This year's Celtics team has a 2006-07 vibe to it, and why that might be by design
First off thank you for actually clicking on the article to read as opposed to leaving a moronic comment on Facebook or Twitter assuming what this post is about. No this isn't a post bashing the current Celtics roster and saying it's one of the worst in the league. But it's also not some green team fantasy where we tell you that Brad Stevens is some kind of genius that he'll add his own Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett next offseason.
The 2006-07 Celtics were not as bad as their final record indicated. The season was actually dedicated to Red Auerbach who died right before it began. The Celtics intended to win games in during this season. Paul Pierce was the star, Wally Szerbiak the 2nd option and it featured an Al Jefferson who was about to break out. While Pierce was older than Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is more advanced than Al Jefferson was at that point, both teams were looking to add another star.
Problem was that every team that Ainge called inquiring about their All-Star, they all responded they wanted Al Jefferson back and then some. And we weren't talking about KG at this point. He was still unavailable. If this sounds familiar it's because the same thing is happening now. Fans and I'm sure the Celtics want a Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard, but both of those teams wouldn't make a trade unless Jaylen Brown was involved.
These same Boston radio and tv people that want to trade Jaylen and then some for a guy like Beal, wanted the Celtics to trade Jefferson and then some for a past his prime declining Allen Iverson. Pierce and an old Iverson would have won as much as the Pistons or Nuggets did with AI. You had only one shot to get a Jefferson trade right. Thankfully Ainge didn't make that trade.
Like this year when Stevens traded pick #16 for a better cap sheet, Ainge traded his lottery pick to Portland partly to unload Raef LaFrentz for a lesser bad contract in Theo Ratliff. Ainge also really liked Sebastian Telfair. Ainge saw that the league was headed in a speedy, explosive, point guard centric direction and he thought Telfair could be the Celtics's Chris Paul.
Ainge thought wrong. And what made the trade worse is the Blazers used that lottery pick on Brandon Roy who would win Rookie of the Year and become a star (The Wolves and Blazers made a draft day trade and swapped spots, but the Wolves wanted Randy Foye and the Blazers Roy. Anyone that tells you the Celtics traded Foye for Telfair is being disingenuous). Ainge screwed that trade up as obviously every NBA would prefer the reigning Rookie of the Year in Roy and gladly take on an extra year of Raef's contract over Telfair and Ratliff.
But at the time, Ainge said he liked Telfair more than anyone who would be available for the Celtics to draft. There were high hopes for Telfair in Boston. Simiar to Time Lord on the present team. Can Time Lord become your 3rd star? When Ainge made the Telfair trade he hoped he could develop into a star.
Quickly Doc Rivers and the Celtics realized that Telfair wasn't all that great. In fact their rookie point guard Rajon Rondo looked more promising. While the Celtics had a goal going into the season to return to the playoffs behind Pierce, Jefferson, and Wally Szerbiak, they also were hoping they could use Theo Ratliff's large contract in a trade to get another star.
Like we said, the problem was that everyone wanted Al Jefferson. The Celtics did not get off to a good start and then the injuries came. Take a look at the games played that season. Gerald Green had 81, Rondo and Telfair 78, Ryan Gomes 73 and Kendrick Perkins 72. All players who were in Year 1, 2, or 3. And a couple were high school picks. Paul Pierce played 47, Szcerbiak 32, and Jefferson 69 in comparison.
Hey Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, & Damian Lillard. It's your good friend @CelticsLife here. Long time I know!
While all three players did suffer injuries, trust me, they sat a lot of games they could have played. When Ainge realized Telfair wouldn't be his Chris Paul and the rest of the kids didn't have enough trade value to bundle with Ratliff to get another star, the Celtics went into full on tank mode. The only other time I'd seen a Celtics team tank so mercilessly was when M.L. Carr tried his hardest to lose his way into the Celtics drafting Tim Duncan.
In the 2007 draft the big names were Gred Oden and Kevin Durant. Ainge envisioned either drafting one and keeping that player, or trading the pick for KG. The 1st or 2nd pick in that draft would be the carrot that could get you almost anyone. They were that hyped.
This year's Celtics team is different in that unlike that 2006-07 version which had three options, develop a young star to keep, develop a young star to trade for a vet star or tank, the 2021-22 version also would love to develop another young star either to keep or trade for a vet like Beal or Lillard, but 2022 cap space is another option.
And trust me a team that plays a Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is too good to tank for a top pick. The 2006-07 Celtics were too talented as well, but they used some injuries early in the season to go in full tank mode. Hopefully neither Tatum nor Brown get injured this season, but if either have a wrist issue similar to Jaylen this past season, I could see Stevens shutting down that Jay for the remainder of the year. And if that happens, you best believe the other Jay would be shut down with enough games for the Celtics to tank.
When I say "tank" I don't mean the players or Udoka would lose on purpose. But look at who led the Celtics in minutes during the 2006-07 season when they finished with the league's worst record:
This year's Celtics are going to start the season with the goal to prove the doubters wrong. But Stevens also has a goal for players like Time Lord, Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard, and maybe even Yam Madar to shine. 4 out of the 5 Celtics who led the team in minutes during the 2006-07 season ended up being pieces used to acquire Ray Allen and KG. Jefferson, Gomes, and Gerald all went to Minnesota and Delonte to Seattle.
That's not to say the Celtics want to trade all their young guys, but let's also be clear here, the one player in that top 5 in minutes played was Rajon Rondo. The Celtics liked him, and convinced the Sonics to take Delonte instead, but that was only after they asked for Robert Swift from Seattle in the original deal that included Rajon. So if the Sonics had been willing to part with Swift, Rondo would have joined Wally and the #5 pick (Jeff Green) in Seattle.
But every situation is different. I'm not saying all the Celtics young players will be apart of a blockbuster deal. Some will remain and their experience in the 2021-22 season will pay off. The 2007-08 Big 3 Celtics needed players on rookie contracts to play meaningful minutes since they took up so much of the cap. The championship team got that in players like Rondo, Perkins, Leon Powe, and Big Baby (and to a lesser extent Tony Allen).
If this current Celtics team wants to have a Big 3 of either Tatum, Brown, and Beal, or Tatum, Lillard, and Beal, or Tatum, Beal, other young star Jaylen is traded for... you get the point... than the rest of the roster will comprise of a lot of players making NBA peanuts. Especially if it's Tatum, Lillard, Beal. Lillard due to service years is starting a massive max contract that dwarfs Tatum's. Beal will get that same deal. This is another reason why you don't trade Jaylen for Beal (contract size), but I digress.
So like their counterparts from 15 years ago, this Celtics team will go into the season hoping to win, but not sacrificing the future for this season. They'll hope to develop a thirst star either to keep or trade for a more established one. And if things go south, don't be shocked if the Celtics go very young with their line-ups and shut down the second Jay if the first one is injured.
Want to know how to trade for a Lillard or Beal without giving up Jaylen? Have a high lottery pick to trade. This is what Ainge did to get Ray Allen, which then saved trading Al Jefferson for KG. Trade Jefferson for Ray Allen and you have a Pierce/Ray duo that's not winning anything. Trade for just KG and likely doesn't sign with Boston long term, or refuses the trade.
Again, I'm going to point out that Tatum and Brown right now are more talented than the combo of Pierce and Jefferson 15 years ago. And again there is no chance the Celtics are going into this season with the idea of tanking. It's just that it might happen. Just like circumstances led to it happening in 2007.
Ainge had to convince Pierce and Jefferson not to come back from their injuries. Pretty sure if Stevens told Tatum if he sat out games to end the year, he could get him Beal, Tatum would play ball.
But even if this Celtics season doesn't turn into a tanking affair, Stevens definitely appears to be providing Udoka a roster where the first year coach will have no option but to play the kids. And there is a reason to this. Stevens needs one or more of these players to become good enough to either be a big part of the next contender or be attractive enough to use a centerpiece in a deal.
If you recall Tyler Hero had such an impressive 2019-20 playoffs that he could have been used as the main piece for the Heat in a James Harden trade. Of course the Heat declined and kept Hero and he struggled, but the point is if you give the kids minutes, one might become something big. The cream rises to the top and that was Rajon Rondo out of those young Celtics.
So go into this season hoping that the Jay's can prove the prognosticators wrong and lead this team deep into the playoffs. But if things go south, don't be shocked if the Celtics front office really prioritizes next offseason with who they put on the injury list. The team struggled to score last season and they just lost a 40 point backcourt in Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker. You don't have to use much of your imagination to see that if they hold out even just one Jay in a game that's going to be a difficult one to win.
I highly doubt the Wizards are just going to let Beal play out his contract and then lose him for nothing. If they can't get Jaylen, they'll either trade Beal to the Warriors for their recent high lottery picks or to Philly for Ben Simmons. And in either case, I'd be more inclined to believe after tasting winning in Philly or Golden State, Beal would just re-sign there.
There is also the possibility that Beal re-ups with the Wizards similar to how Paul George did with the Thunder. George was promised that if things don't work out and he wants out they'd trade him. And they did. That way George got his full max money and his wish to play in L.A. I could see the Wizards doing a similar thing. And then you're back to how can Boston trade for Beal without parting with Jaylen.
This is why young player development is key this season and why the Celtics would go the tank route if things played out for that to be an option. Putting all your eggs in the Beal will just sign here next year basket is extremely risky. It's much more likely he doesn't. Then what do you do? So don't be surprised if this season has more losses than a team with the Jay's should have. The Celtics aren't punting on the year from the get go, but they are making minimal if any effort to improve this year's team. We've seen this before.