It’s okay to admit that you forgot the NBA Draft is Thursday night, or maybe didn’t know at all. This is what happens when you win 60 games and don’t have a first-round pick. If things stay the course right now the Celtics pick 58th. About the only interesting story there would be if Tyrese Rice were on the board. Not exactly gripping television.
(Sure, there is still that chance that Danny Ainge has decided to give up on a 23-year-old point guard who just averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 boards. 9.8 assists and 2.5 steals during the playoffs because he has to get his hands on Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton. I’ll say this: if Rondo is traded the Celtics did a pretty good job all season of keeping this attitude problem of his off the radar. I mean, there cannot be another reason why they would move him. Won’t get anything close to equal value.)
Unless you are a legitimate draftnik (front of the line if you've seen Sergii Gladyr or Jonas Jerebko play) you need your team to have a first-round pick to have any incentive to watch. Then you can at least read the mocks and pretend to have an idea about what is going on.
With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at the 10 best and worst draft picks in Celtics history (and what fun it was—I laughed and laughed).
10. Jerome Moiso (2000, First Round, 11th pick)
Tough to go crazy with this one, if only because the 2000 draft was “Joe Buck Live” brutal. The best player from that draft is Michael Redd, and there have only been two other guys that made an All-Star team (Kenyon Martin and Jamaal Magloire.) But here’s why Moiso made the cut: he was a terrible basketball player at UCLA. But he was highly athletic for his size (6-10) and that was enough for Rick Pitino to pull the trigger. And probably Moiso would’ve been a nice fit for Pitino’s teams at Kentucky. But if your best (and only, really) skill for the NBA is heading a full-court press, it’s not going to be a 20-year career. How about just 24 games for the Celtics, with game highs of five points and five rebounds. Just a complete miss, and while the draft was not a great one, solid career role players such as Desmond Mason (17th) and Morris Peterson (21st) could have helped.
(Can I weigh in quickly on the Joe Buck affair from last week? I watched a replay of it on Tuesday night. They bleeped out most of Artie Lange’s stuff, which made it seem even worse. I guess here’s my beef with the whole thing: I have about ten HBO channels on my cable service, and at the same exact time I was watching Buck melt down “Cathouse” was on HBO2 and “Alien Sex Files 3: Aliens Gone Wild” was on HBO Zone (boy, HBO has come a long way from the days me taping “Dream On” in hopes of a pause-worthy thrill). So it’s tough for me to hear HBO spin moral outrage at the whole thing. I’m pretty sure they knew that they weren’t booking Willie Tyler and Lester when they went after Artie for the first show.)
9. Kedrick Brown (2001, First Round, 11th pick)
In his defense, I’m pretty sure he’s only player in the history of the Shaw’s Summer League to have his number retired.
8. Darren Tillis (1982, First Round, 23rd pick)
Granted, they were almost always picking last or second-to-last, but this run of first-round picks from 1981-85 (was tempted to add 1986 to the list, but that’s a little unfair) goes a long way in explain why the Celtics had ZERO bench contribution in the late 80s.
1981: Charles Bradley
1983: Greg Kite
1984: Michael Young (more on him later)
1985: Sam Vincent
I’ll give you an above-average bench for the sake of the argument, but if those guys were your starting five for a full season in 1985 how many games would they win? Maybe 15? When Greg Kite is by far the most productive first-round pick from five straight drafts (six, really) it’s not so hard to understand why Mark Acres, Dirk Minnifield and Artis Gilmore were logging real minutes off the bench at the end of the run in the 1980s.
7. Eric Montross (1994, First Round, 9th pick)
M.L. Carr proved that he had a keen eye for talent before the 1994 NBA Draft (his first as GM), claiming that Montross was “cut from the same cloth” as Larry Bird. I guess I am as well, because he must have been talking about the Caucasian cloth. What else could possibly link those two guys?
6. Joseph Forte (2001, First Round, 21st pick)
Chris Wallace waited about 15 minutes after selecting Forte to let everyone know that this was “Red’s pick”. We’ll give Wallace the silver medal in the “Publicly Humiliating a Boston Sports Legend” category, just falling short of Dan Duquette banning Johnny Pesky from the Red Sox dugout in 1997.
5. Acie Earl (1993, First Round, 19th pick)
Jurassic Earl is one of the five best nicknames of the last 20 years.
I remember seeing The Phantom Menace for the first time (actually the only time I ever saw it) and thinking that Jar Jar Binks moved exactly like Acie Earl did. Not really what you want in a first-round pick.
Might this (http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/199604120BOS.html) be the most improbable box score in basketball history? How did that happen? That is Julio Lugo returning to Fenway Park as a Kansas City Royal and hitting four home runs.
4. Michael Smith (1989, First Round, 13th pick)
We all know about Tim Hardaway, and in terms of impact on the franchise this pick ranks right behind Bias. This was the move that really led to Red Auerbach being gently nudged out of power and the ushering in of the largely forgotten Dave Gavitt Era.
Smith was just always a step behind. He just wasn’t athletic enough to compete. True, he could shoot if he was wide, wide open and he could pass a little. It was almost as if Rick Barry had tried to make a comeback at age 48 after four or five blown ACL’s.
(There were 54 players picked in the 1989 draft. Exactly one player from that class averaged at least 16 points and eight rebounds a game for his career. Yup, Dino Radja. I think if 26-year-old Dino were in the NBA today he’d be making about 12 million bucks a year. You’re telling me he wouldn’t be an 18-8 guy for a contending team?)
3. Chuck Share (1950, First Round, 1st pick)
Even when Red was wrong it usually worked out. And he was never as wrong as he was in 1950.
Share remains the only first overall pick ever for the Celtics. He never played a game with Boston, and averaged just over eight points a game in nine unforgettable seasons. But Red was convinced that the Celtics needed a solid big man, and would not waste the top pick in the draft on some flashy point guard, even if he went to school some 45 minutes west of Boston. So Bob Cousy went third overall and wound up with the Chicago Stags, who folded before the 1950 season began. Names of players from the Stags were put into a hat and the players were dispersed throughout the league. The Celtics still did not want Cousy when owner Walter Brown reached into the hat. And lives changed.
2. Michael Young (1984, First Round, 24th pick)
Gotta love Red. How many GM’s would cut a first-round pick during the training camp of his rookie season? That would never happen today (forget the guaranteed deals—GM’s are way to insecure to admit that they whiffed on a pick. Is there any other reason why Tony Allen stuck around? Anyone think if he had been picked 58th that he’d even be in the NBA?) But Red didn’t care about backlash; at the time he was the very definition of bulletproof.
Young just wasn’t ever going to play on those teams (Ainge, Henderson, DJ) and never made an impact in the league, playing just 49 games over three seasons. He was the 1986 CBA Player of the Year, which I’m told is the basketball equal of winning Best Supporting Actress at the Saugus Film Festival.
1. Len Bias (1986, First Round, 2nd pick)
It’s rough to call this the worst pick in Celtics history, but it came down to this: The loss of Bias very possibly cost the franchise at least one title (1987) and who knows what else over 15 years. No other pick comes even close in terms of negative impact.
(Look, I know that Bias seems to get better and better each year, that’s how it goes. I think Bill James once referred to it as a “halo effect”, and it’s true. There’s a reason why Roberto Clemente got almost three times the votes as Frank Robinson for the MLB All-Century Team when he wasn’t nearly the player. Maybe James Dean would’ve been doing sitcoms and infomercials if he had lived to 80, but he didn’t. So okay, Bias might have not been Michael Jordan (though some, including Coach K, thought he was pretty close), but at worst he would have been a solid, All-Star level player. There’s just too much evidence. And no one else on the 10 worst list can even come close to making that claim. Which, strangely, means he has to be No. 1.)
10. Cedric Maxwell (1977, First Round, 12th pick)
There was some rumbling at the time (2003) that Maxwell did not deserve to have his number retired. The argument against was that (A) he was never an All-Star and (B) he pretty much quit on the Celtics in 1985 (Auerbach felt that he dogged his rehab after knee surgery, leading to a trade to the Clippers for Bill Walton.) I understand that stance, but to me it comes down to this: without Cedric Maxwell the Celtics would likely have 15 championships today. 1981 Finals MVP and 24 points in Game 7 vs. the Lakers is almost enough alone to raise No. 31. Throw in the franchise career mark for field goal percentage (55.9 percent) and you’ve got a solid candidate. Is his career closer to the bottom than the top of the 20 players in the rafters? Sure. But let’s not make this out to be some massive disgrace, like Koko B. Ware in the WWE Hall of Fame or something.
9. Reggie Lewis (1987, First Round, 22nd pick)
For the younger folks that never saw Reggie play (I guess anyone 22-23 or younger probably qualifies, which is scary. But it’s been 16 years now.) Kevin Durant has a similar game in a lot of ways. Even Pierce does some of the same stuff, particularly using that pull-up jumper so well.
Was Reggie Lewis one of the 10 best draft picks in Celtics history, or am I giving him a slight bump based on what could have been? I don’t know, I’ll concede that it’s close. Who else you got over him that’s not on this list? Looking at his career just for what it was, I still think he was a steal at No. 22, much more so than a Jim Loscutoff (career average of 6.7 ppg) at No. 3 overall, for example. Lewis averaged 19.1 points a game over the last five seasons of his career and was a really good on-the-ball defender. And he wasn’t shooting 25 times a game, either, he was 49 percent from the floor (and an 82 percent free throw shooter.) But here’s what I liked best about Reggie: he stepped up in the playoffs. Throw out the 1987-88 postseason (his rookie season, he averaged just six minutes a game), and he averaged 23.5 ppg in 30 playoff games, including 28 a game in the 1992 playoffs . Are these numbers that need a sympathy bump?
Could a team with Reggie Lewis as its best player win an NBA title? I don’t think so, he was really just a scorer on the offensive end, didn’t rebound or pass with any great skill. But I do think the Celtics with Lewis, Fox, Brown and Shaw could’ve been a consistent 45-50 game winner during the 1990s, grabbing a three or four seed each season and winning a round or two before running into Jordan.
8. Charlie Scott (1970, Seventh Round, 106th pick)
Scott opted for the ABA instead of the NBA in 1970 and averaged over 30 points in his two seasons with the Virginia Squires. After three All-Star seasons with the Suns he was acquired by the Celtics in a trade for Paul Westphal. Just played two-plus seasons in Boston, but was a big part of the 1976 champs (17.6 ppg in the regular season, 15.4 in the playoffs). The truth is, I am trying to jam in a late rounder on this list. The core of all the great Celtics’ clubs were first-round picks, whether drafted by Boston or another franchise (Cousy, Russell, Hondo, Cowens, Bird, McHale, Parish, Pierce, Garnett, Allen) so it was sort of a task to find a real “steal”. I think Scott qualifies.
7. Paul Pierce (1998, First Round, 10th pick)
I still wonder, 11 years later, what is more remarkable — Pierce falling to the 10th spot (I remember reading mock drafts the morning of the draft that had him locked in to Vancouver at No. 2) or Rick Pitino somehow not screwing up and using the pick on Keon Clark.
(Hey, what was the moment that made you realize that the Pitino Era just wasn’t going to happen? (not accepting “No Duncan” for an answer – there was genuine excitement about a Mercer/Billups backcourt) For me it was pretty early on. I was in New York for a wedding during 4th of July weekend, 1997 (a union, by the way, that barely outlasted the Pitino regime). On Sunday morning I was watching TV in my hotel room (golf, I think) when the NBC Sports Desk came on (believe it was Bill Patrick). I was sort of paying attention as he blew through the previous night’s baseball scores, probably I was reading the paper, can’t remember. But I do remember the closing item. “And the Celtics have signed Travis Knight to a seven-year contract for a reported $22 million.” And that was the exact moment where doubt made its grand entrance for me. Up until that point I was in all the way. We’ll trap, we’ll shoot threes, this guy hasn’t failed anywhere, brought Kentucky back from the grave, the whole bit. But I had seen Travis Knight play basketball. I knew. And anyone who had also seen Travis Knight play basketball and was still willing to sign him to a SEVEN-YEAR DEAL wasn’t the guy I wanted behind the wheel.)
6. Dave Cowens (1970, First Round, 4th pick)
Only No. 4 pick in NBA history in the Hall of Fame (though that will probably change when Dikembe Mutombo is up for induction. And Chris Paul seems on his way.)
Think Cowens gets the short shrift historically? Here’s the list (my list, anyway) of all the players in NBA history that have been the best player on multiple title teams:
Everyone feels comfortable listing those 11 guys among the top, say, 20-25 players of all-time? So do I. Well, Cowens was the best player on the 1974 (averaged 19 points, 15.7 boards and 4.4 assists, finished fourth in MVP voting) and 1976 (19/16/4.2, finished third in MVP voting) title winners. And he was the MVP in 1973 (for a Celtics team that won 68 games) and finished second in 1975. But he seems largely forgotten now. Do you ever see him mentioned with any of those other 11? What happened?
5. Kevin McHale (1980, First Round, 3rd pick)
I’m not convinced that McHale, at his peak, wasn’t the second-best forward in NBA history. Okay, Tim Duncan might be ahead now, but that’s it for me. Look at his 1986-87 season. Twenty-six points and 10 rebounds per game, shooting 60 percent from the floor (the Celtics shot 51.7 percent in 1986-87. Twelve players in the entire league shot higher than that in 2008-09. But I’m a bitter old man when I suggest that the skill level was higher in the 1980s.) Plus McHale was First-Team All-Defense (he was First or Second Team six times.)
There hasn’t been a post player even close to McHale since he retired in 1993. He had three core moves – the jump hook, the up-and-under and the little fadeaway, which Johnny Most referred to as a “pumpkin”. Kareem and McHale are, for my money, the two best post players ever. And yet nobody has tried to emulate the skyhook or the fadeaway (and the up-and-under is practically extinct). Not sure why that is.
4. Sam Jones (1957, First Round, 8th pick)
If I asked 100 NBA fans under the age of 30 to name the two players in history with 10 or more NBA titles how many would get both? I’d have to believe that many if not most would name Russell. But how many would know Sam Jones is the other (you did, right? Tell me you did.) Not half, I bet. And this isn’t Luis Sojo, some guy along for the ride. Jones made five All-Star Teams and averaged at least 20 points per game four times. And he was even better in the playoffs, with seven 20 PPG seasons, including a 28.6 effort in 1965. I understand that he retired 40 years ago, but it surprises me that he isn’t higher on the Boston sports mountain (probably to most under-30s he’s somewhere between Big Baby Davis and Dave Roberts.)
3. John Havlicek (1962, First Round, 7th pick)
So here is my John Havlicek story.
I went to the Dave Cowens Basketball Camp in 1989. I was 14 years old and, to my immense credit, really pulled off the combination of acne and a massive perm. So when a pretty young lady would catch my eye, it only seemed natural that she would be smitten (did I mention that at the time I was in the middle of a three-year battle with B.O. AND wasn’t afraid to wear a white shirt with white shorts? Pure catnip.) And the object of my weeklong crush at the Cowens Camp? Jill Havlicek, daughter of Hondo (okay, no one ever actually confirmed that it was his daughter, it was just one of those things everyone knew at camp that week. After a couple of Google searches this week (kind of creepy, I know), though, I’m fairly confident it was her.). I’ll admit, in retrospect she played hard to get. Incredibly hard to get. So much so that if I didn’t know better I’d have to believe that she did not know I existed.
So Friday was the last day of camp, and everyone was leaving with his or her parents. But I see young Havlicek walking by with a piece of toilet paper on the heel of her shoe. My chance! With all the courage in my body I stroll over.
“Uh, there is toilet paper on your foot.”
“Oh, you mean my shoe.”
“Oh. Yeah. Your shoe.”
She walked away.
And that is my John Havlicek story.
2. Larry Bird (1978, First Round, 6th pick)
Larry Bird had two seasons in his career shooting better than 52 percent from the floor, 91 percent from the line and 40 percent on three-pointers (1986-87, 87-88), the only two times in NBA history that has been accomplished.
Larry Bird Fact, II (Or: Why Jim O’Brien will never be confused with Chuck Daly) Larry Bird attempted 1,727 three-pointers in his 13-year career. From 2000-03 Antonie Walker attempted 1,830 three-pointers.
(Here’s what really scares you: Bird hired O’Brien as head coach of the Pacers. I know it hasn’t been that long (Donnie Walsh left Indiana in 2007-08), but am I allowed to suggest that maybe it isn’t the worst thing that Larry never got the keys to run the Celtics? Put it this way: I think that Danny Ainge might have gambled and taken junior-eligible Larry Bird in 1978. I’m thinking that Larry Bird might’ve taken Freeman Williams.)
1. Bill Russell (1956, First Round, 2nd pick*)
* I know that Russell wasn’t actually picked by the Celtics, but the Hawks made the pick with a deal with Boston already in place.
The Red Sox, Bruins and Patriots have been in existence for a combined total of 243 years and have won 15 championships. Bill Russell won four less titles but, to his credit, did so in 230 fewer seasons.