After the Boston Celtics’ big four of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo dispersed soon after their championship in 2008, it became very clear Danny Ainge was cleaning house in preparation for rebuilding the team as a whole.
Even the head coach at the time, Doc Rivers, left the squad for a talented Los Angeles Clippers team. The rebuild of the Celtics was a daunting task for Ainge, who had to build the team from the ground up and bring the franchise back to its winning tradition. Ainge especially took a lot of heat when he dealt one of the franchise’s all-time greats, Paul Pierce.
What fans did not realize at the time, they now realize with the team’s current success. The Celtics are well on their way back to a championship caliber team, with no signs of slowing down.
As the final game of the regular season hit halftime, the Celtics found themselves getting embarrassed on their home court by the Miami Heat, who was beating them by 26 points at the intermission. On a night where many Celtics legends such as Bill Russell were getting honored at halftime, the new era of the Celtics team showed their true colors in the second half. By outscoring the Heat 60-26 in the second half, the Celtics battled all the way back to win the game, 98-88. It became apparent that there was something different about this Celtics team after putting on a second half show against the Heat. This team showed the whole league that they are for real. The Celtics showed in that game that they should not be overlooked by any team in the NBA during this postseason.
To fully realize how good this Celtics team is, one has to look at what their team is made of. With an average age of only 24-years-old, this team is very young and especially fresh. Half of the players on the team’s current roster are first round draft picks, all of which were picked by the Celtics.
With a young team that was mostly drafted into the organization, the Celtics balance the floor well with their young talent. In the backcourt are Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. Both players have the versatility this team needs, which is the ability to facilitate an offense and at the same time, score the ball at will. Thomas led the team in points and assists per game this season, becoming the unselfish and reliable point guard the team desperately needed after the departure of Rondo a few years ago.
The frontcourt is led by “veteran” center Amir Johnson, small forward Jae Crowder and power forward Jared Sullinger. These three players are the backbone of this young squad. Crowder has been the surprise of this season, providing the offensive and defensive spark the team needs, leading the Celtics in steals per game. Johnson provides the athleticism needed at the center position. Johnson can post up in the paint, but also can pop out to the elbow and hit a jump shot if needed. Sullinger led the team in rebounds per game this year, and is able to shoot the three-point shot which makes him a versatile and valuable player.
The bench of the Celtics has provided great depth this year, led by six-year veteran guard Evan Turner. Turner has proven this season that he is still a very deadly player, being able to score in the paint, and efficiently shoot the jumper. Second-year players Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk are both developing into solid offensive players, with raw talent that has been on display the past two seasons.
The winning mentality that this team has developed over the past few seasons is allowed to Head Coach Brad Stevens. Coming in three seasons ago as a young coach in the league, Stevens was faced with the tough task of being apart of the rebuilding process. Just like Steven’s team at Butler, he had the Celtics playing aggressive, fast-paced and defensive basketball very quickly. Steven’s coaching philosophy has proven to be highly effective, with the team improving its record every season since he became the head coach in 2013, leading the team to the playoffs in two of his three seasons as head coach.
The biggest investment Ainge made at the beginning of the rebuilding process was in draft picks. Fans and critics had a difficult time seeing Ainge’s vision when the big four were dealt for mostly future draft picks three or four years down the road. But, now with a strong foundation of young players on the roster, the Celtics will now reap the benefits of investing in those draft picks. They own the draft pick rights of the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks, both are early first round picks, and then have their own draft pick. The Celtics also then have slew of second, third and later round picks. What makes this year’s draft so interesting for the Celtics is the amount of options they possess. They can invest and draft young talent, or trade away the picks for a higher caliber player, or they can do both. Ainge has so many draft picks built up from trades that his now playoff franchise can only go up after this year’s draft.
As the Celtics head into their first round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, hopes remain high for a possible deep playoff run. The Celtics thrive off of being the underdog team but are still strong enough to knock off any team in the league in a seven game series.
Regardless of how this team performs in the postseason, with the NBA draft inching closer as well, the future is nothing but bright for this young team.