Drafted with the 10th overall pick in 2001, Joe Johnson was another prize awarded to Boston in exchange for years of failure. In 6 years the Boston Celtics had drafted 5 players in the top 10, yet up to that point it had little effect on The Celtic's on-court success. Joe Johnson would to grow into the third superstar to play alongside Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce. That's what was expected of him... at least by the fans.
Joe was a 6'8" shooting guard who could also play at the small forward spot. He shot .406 from behind the arc in college, and despite starting off inconsistently, he would find his stroke. The rookie averaged nearly 30 mins, 10 pts, 4 reb, and 2 ast in his first full month of NBA action. Johnson scored double digits in 12 of his 48 games in Boston, but towards the trade deadline he'd see his playing time drop through the floor. On February 16th, in a 20 point blowout loss, J.J. only saw 2:00 minutes of playing time. After that game teammates Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker would fly to Philadelphia for the NBA All-Star Game. Joe Johnson would be shipped to Phoenix.
Celtics' GM Chris Wallace felt that Boston had a chance at winning the Eastern Conference. He also felt that the youth on his squad would be it's downfall. Boston needed some veteran presence. Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk, the players sent to Boston in return for Johnson, were his solution.
Rodney Rogers was a rookie on the '94 Nuggets team, lead by Dikembe Mutombo, who upset the #1 seeded Seattle Supersonics. He averaged 20 minutes per game in that series. Rogers would make a name for himself with the Clippers from 95-99. In 2000 with the Suns he'd win the 6th Man of The Year Award.
With PG Jason Kidd being traded from Phoenix in the offseason, The Suns were seemingly trying to get younger. Rogers, along with the 28 year old Tony Delk, were considered expendable, especially in exchange for a 19 year old 6'8 Shooting Guard, a future expiring contract in Randy Brown, a cheap throwaway in Milt Palacio, and to top it off... a 2002 1st Round Draft Pick.
With their newly acquired veteran experience, The Boston Celtics fought through Allen Iverson's 76ers, and Ben Wallace's Detroit Pistons to advance into the Eastern Conference Finals. In the ECF's Boston would face off against Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets. Despite winning two games, including one of the greatest 4th quarter comebacks in NBA History, The Nets were clearly the better team. New Jersey would ultimately be crushed in the NBA Finals by the Shaq & Kobe Lakers, proving that The Celtics weren't actually contenders.
The deep Playoff run was a huge step forward for the Celtics Franchise. It was their first time in the Playoffs since '95, and the first series win since Larry Bird last played in '92. Boston rediscovered it's fans, and returned to their winning ways. Only problem is that they ultimately didn't win anything.
After that season Rodney Rogers left to sign with the New Jersey Nets. Tony Delk was back but was clearly not the same player who excelled alongside Kidd in Phoenix. Antoine Walker & Paul Pierce would both play over 3,000 minutes, scraping and clawing for a 3rd Place finish in the Atlantic Division, only to be swept in the 2nd round by Jason Kidd and his even stronger Nets squad. The Celtics took one step forward only to stumble 3 steps back.
Flash forward another 2 seasons. The Boston Celtics win 45 games, but with Antoine Walker gone and Pierce all alone, they would ultimately fall in 7 Games to The Indiana Pacers. Joe Johnson and the Suns would advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Joe, now 23, would average 17 PPG in the regular season while shooing 47% from deep. In the Playoffs he would take his coming out party even further... averaging 19 PPG on 57% shooting from deep.
But do you want to know my favorite part about Joe's 04-05 Season? Johnson was only being paid 2.3 million dollars that year. He was still on his Celtics rookie contract. The Celtics were paying Rick Fox twice as much to sit on his couch all season. They were paying Michael Stewart twice as much to play for the Hawks. Then They paid Tom Gugliotta 2.7 Million for him to score 26 points all season.
In that next offseason Joe Johnson would sign a 5 year 70 Million Dollar contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Boston's big offseason signing? Nobody. Paul Pierce would score 2,000+ points while the 2nd leading Celtic scorer finished with 800, it was Delonte West.
The Celtics would miss the Playoffs for the next two years. Then came the KG and Ray Allen trades, where Danny Ainge turned all the crap that Chris Wallace acquired into 2 Hall of Famers. The Celtics would ironically go through Joe Johnson to get to their 17th Title in franchise history.
While the title may makeup for the trading of Johnson for some people, for others it doesn't. Joe Johnson is now a 5x All-Star. The Celtics may have Ray Allen now, but they started about 10 different scrubs in 6 years before getting him. Paul Pierce's mid-20's were wasted playing alongside players like Jiri Welsch and J.R. Bremer. It's inexcusable.
Johnson & Pierce could have been Boston's version of Jordan & Pippen for the entire decade, just picture them piling up steals on one end and draining three's on the other. Instead Boston had Pierce with Walker for 3 years, Pierce by himself for 5, then The Big Old 3. The Celtics may have gotten their championship but they could have had more, and it would have had nothing to do with KG's 32 year old knee.