Five players the Celtics were lucky to draft
Five the Celtics were lucky to draft
By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
BOSTON – When it comes to the NBA Draft, there’s a tremendous amount of value placed on the evaluation of talent.
But there are more than a few instances when draft night success comes down to luck.
The San Antonio Spurs limped to the finish line of the 1996-1997 season, hoping to land a player who could help improve their fortunes.
They wound up with Tim Duncan, the man who would lead them to five NBA titles and rank them among the league’s all-time great franchises.
Boston hasn’t had a tremendous amount of draft luck ever lately, but there’s no question the Celtics hit the jackpot on some draft picks that proved instrumental in the franchise having won more NBA titles (17) than anyone else.
So in honor of St. Patrick’s Day (and a nice distraction in between commercials during the NCAA Tournament, by the way), today’s Starting Five consists of the five Celtics draft picks that this franchise was fortunate to have landed.
5. Danny Ainge
1981 draft: Second round, 31st overall.
Ainge would have been given serious consideration in being on this top-five list if for no other reason than the fact that today, St. Patrick’s Day, is his birthday.
But there’s more to him being here than hitting the genetic jackpot. There are few men who have been significant parts of this storied franchise to have found success both as a player and later as one who helped reshape it from the position of being a front office executive. Ainge won a pair of titles (1984, 1986) with the Celtics as a player, and in the front office brought the Celtics their most recent title in 2008.
A former standout in baseball, Ainge spent some time in the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays before ultimately focusing his talents on playing basketball.
One has to wonder if Ainge had more success in his baseball stint, would he have walked away to return to basketball.
We’ll never know, and the Celtics are better for it.
4. Paul Pierce
1998 draft: First round, 10th overall
Considered by most a top-5 pick coming into the 1998 draft, Pierce inexplicably slid all the way to the Celtics at No. 10. The Celtics never worked Pierce out because they never thought they would have a chance at landing him with the No. 10 pick.
Pierce went on to have one of the greatest careers of any player to wear the White and Green. Traded to Brooklyn after 15 seasons in Boston, Pierce’s name ranks among the all-time franchise leaders in several categories. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made (1,823), attempted (4,928), second in scoring (4,021 points) and third in games played (1,102), minutes played (40,360) and field goal attempts (7,882).
The 38-year-old now plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, who are coached by former Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
3. Larry Bird
1978 draft: First round, sixth overall
During his playing days, Bird was one of the most dominant players in the NBA. And now more than 30 years after he finished playing, he’s still viewed as one of the franchise’s most iconic figures.
He was a career double-double man, averaging 24.3 points and 10.0 rebounds while tallying 21,791 points and 8,974 rebounds.
But more than the numbers, Bird had a swagger and unshakeable confidence about him that endured him to Celtics Nation and made him a hated foe of his opposition.
The Celtics drafted Bird with the sixth overall pick, but Bird elected to stay at Indiana State and led the Sycamores to the NCAA title game, and a loss to Magic Johnson and Michigan State, in 1979. The Celtics signed Bird eventually to a five-year, $3.25 million contract which made him the highest-paid rookie in league history at that time. NBA draft rules were changed soon afterward to not allow teams to draft players prior to them being ready to sign.
That would be the Bird collegiate rule, which is not to be confused with Bird rule in the NBA which relates to team’s ability to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign its own players.
The Hall of Famer is now president of the Indiana Pacers.
2. John Havlicek
1962 NBA draft: First round, seventh overall
The franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Havlicek is the standard by which most Celtics standouts who followed were measured against. A 13-time All-Star, Havlicek was so good that the Celtics didn’t waste any time retiring his jersey number 17 immediately upon his retirement in 1978.
At 6-foot-5, Havlicek could play both forward and guard positions which made him a matchup nightmare for opponents. And then there was the fact that Havlicek could run for days, often wearing down opponents who had little in the tank trying to stop or limit him down the stretch.
A standout at Ohio State, the Cincinnati Royals had the option of making a “territorial pick” and decided to use it on Jerry Lucas who like Havlicek, went on to become a Hall of Famer. I’d say that worked out well for both franchises.
1. Tommy Heinsohn
No Celtic has come in and made such a huge impact from Day One like Heinsohn. In his first season, he was named rookie of the year over teammate Bill Russell, was selected to play in the All-Star game and when the season was over, helped lead the Celtics to an NBA title.
That would be the first of eight titles Heinsohn was a part of as a player. But of the 17 titles won by Boston, Heinsohn has been involved in all of them either as a player, coach or broadcaster (currently a basketball analyst for Comcast SportsNet New England).
He is one of four inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and as a coach.
Boston acquired the former Holy Cross standout by making him a “territorial” selection in the 1956 NBA draft.
At that time teams could select a collegiate player within a 50-mile radius and by doing so, forfeit their first-round pick in that year’s draft.
The Celtics would have had the seventh overall pick in the 1956 draft, with Heinsohn likely to have already been picked if not for Boston snagging him as a territorial selection.
If they didn’t do that, can you imagine no Tommy points in Boston?
The Celtics, Celtics Nation, the media … we all should feel a little luckier having the Hall of Famer here in Boston to call one of our own.