This is not 2007. This is 2003.

Guest post by LarBrd33

JR has been asking me for a while if I’ve had any interest in doing guest posts here at Celtics Life. I keep telling him I’m just some idiot sports fan who will just end up embarrassing himself, but he’s pretty persistent. I don’t know lick about sportswriting, but as a self-proclaimed obsessive Celtic nerd who has been deeply entrenched over the past 17 years in the ever-evolving geekery of internet sports culture, I’m something of an expert in Boston Celtic fandom. I’ve participated in countless cyber-debates with over-reaching optimistic homers ranging from all levels of delusional. I’ve helped twist the grating noise machine of the passive-aggressive pessimistic reverse-jinxers in many a blog comment and forum thread. I’m a man of the people. I’ve seen how the collective perceptions and expectations sway from one season to another… and it’s been hard not to notice this offseason filled with anxious anticipation of another shoe-dropping blockbuster summer of superstar trades similar to 2007.

Look, I get it. ‘Sota has another superstar Kevin on the Market. Danny has once again “collected assets”, the key of which is a young big man with oodles of potential and a cool nickname. Like 2007, we once again had Top 6 pick that fell just a few picks shy of mattering. Clearly this is our deja-vu offseason and Danny is going to flip this bag full of feathers for a brick of gold. All this has happened before and will happen again. I get it. All Minny stars end up in Boston. Wyc promised fireworks! Too perfect. Fireworks, baby! Speaking of fireworks… I remember one childhood summer spent with my cousins at their lake house. My uncle Mike handed me his beer and shouted, “Watch this!”. He then lit a jumbo sparkler, hauled his fat ass off the dock, and cannonballed into the lake. As he emerged from the water he proudly thrust his fist in the air still clenching that sparkler… apparently expecting it to still be sparkling. He floated there puzzled for a moment until he remembered, “Oh wait… I think these stay lit when you stick them in sand… not water”… I’ve been weary of firework promises ever since. Wyc and the Celtics asked us to hold their beer and then fired their fat ass off a dock to emerge with another 1st round pick and Tyler Zeller. Pretty entertaining, but probably not what we expected. We’re hot off a blissful run of relevance (3.5 seasons of contending followed by an extended victory lap that lasted until July 2013), so it’s only natural that this spoiled fanbase would go through a single rebuilding season and expect Danny to press a button and turn us into an insta-contender again. Unfortunately, that line of thinking discounts the several years of toiling away in asset-acquisition mode that lead up to 2007. Truthfully, 2014 does feel vaguelly familiar… but it doesn’t feel like a re-hash of 2007. It reminds me of 2003.

Congrats, you’ve stuck around with my virgin blog post longer than I could have imagined. I can feel you squirming in your seat. “2003? Ugh… Where is this idiot going with this?”. I know it sounds like a ridiculous premise knowing what we know now about 2003. Before I go any further, let’s address this for a second. I need you to momentarily toss aside your expectations of our 2014 “assets” and forget what you know about 2003 with the benefit of hindsight. You’re going to need to step into a mental timemachine with me as I transport us back to the mindset of Celtic fans 11 years ago. It’s not going to be easy. Following a sports team is a bit like being in relationship with a crazy chick. While you’re in the thick of it, she’s amazing. She’s everything you could have ever wanted. Some of the things she’s able to do are epic and exciting. She’s who you are going to build your future around and you don’t care what any of your pessimistic buddies have to say about her. Then as soon as you two break up, you’re like, “How did I not realize that bitch only had 4 fingers and no ball-handling ability??!” I mean, it’s easy to fall for Kelly and those flowing blonde locks while you’re in the moment, but it’s hard to keep perspective when you’re in love. I’ve seen it happen over and over. Every young one we bring in is “the future”. We never fully accept their faults until after they are gone. I guess the lone exception would be in 2007 when we brought in KG/Ray. That was akin to meeting some incredible woman in her early 30s. Super experienced, knew all the tricks, perfect in every way. And for a while, it was a blissful championship-level relationship… until father time reared it’s ugly head, the 40s start approaching, everything started to sag, and then before you know it we’ve traded in that broad and we’re back to scouting out college campuses looking for the next crop of young talent…. Holy crap, that got sexist and dark in a hurry. I tried warning JR this would be a bad idea. Oh well.

Danny was hired in May 2003. This dump of a franchise hadn’t cracked 50 wins in over a decade. We had teetered between awful and mediocre since Bird retired. Despite the fact that we had Antoine Walker coming off an all-star season, Ainge rightfully determined that this mismatch of talent was incapable of contending. Within a few months, Ainge had shipped out “all-star” Walker for a collection of young talent and a 1st round pick. Ainge had fully embarked on “asset acquisition mode”. Bringing in young talent, collecting draft picks, attempting to buy low and sell high regardless of fit. It’s a process that began in May 2003 and finally reached it’s culmination just a little over 4 years later in July 2007 when we acquired Kevin Garnett. By the way, you really can’t praise Danny Ainge enough for what he was able to accomplish. How often have you seen a owner/GM take over a team with big grandiose “hold my beer” promises of turning their garbage franchise into a champion within 3-5 years? It’s one of the biggest cliches in sports, right? Often decades go by without that promise being fulfilled. I mean, it’s something like 15 franchises that have won NBA championships in the past 56 years. Safe to say that more often than not, those promises go unfulfilled, right? But man… Fuckin Danny Ainge actually did it. Just over 4 years he converted an irrelevant has-been into a premiere franchise. Incredible. But yes, it was a process.

 Flash forward a decade and Ainge once again rightfully determined that this mismatch of talent was incapable of contending. Ainge once again shipped out “all-star” talent for a collection of young talent and draft picks (four 1st round picks + for elderly Pierce and KG? Incredible). Walker never made another all-star team. It’s highly unlikely that KG/Pierce will either. We once again find ourselves at ground zero of a re-build that will likely take 3-5 years assuming Ainge can strike gold twice. Some of it is admittedly a reach, but the similarities between the 2014 era Celtics and the 2003 era Celtics are uncanny. I had to laugh at a forum thread recently where some fans expressed outrage over Ainge “helping” the Cavs acquire LeBron James. First of all, there were a dozen other teams in the league who would have stepped in to grab Zeller/1st rounder had Ainge not jumped on it first. Second of all, Ainge has always been an opportunistic GM to make the most of a bad situation. Am I the only one who remembers Ainge “helping” the Pistons get Rasheed Wallace 10 years ago? Similar to the Cavs deal, Ainge determined that Boston was a long way from being relevant…and he wasn’t going pass up a free 1st round pick even if it helped form a contender in the same conference. All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again. Let’s hop in that mental time machine and compare our current team to the 2003 Celtics.

Rajon Rondo = Paul Pierce: Whether you’re comparing this season to 2007 or 2003, it’s easy to make this leap. Back then, 26 year old Pierce was the all-star face of the franchise right in the thick of his prime. Now, Rondo is the 29 year old all-star caliber face of the Celtics. Neither was ever a true “superstar”, but certainly a valuable piece worth keeping around. When Ainge first took over the team in 2003, he made a clear decision that Pierce was the only player worth building around. It’s yet to be seen if he actually feels the same way about Rondo. Stay tuned.

Jeff Green = Ricky Davis: Ainge has always been about buying low with hopes of selling high. He brought in Davis, a small forward perceived to have “star potential”, for a low price of Eric Williams, Tony Battie and the corpse of Kedrick Brown. Davis had already proven to be a 20PPG scorer on the Cavs. In 2003, Davis was still only 24. Once traded to the Celtics he managed to average 14 points fairly efficiently on 49%/38%/73% shooting. One could argue that despite being a knucklehead, his trade value at the time was greater than Jeff Green’s right now. As we all know, we were able to land Jeff Green for the corpse of Kendrick Perkins. Davis’ 2003 Per-36 stats: 17.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals. Green’s 2013 Per-36 stats last year: 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 41%/34%/80%. Ainge took a gamble on Davis and ultimately ended up dumping him for Szczerbiak and a future 1st. It remains to be seen what kind of value we will get for 28 year old Jeff Green after having established him as a decent (yet inefficient) scorer.

Brandon Bass = Mark Blount: Yeah, I said it. Blount was a 28 year old starting big man who managed to average 10 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1.3 blocks on 56%/72% shooting in 29MPG. Last season, Bass was a 28 year old starting big man who managed to average 11 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block 0.4 steals on 48%/86% shooting in 27.6MPG. Don’t act like i’m insulting Bass by comparing him to Blount. You might forget that Blount used that 2003 performance to land a fat contract (6 years 41 mil) from the Celtics. Eventually, we were all in favor of getting rid of him to make room for the C’s young bigs. Pretty similar to Bass right now. I’m not apologizing for this one.

Kelly Olynyk = Jiri Welsch: Ok, ok… when you’re done stomping around the room in anger, hear me out. “6′ 7″ Larry Bird”. That’s an actual non-ironic descriptor I saw used on a popular Celtics forum in 2003 in reference to Jiri Welsch. Seriously. Homers love comparing their binkies to former legends. You have to remember that Jiri Welsch had been the 16th pick in 2002 and Ainge had landed the young asset as part of the Antoine Walker trade. He put together a decent little season for the Celtics: 9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 43%/38%/74% in 26.9 minutes. It was enough to convince at least half the fans that the young 24 year old prospect was the future of the team at small forward. And yes, at least one actually dared to suggest the young white kid was a going to be a shorter version of the Basketball Jesus. It seemed ridiculous at the time, but really… is it any more ridiculous than calling 23 year old Kelly Olynyk the “next Dirk” after averaging 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists on 46%/35%/81% shooting last season? To be fair, you gotta figure KO has a brighter future. But who knows. Right now I’m blinded by that shimmering Pantene Pro-infused mop of glorious bouncy potential.

Mahcus Smaht = Mahcus Banks: I mean, you knew it was coming, right? Danny’s first ever lottery pick was a hyper-confident 6’2″ 220 pound pit bull point guard named Marcus praised for his aggressive defense. Danny’s most recent lottery pick is a hyper-confident 6’2″ 220 pound pit bull point guard named Marcus praised for his aggressive defense. I was there. I saw his confidence beaming at his first press conference. He believed he was the future of the team. We believed it to. I remember watching Banks in summer league. Full court pressing on every possession. Showing off that lightning quick speed and NBA-ready body attacking the basket.. I remember a fan non-ironically suggesting that Banks was going to be the next Isiah Thomas. Banks sophomore stats at UNLV: 20.3 points, 5.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 steals on 51%/34%/76% shooting in 36.1MPG. Smart’s sophomore stats at Oklahoma State: 18 points, 4.8 assists, 5.9 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 42%/30%/73% in 32.7MPG. Let’s be honest… this is the nightmare scenario for Smart and probably completely unfair to him to compare him to Banks. I’m just telling you that every fan who was around in 2003 has already made that comparison in their head. Let’s cross our fingers that Smart ends up being an elite NBA player… and doesn’t flame out and resurface in 5 years as a Summer League superstar dropping 42 points in an irrelevant game. Side note: That “Jiri Welsch/Larry Bird” thing eventually evolved into something of a running gag on the forums a decade ago. It became something of an internet meme before we had a term for internet meme. The highlight for me happened on the ESPN message board some time in 2003 when I saw someone post the following: “Mahcus Banks… 6’7 Larry Bird… BOOK IT!”… That nearly killed me. I’m still not sure why I thought that was so funny. I guess you had to be there.

James Young = Kendrick Perkins: Let’s go with it. Perk was a raw big man prospect straight out of high school when we selected him #27 back in 2003. He was 19 years old, but we knew he had potential. I had actually heard about Perk a few years prior to us drafting him. It was a random Q&A with David Aldridge on Someone had asked Aldridge “Who will be the best Center in the NBA 5 years from now” and his response was something to the extent of, “Yao Ming… and the high schooler from Texas whose name is escaping me right now”. I was pumped to get Perk that late in the draft. He had a ton of potential. Reminds me a lot of the James Young pick. We snatched him up at #17. He’s probably pretty raw, but he was also the 2nd youngest player in the entire draft at only 18 years old. I’m not suggesting that these players are in any way similar. But as far as “super young raw prospect who might have big long-term potential”, it seems Young and Perk are a pretty good match. Perk took a few seasons until he even got a relevant NBA minute. Hopefully James Young can make an impact sooner than that.

Jared Sullinger = Walter McCarty + Vin Baker + Brandon Hunter: Look, it’s a long enough post as-is and I surely wore out my welcome 8 paragraphs ago. I’m admittedly punting on this one. I don’t know what to make of Sully. He’s either a long-term role player, Glen Davis with the brain of Ryan Gomes, or the next great power forward. I can’t figure him out. I’m typically weary of big men who manage to gain weight as the season progresses, but the kid has had a string of injuries and certainly has shown potential. Last season he averaged 13.3 points, 8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.5 steals on 43%/27%/78% shooting in 27.6 MPG. He’s only 22 years old. Let’s first just put to rest the idea that he’s got “Big Al”-level trade value. He doesn’t. Back in 2007 the perception of Big Al was that he was a “lock” to be a 20-10 player. He was a surefire all-star with superstar potential. We were sitting here debating if Big Al was going to be a better player than Dwight Howard long-term and it was widely believed that Jefferson already was one of the top 5 post scorers in the game. That silky smooth touch around the rim. Big Al was a MAJOR prospect. In retrospect, we know that he did indeed evolve into a player who averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds, 1.7 blocks on 50%/74% shooting a couple years later. Unfortunately, Jefferson never quite reached his perceived peak potential… having never made an all-star team (though he did finish All-NBA 3rd Team last year while leading a team to the playoffs). That’s not Sully. While 22 year old Sully has shown signs and some homers might believe he’s the second coming of Kevin Love, the league wide perception of him as a prospect is nowhere near Big Al. Not even the same continent, really. If you want to understand how people outside spectrum of Celtic fandom look at Sullinger’s trade value right now… realize that his age/draft position/stats are basically even with Houston’s Terrence Jones. How do you feel about Terrence Jones as a prospect? That’s how everyone outside of Boston feels about Jared Sullinger. So who is his 2003 comparison? Nobody, really. Vin Baker averaged 11 points, 6 rebounds on 50% shooting that year. Tommy’s binky is only there, because I wanted an excuse to refer to Walter McCarty as Tommy’s binky. And the only reason I included Brandon Hunter is because he was a 23 year old rookie big man prospect who averaged a double-double over 4 straight summer league games and suddenly 2003 Celtic fans lost their fucking minds and speculated he was the 2nd coming of Charles Barkley. So no… I don’t have a good comparison for Jared Sullinger, because this article is crap and I’m crap for writing it. Jared Sullingah… 6’5 Bob Cousy… Book it!

All signs point to Kevin Love getting traded to the Cavs. We might dump Rajon Rondo this month for pennies on the dollar. We’re on the verge of being perpetually mediocre for the foreseeable future. Or maybe not… Maybe Ainge farts out a miracle surprise trade. It’s easy to get frustrated as this uneventful fireworkless offseason creeps along. Truthfully, our 2014 assets are probably quite a bit better than they were in 2003. It’s a tribute to just how skilled Danny Ainge is as a GM. Whereas in 2003, he was merely able to land Jiri Welsch and a 1st round pick for a 27 year old coming off an all-star season, a decade later he was able to dump 98 year old KG/Pierce for Tyler Zeller, four 1st round picks and the right to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017. Pretty amazing. I continue to have faith in Ainge. I wouldn’t count him out. The overall point is I hope to make with this nonsensical article is that we’re still in the very early stages of a re-build that might take 3-5 years if we’re lucky. There’s no quick fix for this. Ainge will continue to acquire picks, assets and buy-low talent. He’ll continue to keep us in a flexible position in the event a star talent becomes available. We’ll just need to have patience. Setting your expectations for a repeat of the 2007 offseason was always a bit off-base. Ainge doesn’t get enough credit the first time around for building a champion within the ridiculous 3-5 year timeframe. If we’re lucky, he’ll get us back in a position to compete by 2018. We are still in the very early stages of a very difficult process. Strap in and enjoy the ride.


A self-proclaimed idiot Celtic fanatic who admittedly doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about. Send your angry comments to JR.

Guest post by LarBrd33