Celtics

Celtics can thank Michael Jordan for allowing them to draft Paul Pierce

Celtics can thank Michael Jordan for allowing them to draft Paul Pierce

After a month of watching "The Last Dance," you know all the things Michael Jordan did for the Chicago Bulls.

But he also gave the Celtics a huge, unintentional assist.

Let’s say it another way: Thanks to Michael Jordan, the Celtics had the opportunity to enjoy 15 seasons of Paul Pierce.

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In June 1997, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was on the verge of completing a deal with the Celtics’ Rick Pitino. I was covering the Celtics at the time for the Boston Globe and my colleague, Peter May, had the story ready to go. The Bulls would get the third and sixth picks in the draft along with a player (probably Eric Williams), and the Celtics would receive Scottie Pippen and Luc Longley.

What does that have to do with Pierce, who was still at Kansas? Hold on. We’re getting there.

The trade actually would have been good for what both Krause and Pitino wanted at the time. Krause, as the series explained so well, was looking ahead to a rebuild. He planned to select Tracy McGrady and Ron Mercer with those picks, and he would have gotten them. Pitino wanted to take away the sting of losing the draft lottery — and Tim Duncan — and was desperate to make the playoffs in his first year.

With Pippen and Longley, Pitino would have gotten his wish of a 45- to 47-win team, if not better.

The presence of those two would have strengthened the roster in other ways, too. There wouldn’t have been Pitino’s disastrous panic signing of Travis Knight. You can’t make this stuff up: Because Pitino didn’t know the salary cap — no joke — he didn’t realize that bringing in Knight forced him to get rid of Rick Fox, which he didn’t want to do.

So take away that error and you still have Fox as a valuable starter/role player here instead of an eventual champion/actor in Los Angeles.

Jordan shut it all down. 

He’d already promised to retire if the Bulls didn’t bring back Phil Jackson (they did), and now he was raging about the potential departure of the versatile Pippen. The Bulls went on to win their sixth title and the Celtics, with 36 wins, dropped into the lottery. They got the 10th pick and smartly and happily took Pierce.

(A what-if for another day is imagining who the Celtics would be if Pitino had gotten his preferred player in that draft, Dirk Nowitzki.)

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Looking up at the Garden rafters now, and looking through the Celtics’ record books, there’s a good lesson on patience somewhere in there. Pierce is either ranked first, second or third in at least a dozen categories in franchise history. He helped break a generational championship drought and picked up a Finals MVP along the way.

As for Pippen, his trade here would have been received well in ’97 because Pitino got the benefit of the doubt on everything he did then. Clearly, I feel some kind of way about it; don’t get me started.

After the Bulls’ Last Dance, it was a last dance of sorts for Pippen as well. He was never an All Star after ’98, and Pierce was better than Pippen by his second year in the league.

If the unfolding of Pierce’s story provides a lesson on patience, one of my small-print takeaways from "The Last Dance" is that it shows the flaws of arrogance. It served Jordan well on the court, and I still haven’t seen a better player, stylist, and international phenomenon. But with all those years he spent watching Krause, and making fun of him, he missed an opportunity to learn some team-building techniques from him.

Krause had one of the best 10-year runs of general managing in the history of the sport, highlighted by his discovery of Phil Jackson, drafting of Pippen, and trade for Dennis Rodman. A talented team builder, Jordan is not.

But I’m nitpicking. Jordan was clutch in the front-office move that matters to us. He shut down a trade and Pierce wound up here because of it.

Thanks, Mike.

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Heat?

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Heat?

Miami is always a tough opponent come playoff time, but the Boston Celtics have every reason to feel confident they would prevail if the two were to meet in the playoffs in Orlando. 

In their two regular season matchups, the Celtics won both by an average of 13.5 points. 

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Making the victories even more impressive was Boston playing without some top players, as Marcus Smart (illness) missed the Celtics’ 112-93 win at the TD Garden on Dec. 4 while Jayson Tatum (groin) and Enes Kanter (hip) were both sidelined for the rematch, a 109-101 Celtics win, in Miami on Jan. 28. 

In both wins, Jaylen Brown was the one player the Heat had no answer for containing. After dropping a season-high 31 points on Miami in the first matchup, Brown was just as dominant in the second meeting when he scored 25 points, only to be outshined by Gordon Hayward’s 29. 

For the Celtics, both wins came down to their ability to force Miami into the Jimmy Butler show while limiting the overall impact of those around him.

But the Heat team Boston could see in the playoffs will be better than the squad that the C's faced earlier in the season. Miami has been a notoriously bad three-point shooting team for years. But after the All-Star break, the Heat averaged 15.5 made threes per game, which was fifth-best in the league. And their 40.8 percent shooting on threes after the break was tops in the league. 

The Celtics' starting five has been strong all season, and will look to continue along that path if the two meet up in the playoffs.

For Miami to pull off the upset, look for the Heat’s bench to play a major role. Miami’s second unit averages 41.3 points per game which ranks seventh in the NBA. They would face a Boston squad that’s allowing a league-low 33.6 bench points per game. Part of that strong defense after the break has been Boston’s board work. After the break, they have a rebounding percentage of .510 which ranks ninth in the league, while the Heat’s .496 rebounding percentage ranks 20th. 

PREDICTIONS FOR CELTICS-HEAT PLAYOFF SERIES

A. Sherrod Blakely: Miami is a better team now than it was during either of Boston’s two regular season wins. But Jayson Tatum’s meteoric rise combined with a healthy Kemba Walker will be too much for the Jimmy Butler-led Heat.

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

Chris Forsberg: The Heat look a little different than the team Boston toppled twice in the regular season and added veteran, playoff-tested experience in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. While Jimmy Butler has a penchant for the big stage, he wasn’t able to get a loaded Philly roster out of the second round a year ago.

The task will be even more difficult here and Miami’s younger players will be challenged to maintain their regular-season production. If healthy, the Celtics have more pure talent overall and match up well against Miami’s small-ball ways.

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

DJ Bean: We've seen Jimmy Butler's numbers drop in the postseason before, and while Bam Adebayo's a stud, they'd have the same problem virtually every team in the East will have: they just don't have the sheer number of stars Boston does. 

Prediction: Celtics in 5 or 6 games

Kara Lawson writes heartfelt tribute to Celtics after landing Duke job

Kara Lawson writes heartfelt tribute to Celtics after landing Duke job

Kara Lawson was only on the Celtics' coaching staff for one season, but it was clearly a special experience both for her and the team.

On Sunday, C's head coach Brad Stevens and some of the Celtics players both congratulated Lawson on her new job as head coach of the women's basketball team at Duke and described how much of an impact she made in her limited time in Boston.

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Marcus Smart was effusive in his praise for the former Olympic gold medalist, saying, "she became more than just my shooting coach, she became a longtime friend and somebody I know I can talk to if I ever need advice.”

On Wednesday morning, it was Lawson's turn to express her appreciation for the Celtics in an emotional social media post, writing, "These men have changed my life. I have loved my time with the Boston Celtics. Our players are authentic, intelligent, creative and passionate men. They motivated me every day to be my best for them."

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It’s been an emotional few days for me. And, while I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity in front of me at Duke University, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the team I’m leaving behind. These men have changed my life. I have loved my time with the Boston Celtics. Our players are authentic, intelligent, creative and passionate men. They motivated me every day to be my best for them. They surprised me last night by all wearing @DukeWBB T-shirts for an incredible show of support before I head to Durham. I cried. They would probably laugh and tell you I’ve cried a lot these last few days but I will tell you having relationships with players that move you to those kinds of emotions is the most meaningful pursuit one can have as a coach. I love them and I will miss them.

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Seeing the entire C's contingent decked out in Duke women's basketball shirts makes you realize the genuine affection and appreciation the players built for Lawson in such a short time — and it's no surprise that Jayson Tatum is front and center in the picture as Lawson heads to Durham.

Enes Kanter, always a consistent presence on social media, summed up the photo with a perfect one-word caption: FAMILY.

With Lawson leaving the Orlando bubble, the Celtics are replacing her on the traveling coaching staff with Brandon Bailey, who is also in his first season as a Celtics assistant.