First off, let me just forewarn readers. This piece has a bit of everything, but the point is just to look at how much the Celtics have changed before our very eyes. We went from seeing the big four compete for banners, to starting Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass, and Vitor Faverani just six months after Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had played their final game in green.
Yeah, I know. I promise that’s a real lineup. Faverani and Wallace are now out of the league. Green and Bass are both backups (Orlando and LAC). The only guy from that starting five still on the Celtics is Avery Bradley, and he’s currently the longest tenured Celtic. Six years. If Bradley was to be moved, the second longest tenured Celtic is Kelly Olynyk at three years.
It’s been over two years since the Boston Celtics decided to make Marcus Smart their prize in the 2014 NBA Draft. After compiling a 25-57 record during Brad Stevens first season as head coach, the team was at a fork in the road with their options. It was time to either commit to Rajon Rondo as the new face of the franchise and begin to surround him with talent or to possibly select a new star with the sixth pick in the draft.
The choice wasn’t easy for the Celtics. Fans had grown attached to Rondo, and with the rest of the big three now gone, it would hurt even more to lose him to another team.Alas, Rondo was a little over a year removed from ACL surgery and was demanding a contract that was approaching five years for $100 million. He was also 28 years old, had never been the sole star of a team, and there were still some concerns over his maturity.
These fears made the choice more clear for Boston. Smart became the highest drafted Celtic player since Jeff Green in 2007 — who was traded in the deal for Ray Allen. Once Smart was in, a new era had begun. On December 19, 2014, the Rajon Rondo era in Boston officially ended as he and Dwight Powell were traded to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright and Jameer Nelson, a second-round pick, and a conditional first-round pick. On the surface, the Mavericks had robbed the Celtics to get Rondo and many throughout the league thought they could become the best team in the western conference. And just like that, the last player remaining from the 2008 championship team was gone.
In his place sat a group that no one saw competing right away. At the time of the trade, the Celtics sat at 10-14. With their best player now gone, many across the league thought the Celtics might just concede their season to attempt to land a better draft pick. And for most of the first half of the season, they were right. As the All-Star Break hit, the Celtics record was a lowly 20-31. Many fans had begun to accept that the rebuild could be lengthy.
However, Danny Ainge was still dealing, and on February 19th, 2015 the Celtics fate changed. During one of the busiest NBA Trade Deadline days in the past few decades, Boston arguably pulled off the biggest move of the afternoon.
The Phoenix Suns ran into an issue when their three-point guard experiment had begun to fail and it was time to make a move. Now, the Suns just needed to decide who to deal. It wouldn’t be Eric Bledsoe, who they had begun to make the face of their franchise. Bledsoe had also just landed a five-year $70 million contract extension with the Suns just a few months earlier. That means it would come down to Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas.
Rumors around the league alluded that Dragic would be leaving for free agency. The Suns couldn’t take the risk of losing him for nothing and dealt him to the Miami Heat. This wouldn’t end Phoenix’s day of trades. Later on, they would trade for Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall, effectively reopening the issue they had solved by trading Dragic.
Danny Ainge was listening to deals as always and had already netted Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome from the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Tayshaun Prince, and now saw an opportunity with Phoenix. Suns GM Ryan McDonough had quite the day, and after pulling off a few blockbuster moves, he was pleased with the results. Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe predictably could be the future in the backcourt with the Suns, but what about Isaiah Thomas?
The guy who was nearly forgotten in the 2011 draft was once again being swept under the rug. Thomas had been acquired by Phoenix from Sacramento in a sign and trade after he felt the Kings no longer wanted him. Now, only a few months later, he was back in the same situation. Thomas spoke about his unhappiness with the role he was in, comparing it to what the Suns told him it would be like when he decided to sign there.
The Suns GM Ryan Mcdonough had previously been working as the assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics under Danny Ainge. The two executives had a friendly bond that resonated back to their time together in Boston, and that helped to influence Mcdonough a bit during negotiations. Ainge wanted Isaiah Thomas, but only for the right price. The two eventually compromised, and the deal was completed just before the deadline ended. Isaiah Thomas would head to the struggling Boston Celtics for Marcus Thornton and the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 first-round pick.
Mcdonough would later go on to say that if there was one trade he could take back, it would be Isaiah Thomas. The acquisition of Thomas put new life into the Celtics — now they had a legit scoring option. There was a renewed confidence amongst the team and they used it to go 20-10 down the stretch. This performance helped the Celtics capture the seventh seed in the East, where they would face the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The team wasn’t truly ready to compete yet — hell no one had even seen them in the playoffs two months earlier. Cleveland swept Boston, but the Celtics showed a lot of promise. They had leads and kept games close, they just failed to finish. Overall, Celtics fans were displeased with the sweep but knew it would be very hard to upset LeBron James and the Cavs.
Going into the offseason, the Celtics quickly decided that they wanted to keep most of the group together. Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko were quickly re-signed to team friendly deals. In the draft, Boston selected Terry Rozier (16), RJ Hunter (28), and Jordan Mickey (33). They also were able to bring in Amir Johnson during the free agency period, which helped bolster frontcourt depth.
Essentially, the Celtics were attempting to add players who would help them compete for another playoff berth, and everyone was pretty excited as we move towards the beginning of the 2015-2016 season.