Assessing the Present through the Lens of the Past
The Boston Celtics have been the envy of sports franchises world-wide for many years and reasons … a rich tradition of on-court success complemented by a unique brand of long-term loyalty more akin to a ”Mom and Pop” business than a mega-corporation. (The spirit and values of team founder Walter Brown seem to permeate all things Celtic.)
Currently the object of such envy, at least in NBA circles, would be the stockpile of draft assets and good bit of fiscal flexibility available to “Brains of the Outfit” Danny Ainge with which to accentuate a squad that basically “hustled” its way to the seventh-best record in the Association.
Over two “rebuilding” seasons – and, excepting Amir Johnson, with pretty much the same key components – Coach Brad’s battlin’ blue-collar ballers have essentially doubled their win total. And for six games, they pretty much went toe-to-toe with a more playoff-seasoned bunch. (Except for the FG shooting, the other key number from the series – TO’s, FT makes and attempts, rebounding – were virtually even.)
Could a more advantageous playoff draw and/or home court have enabled a more memorable post-season run? Maybe…
…but probably not. More than anything, the rebounding stand-off tells the tale against a Hawk team that was arguably the NBA’s worst in that department.
These Celtics, who’d overachieved their way to all that regular-season acclaim, had been showing the classic signs of a team “Runnin’ on Empty!” – poorer shooting (particularly at the FT line), fewer forced TO’s, bodies breaking down. Our boys were gonna need the Fountain of Youth (or something against the rules) to slog through to the Conference Final even in a still rather unintimidating East.
So, with a primarily developmental season-for-growth in the books and possibilities aplenty for a bright future, it’s on to the debate of who stays and who goes from among the current crop of talent.
For the sake of discussion, let’s take the “glass half full” approach and assume Stevens and his crew do evolve into a genuine championship contender within a couple of seasons or so.
History suggests that there will be more new faces than old when that day arrives. A young Red Auerbach’s 1955 Celtics were denied one game short of the NBA Finals. When a Russell-led unit broke through two seasons later, just three players from the ’55 bridesmaids remained, a Hall of Famer among the departed.
When Dave Cowens abruptly retired a week or so prior to the start of the 1980-81 championship season (i.e. Year 2 of Bird Ball), that left on the team but four guys who predated Larry Legend’s arrival.
Even in the march to Banner 17, only Pierce, Perkins, Tony Allen and another (albeit not quite as good) red-headed dude had been sporting Celtic gear a mere two seasons sooner.
Which four or five of our current heroes will still be around this time?
Is Isaiah Thomas untouchable, or could he be packaged for a more transcendent star?
Is Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder destined to be a “glue guy” for a great team?
How high a ceiling is there for a Marcus Smart or Jordan Mickey?
(And wouldn’t you just love to blend Evan Turner’s motor with Jared Sullinger’s “feel” for the game?)
For the record, the 1955 holdovers were named Cousy, Sharman and Ramsay, while Bird’s predecessors were Cedric Maxwell, Chris Ford, back-up center Rick Robey and a diminutive floor leader who is still the only guy ever to top the NBA’s scoring and assist charts in the same season.
Hey, maybe IT4 SHOULD be exempt from any maneuverings … ya know, for old times’ sake?