed to join all those egos together. When the moment arrived, the union didn't exist and the Lakers failed against the brutal defense and team oriented play of the Detroit Pistons. The final elements needed for Danny and Doc's formula was in the toughness and defensive oriented style of the Pistons, whose key player had arrived in mid season, thanks to the help of Danny himself as a third team trade partner...that player was the fierce Rasheed Wallace: a hungry veteran, great teammate, and a fierce competitor. The Pistons were the underdogs, just as we have been considered all the way through the playoffs this year.
The Boston Celtics are somehow a mix of the experience of the Lakers, the talent and athleticism of the Wolves and the guts and fearless attitude of the Pistons...with the special addition of some fresh home cooked products as Rondo, Allen, Perkins and Baby Davis. This team may have been born in the first images of Danny Ainge's vision for the mighty Boston Celtics.