Hopefully front office shake-up will lead to Celtics catching up to rest of NBA in drafting International talent
Ask me to name a NBA team with a worse track record when it comes to drafting international players and I'd have a hard time comingh up with one. The Celtics snagged Dino Radja in the 2nd round of the 1989 draft, but for the 32 years since, its been nothing but indifference and failing when it comes to drafting internationally.
There are the "what-if's" like Dirk Nowitski, Tony Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, as well as the busts like Guerschon Yabusele. I hesitate to label the vast majority of the international players drafted by Boston as busts, since Yabusele was the only guy drafted high. Boston just doesn't draft international players and the rare times they do they are 2nd rounders.
First the background on the what-if's. The Celtics were the first team to hone in on Dirk in the 1998 draft. The Celtics fell so in love with Dirk after Chris Wallace scouted him in Europe that they wanted him to lay low and not go to draft camps. Eventually Don Nelson of the Mavs caught win of the Celtics plan and was able to make a draft day trade to scoop Nowitski before the Celtics picked at #10. This one didn't destroy the Celtics since their consolation prize at the time ended up being future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce.
The next did hurt, since Boston actually told Tony Parker that they'd be drafting him in the first round in 2001, until they changed their mind and picked Joe Forte instead. And the last guy referenced above, Giannis, was a player the Celtics were considered high on early in the draft process, but decided to make a "safer" pick in Kelly Olynyk. And while Olynyk was born and raised in Canada, I hesitate to use him as an example of an international find, since the four years leading up to his draft he played collegiately in the United States.
Also if you're the role player that a team selected over Giannis, I'm not putting success next to your drafting. I don't have to tell you how much better the Celtics would have been in the past or now if they had drafted Giannis.
Guerschon Yabusele who was projected as a 2nd rounder was the guy Danny Ainge decided to use a pick in the teens on. No idea how the same man could think Giannis wasn't worthy of taking a chance on in the teens, but Yabu was. Ante Zizic was also drafted late in that first round, but had a nothing career.
Besides that you have 2nd round picks Semih Erden and Yam Madar and that's the whole history. Semih actually had a solid rookie season for the 2010-11 Celtics before the team gave him away to the Cavs to create roster spots to add players in the buy-out market. If you've read this blog, you're likely aware that I'm optimistic about Madar, but since he's yet to play an NBA minute we can't call him a success story can we?
Considering how many international players have outplayed their draft spot, you'd think the Celtics would have lucked into someone by now? Drazen, Sabonis, or Dicac? Ginobili, Gobert, or Jokic? The one year they had a Nets pick and there was top shelf international talent projected to go top 3, they traded that pick. Luckily the pick didn't land top 3 like the past two years, because then we'd be writing about how the Celtics traded the pick they could have used on Luka Doncic in the Kyrie Irving trade.
Since many people sadly just aren't that bright, an early criticism of Danny Ainge during the beginning of his tenure running the Celtics was that he was "racist" because he had added fourt White players to the team in Raef, Wally, Dickau, and Jiri? Ironically, pretty sure Ainge drafted more Black players during his 18 years running the team than any GM in the league. If anyone was left out on draft day, it was international players.
Just seems that for some reason, while the entire NBA has taken advantage of the influx of international talent, the Celtics have chosen to sit that out. And its a pity. Ironically the man who had retired from running the team 15 years prior to the Tony Parker/Joe Forte flip flop, Red Auerbach, made a living adding talent that other teams weren't interested in (typically for bigotted reasons). Sadly, Auerbach was too old and had been out of the game for way too long for Chris Wallace to let him decide on a pick in 2001. This isn't beer pong with a "celebrity toss." I blame Wallace for not sticking to the Parker pick, not Red for suggesting Forte.
I was hoping during the Ainge tenure he'd hire someone from the outide to add to the front office who was an expert in international players, but that never happened. The people under Ainge were a very homogenous group that were either his son or looked like they could be his son. When he stepped down earlier this month, ownership didn't use that as opportunity to shake things up from top to bottom, they simply promoted Brad Stevens and retained everyone else who either was related to Ainge or look like they could be.
The Celtics even asked Ainge to remain on, but in more of an advisory role for Brad. To his credit Danny thought that would be unfair to Brad and declined.
Who knows if Stevens is just playing nice with the remaining front office and will eventually replace them with his own people. Maybe he will, but also maybe he won't change one person. And truth be told Ainge for eighteen years had the final call on who Boston selected with each and every 1st and 2nd rounder, so maybe an Austin Ainge, Mike Zarren, or Brad Stevens wanted to draft an international player who went on to star in the league, but they were overrulled. Here's hoping that was the case and we will see better results moving forward. Stevens trading pick #16 to leave Boston with zero first rounders this year isn't a good start though.
In the past 35 years the Celtics have won one lone championship. There are teams that got close, where even just one more good player likely could have made a difference. Others where one more very good player would have. And most of the rest a star player like Jokic, Giannis, or Luka certainly would of.
When baseball broke the color barrier with the Dodgers signing of Jackie Robinson, many teams were slow to follow lead. Those racist owners/GM's fell behind and eventually every baseball team signed their first Black player. It would be naive to believe that bigotted people had a change of their cold hearts. The more obvious reason wass that racist owners decided that winning with a few Black players on their teams was a more palatble outcome than continuing to lose with all White teams.
They had been putting their own success in peril by tying one hand behind their backs by only being able to add players from one talent pool. And before anyone thinks I'm comparing international players treatment to segregation era America's of Black players, you're reach is rather offensive. One group was discriminated against in an extreme vile manner while the other group have simply been passed over for sticking with the "norm." There is plenty of evidence to call many former baseball owners racist. Don't know of any evidence that would link the Celtics owners or front office to bein xenophobic.
Drafting international talent is just an area the powers that be with the Celtics have always been brutal at. Maybe they pick fewer international players because of their past ineptidude? Who knows. They have never discussed the shortcoming, nor has the Boston media ever wrote about it.
This is 2021, not 1986. The Celtics are no longer good for a championship every other year. One the past 35 years should show you that it's not so easy anymore. Getting a Grade of F in terms of the 2nd largest talent pool that makes up NBA All-Star teams makes it that much harder. By far, Black American players make up the largest percentage of All-Star, and the NBA is very Black and White.
You don't see many Latino players or Asian players or any other group. So with the rare exception of a Yao Ming, an NBA general manager will draft a Black American player, A white American player, or an international player.
While things were differnt back in Larry Bird's era, you'd have a hard time arguing that White American players are in front of international players when you look at All-Star teams. So again, the Celtics have completely struck out at drafting from the 2nd largest talent pool and its at least one of the reasons they have just that one lone title in the past 35 years.
Drafting a Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Drazen, Marc Gasol, Giannis, Divac, Gobert, Siakam, Stojakovic, Nikola Jokic, etc. would have changed that. Shoot, doesn't even need to be that Nikola. Could even be Vucevic. And while most if not all of these guys were there for the Celtics taking when they passed on them, the argument that "Well other teams passed on them too!" is poor. Those other teams have at least also drafted international players who went on to become All-Stars. You can't catch them all the phrase goes, but you should be able to get at least get a few. Or even one right?
Time for the Celtics to hire someone who will enable the team to not just add American talent through the draft, but the best players from around the world. With the exception of Marc Gasol's brother Pau and Luka, as well great centers from decades ago like Hakeem and Yao, almost every other NBA All-Star who came from overseas has been picked outside the top of the draft.
And it's not even about the top guy on teams. Do the Spurs win 5 titles without Parker and Manu? Do the Raptors even make the Finals without Siakam?
We're not talking about players who go to schools like Duke or Kentucky and are Naismith finalists who don't slip out of the top of the draft. Sure it's easier to simply scout top NCAA teams, but the easy way often isn't the most successful route. Hire more scouts that will spend more time overseas. And hire more decsion makers who will spend more time overseas while you're at it. Unless you're content with just one title in decades. Then I suppose stick to the status quo and keep praying that a one of a kind talent like KG will be obtainable again someday on the trade market.