This is the second in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)

Part 1: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy

In order to justify holding Pierce on ice as a keeper, Ainge needed to land a big fish who could restore a winning culture to the Bay State’s once proud basketball franchise. Garnett did that and then some. Now, seven years later, the C’s president must reel in another catch, and the solution may reside in the Land of 10,000 Lakes once again.

For all the bellyaching about whether or not Kevin McHale helped steer Garnett to his former team, the Celtics offered the best package at the time. In the end, the deal centered around a double-double machine in Al Jefferson, and it’s not Ainge’s fault the Timberwolves drafted Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry.

Come to think of it, Minnesota’s failure to capitalize on that Garnett trade may ultimately force the T-Wolves to deal Kevin Love. If David Kahn had played his cards right in the draft since 2007, he could have revealed a starting lineup of Curry, Love, Jefferson, Paul George and DeMar DeRozan within three years.

But, alas, the Timberwolves aren’t an uber-exciting All-Star squadron. They’re a .500 team. In the Western Conference, that gets you a lottery pick, and it doesn’t sit well with a perennial NBA All-Star. Just ask Garnett. Like KG in 2007, Love is nearing the end of his contract (Garnett had two years left, Love has one) and would require some convincing to sign an extension in Boston beyond his current deal.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, Ainge must ask himself two questions: 1) Is Kevin Love the kind of franchise-altering player who can help return the Celtics to their former glory, and 2) Do they have enough to get him?

Garnett Love

As good as Love has been — ranking among the league’s top five in scoring and rebounding in his last two healthy seasons — any comparison to Garnett is premature. A perennial All-NBA and All-Defensive selection, KG in 2007 was already well on his way to one of the greatest power forward careers in basketball history.

The current Timberwolves power forward, however, is only 25 years old and has almost 25,000 fewer minutes on his legs than Garnett did at the time the Celtics traded for him. Needless to say, he will be in high demand.

Statistics aside, it’s impossible to measure Garnett’s heart. From hurling medicine balls against a wall at practice to smashing his head into a stanchion before games and pumping out knuckle pushups during them, he accepted nothing less than maximum from anyone who shared the floor with him. Keyon Dooling once called him “the greatest teammate in the history of the NBA,” and it’s hard to imagine Doc Rivers disagreeing with that sentiment.

Still, all of Garnett’s desire didn’t translate into much team success in Minnesota. His Wolves sandwiched seven straight first-round playoff exits and three consecutive lottery seasons around a trip to the conference finals. At the time, he seemed destined to join Charles Barkley and Karl Malone among the greats never to win a title.

While Love hasn’t quite entered that conversation yet, he’s the subject of a similar discussion. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out last week, he currently counts himself among the game’s best players never to appear in the playoffs. If that doesn’t make a basketball player hungry for victories, then it’s time to change professions.

Come July, it will have been two years since Love declared, “Something has to happen in Minnesota,” and little has changed. As one of the few elite 2015 NBA free agents in his prime (Rondo is another), Love could force Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders‘ hand by internally stating his desire to sign elsewhere next season. As was the case with KG, The T-Wolves won’t want to be left with nothing in return.

Whether Love would want to sign an extension with the Celtics is an entirely different matter. Pierce and Garnett shared a bond that went back to junior high, and Rivers helped discredit KG’s perception of Boston, ultimately convincing him to wear the green he came to love. It remains to be seen if Rondo and Brad Stevens can have the same influence on superstar talents, but first Ainge must outbid the competition for Love’s services.

Jefferson Sullinger

Last season, Jefferson recalled the fledgling 2006-07 Celtics fondly. ”In the time we were here, when we were losing, we hardly ever got blown out,” he said. “It was always close games, but we were just such a young team, we didn’t know how to finish those games. I knew if we could’ve stayed together, things could’ve got better for us.”

The same can be said about this year’s edition. These young C’s rarely leave the locker room without discussing plans to get together, and they’re record of 7-34 when trailing by five or less in the final five minutes is the stuff of legend. But that didn’t stop Ainge from trading Jefferson, and it shouldn’t stop him from dealing Jared Sullinger.

Heck, Jefferson has now twice declared, ”€œIf I were Danny Ainge, €œI would’€™ve traded me for Kevin Garnett, too.”

The similarities between Jefferson and Sullinger go beyond their jersey number. Both late-round draft picks and 22 years old at the time, Big Al and Sully respectively averaged near identical numbers per 36 minutes in 2006-07 and 2013-14 (Jefferson: 17.2 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 1.4 apg; Sullinger: 17.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.1 apg).

Keep in mind, too, that Jefferson had just one year left on his rookie deal, and Sullinger is under control for two more seasons at short money. Other than Rondo, he is easily the C’s most attractive player on the trade market.

With Kris Humphries‘ $12 million salary coming off the books this summer, the Celtics don’t have the equivalent of Theo Ratliff‘s expiring contract to sweeten a Love deal, but they have plenty of young pieces a la Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes and four times as many first-round picks to package around Sullinger.

If Sullinger, Jeff Green or Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony‘s expiring deal and two (or even three) first-round picks sounds too steep, remember that the hardest part of rebuilding in Boston is landing that next big fish, and Love is a heckuva catch. In the end, as Ainge says, it’s always better to be the team trading four quarters for a dollar.

Love, like those cold Minnesota winters, isn’t as much fun all alone. Partners help the seasons pass a little easier, especially one as unselfish as Rondo. Heck, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck already promised the fireworks. It’s now up to Ainge and Saunders — who like McHale spent some time in Boston — to make the Love connection.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joins Mut and Merloni to discuss and reflect on the Boston Marathon Bombings a year later.

The Celtics dropped their second-to-last game of the 2013-14 season, falling to the lowly 76ers in Philadelphia by a 113-108 count. Though Chris Johnson appeared to hit a game-tying 3-pointer near the end of regulation, the forward was ruled to have stepped out of bounds for a turnover. The 76ers added a pair of free throws to create the game’s final margin.

The Celtics dropped their second-to-last game of the 2013-14 season, falling to the lowly 76ers in Philadelphia by a 113-108 count. Though Chris Johnson appeared to hit a game-tying 3-pointer near the end of regulation, the forward was ruled to have stepped out of bounds for a turnover. The 76ers added a pair of free throws to create the game’s final margin.

Kelly Olynyk continued his scoring surge in defeat, with the center dropping in a career-high 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Jeff Green added 27, Avery Bradley scored 23 (though he shot just 9-of-22) and Rajon Rondo fell a bucket shy of a triple-double, scoring eight points, claiming 11 boards and distributing 14 assists.

The Celtics wrapped up the year with a 9-32 road record. All that remains between the Celtics and the end of the season is a home contest against Washington on Wednesday. The Celtics currently possess the fifth-worst record in the NBA; with one game remaining, they could finish with as “low” as the fourth-worst record and as “high” as the sixth-worst record.

For a full game recap, click here.

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The Celtics didn’t have Rajon RondoJared Sullinger, Jerryd Bayless or Kris Humpries, yet their undermanned roster still managed to claim a comfortable 111-99 victory over the Cavs in Cleveland. The win snapped the Celtics’ 13-game road losing streak.

The Celtics didn’t have Rajon RondoJared Sullinger, Jerryd Bayless or Kris Humpries, yet their undermanned roster still managed to claim a comfortable 111-99 victory over the Cavs in Cleveland. The win snapped the Celtics’ 13-game road losing streak.

Kelly Olynyk matched a career-high with 25 points and set a new career standard with 12 boards, while Avery Bradley likewise poured in 25 and Phil Pressey distributed 13 assists. For a complete recap of the game, click here.

Of course, the victory — the Celtics’ second straight — wasn’t necessarily the ideal outcome for a franchise in a pitched battle for ping-pong balls in the NBA draft lottery. The Celtics are now 25-55, the fifth-worst record in the NBA, with their victory having pushed them behind Utah (24-55 as of the end of the game in Cleveland) and neck-and-neck with the Lakers (25-54). A team that looked earlier in the week like it might be spiraling towards the third-highest number of ping-pong balls in the lottery for the top three picks is instead now in danger of falling to sixth, with an outside chance (if the Celtics win out and Kings lose out) of matching the Kings for the sixth-worst record (rather than claiming it outright).

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The Celtics coughed up a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, but an inspired Rajon Rondo-less effort fended off the Bobcats in a 106-103 victory that snapped a nine-game losing streak. Meanwhile, Orland’s loss to the Wizards gave the Magic sole possession of the NBA’s third-worst record.

The Celtics coughed up a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, but an inspired Rajon Rondo-less effort fended off the Bobcats in a 106-103 victory that snapped a nine-game losing streak. Meanwhile, Orland’s loss to the Wizards gave the Magic sole possession of the NBA’s third-worst record.

Avery Bradley led the Celtics (24-55) with 22 points. Jared Sullinger scored 20 while Jeff Green, and Brandon Bass each added 18. Kelly Olynyk (12 points) and Phil Pressey (10 points, 13 assists) also reached double figures. Pressey’s rebound tap to Bass in the closing seconds sealed the victory.


Avery good night: The real shame in Rondo’s absence was another missed opportunity for the Rondo-Bradley backcourt. While the two provided the few highlights (43 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds, 6 steals) against Atlanta in their first game together in almost two weeks, Rondo was not in uniform to play Batman to Bradley’s Robin against the Bobcats. Not that it mattered, as the soon-to-be restricted free agent led the Celtics with 14 points by halftime.

Triple take: Almost everybody got in on the C’s 3-point shooting effort, but Bradley again led the way, draining his first three attempts. Pressey and Olynyk also buried a pair each during their 9-of-13 start from distance.

Fighter’s mentality: Led by the consistent effort of Bass and a surprising spark from Green, the Celtics closed the third quarter on a 12-0 run, snagging an 84-75 lead entering the fourth quarter. Pressey’s dive for a loose ball and pass from his behind to a breaking Olynyk drew a playoff-like response from the Garden crowd. While the C’s would have been better served with the loss, the fight they showed may also pay dividends down the road.


Rondo no go: While Rondo’s absence should have benefited the Ping Pong count, his late scratch surprised the Garden crowd. When Brad Stevens addressed the media two hours before the game, Rondo was slated to start the first night of the team’s final back-to-back, but he returned from  warmups with a bruised left shin. His status for Saturday’s game in Cleveland — originally a scheduled day off — remains uncertain. With Kemba Walker (groin) also sidelined, fans instead watched a starting point guard matchup between Phil Pressey and Luke Ridnour.

Big Al: As the Celtics have all season, they struggled against a talented offensive big man. This time it happened to be old friend Al Jefferson (32 points, 10 rebounds), who torched Sullinger & Co. with a variety of post moves for 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in Charlotte’s 29-point first quarter. He signed a three-year, $41 million deal with the Bobcats over the summer, and while pundits criticized his move to a franchise in perennial peril, his 21.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists for a team surprisingly ranked among the top defensive units in the league. Suddenly, that $41 million doesn’t seem so bad, especially when you consider the C’s are paying Gerald Wallace $30.3 over that same span.

Bumps and bruises: Jerryd Bayless suffered a right knee sprain in the fourth quarter and did not return. Additionally Sullinger rolled his left ankle and left for the locker room in the third, but returned after getting some tape on it. The last the Celtics want to see is injuries pile up in the last few games.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach
Jackie MacMullan talks some Celtics with Mut and Merloni as the season is winding down and the team is positioned to have a high draft pick.

[0:07:51] ... it started to be at three point contest between Jared Salinger and Kyle Korver. -- -- -- And you know to leave Korver open not once but twice senior transition -- I think there is no ...
[0:09:25] ... to have Bradley in the locker room. Ridiculous but the east because Miami Heat the nets now I think what to two out of three from these guys don't look at the Eastern Conference and you ...
[0:09:58] ... little lackeys in net I don't think the net compete at the Miami Heat a seven game series in spite of that small sample site. But I am confused about the Indiana Pacers. And you know I did talk to Larry -- about last week. And and actually someone else in the front -- more recently than that. And I think this move was a good one what Frank -- did I'm sitting in both starters and he probably will get kinda think I don't know we'll see what Adam Paul Adam silver. Would take he had -- but those guys did look fatigued David West particular with the heart solidarity to -- looks run down. He played and played Georgia and western Hibbert and those guys a ...

I have been saying for about a month now that the bottom three teams in the NBA are etched in stone: Bucks, 76ers and Magic. However, thanks to a nine-game Celtics losing streak, combined with an unlikely two-game Magic winning streak, I was wrong. Both teams enter Thursday with records of 23-55, sharing the third spot in the lottery.

This is exactly what Danny Ainge had in mind at the start of the season, and now his plan is coming to fruition. But with only four games remaining for both Orlando and Boston, losing has become as important as ever this season. The Magic still have the inside track, as they play the Wizards, Nets (looking for revenge for Orlando’€™s win Wednesday), Bulls and Pacers.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have some very winnable games, so this is going to require some dedication to losing. The C’s face the Bobcats, Cavaliers, 76ers and Wizards in their final four outings. Yes, that’€™s right, the Celtics and 76ers will face off in another dreadful battle like the one we saw last Friday night at the Garden. Boston’s other three opponents are either trying to fight their way into the postseason or are jostling for position, so they arguably have something to play for.

This is all speculation at the moment, but if we are going by what the numbers tell us, Orlando will lose out. Meanwhile, the C’s should lose three of those games, leaving us with the 76ers contest. Look, the Celtics roster is clearly better than Philly’s, but Brad Stevens and company are going to have to understand the importance of sacrificing this game. This single game could hold the value of moving up one spot in the lottery — or not falling back a spot, depending on which way you want to look at it.

On top of that, unless the 14-win Bucks finish on a hot streak, the 76ers have nothing to lose by winning games now. They are six wins behind the Magic and Celtics, so even if they win out they still hold the second spot in the lottery. Essentially, I am saying the 76ers can stop tanking and it will not affect their lottery odds. Monday night in Philadelphia is the Celtics’ biggest game of the season.

This is all premature, as we have no clue what will happen in these games. The Magic are hot, maybe they can win another one and the C’€™s finish with sole possession of the third lottery spot. Maybe Orlando’€™s schedule is too much and Boston slips back to the fourth spot. Then there is the event of a tie, which actually is more likely at this point — both teams could easily go winless the rest of the season. If Boston and Orlando share the third-worst record in the NBA, they would split the lottery odds of third and fourth down the middle — a 42.4 percent chance at a top-three pick and an 89.4 percent chance at a top-five pick each.

So the Celtics actually are improving their lottery chances, unexpectedly, and the timing couldn’€™t be better. Five the top seven prospects outside have declared for the draft, and Jabari Parker and Julius Randle still have until April 27 to decide. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh all have confirmed they will be on the board come June 26. Doug McDermott is a senior, so we know he is in. Expected top-10 pick Aaron Gordon is still weighing his options as well.

Regardless of what Parker and Randle decide to do, this is still a very deep draft with some headline talents at the top. Certainly Parker and Randle entering would put the class over the top, I am on the record that Parker is the perfect fit for Boston. But just getting a high pick this early into a rebuild on a roster with Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger is a great start. Whether Ainge decides to use the pick and go young, or trade it and pair a star with Rondo is all up to him, but either way, it gets the Celtics closer to contending again than they are now.

There is a lot on the line the last week of the NBA season. Teams are battling for playoff position and playoff spots are even still up for grabs, but the Celtics have a pretty big final week themselves, albeit for very different reasons.

Stay tuned next week for another mock draft once all the final lottery seeds are locked in. We finally find out where the Celtics land, and who they may choose.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

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Julian Edlow