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If history is any indication, the Celtics' championship window isn't open just yet

/ by Mark Hazlett
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There has been plenty of manufactured outrage directed at Danny Ainge for, essentially, not acquiring Myles Turner in a sign-and-trade for Gordon Hayward. That’s fine.

Just know Turner was not going to make a difference in the Celtics’ championship aspirations this season. Unless Ainge was getting a top-10 player in his prime, no one was moving the championship needle this year. Or next year. Or the year after that. 

The Celtics’ legitimate title window won’t really open until 2024. Almost every title winner of this century has one thing in common: a top-10 NBA player who is at least 26 years old. 

Celtics Talk Podcast: Breaking out the Kemba Walker panic meter; the truth about why Gordon Hayward left | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Catch-all advanced statistics are nowhere near perfect, but looking at several of them can give us a good idea of where players stand in the league. 

Here are all the title winners since 2000 with top-10 players (based on a combination of VORP, BPM, win shares, PER) and their ages:

2020 Lakers: LeBron James (35), Anthony Davis (26)

2019 Raptors: Kawhi Leonard (27)

2018 Warriors: Steph Curry (29), Kevin Durant (29)

2017 Warriors: Steph Curry (28), Kevin Durant (28)

2016 Cavaliers: LeBron James (31)

2015 Warriors: Steph Curry (26)

2013 Heat: LeBron James (28), Dwyane Wade borderline (31)

2012 Heat: LeBron James (27), Dwyane Wade (30)

 

2011 Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki (32)

2010 Lakers: Pau Gasol (29) Kobe Bryant borderline (31)

2009 Lakers: Kobe Bryant (30), Pau Gasol (28)

2008 Celtics: Kevin Garnett (31), Paul Pierce (30)

2007 Spurs: Tim Duncan (30), Manu Ginobili (29)

2005 Spurs: Tim Duncan (28), Manu Ginobili borderline (27)

2003 Spurs: Tim Duncan (26)

2002 Lakers: Shaq (29), Kobe (23)

2001 Lakers: Shaq (28)

2000 Lakers: Shaq (27)

The Exceptions

There have been three notable exceptions to the top-10/age 26+ rule since 2000. Could the Celtics fit into one of these molds in the next few seasons?

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2014 Spurs

The most dominant Finals teams of all time turned a series against prime LeBron into a laugher. Kawhi Leonard was a borderline (probably just outside) top-10 player in his age 22 season. His supporting cast: Tim Duncan (37), Manu Ginobili (36), Tony Parker (31), Danny Green (26), Boris Diaw (31). Pretty tough to replicate that mix of rising star and multi-championship core.

Is there an alternate timeline where Jayson Tatum leads an aging supporting cast of Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to a title? Doesn’t matter now, they’re all gone.

2006 Heat

An unprecedented run here by a 24-year-old Dwyane Wade in his third NBA season. Wade was a top-10 player, but was able to win a championship quicker than even LeBron or Michael Jordan.

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His only two teammates to average 10+ points in the playoffs were 33-year-old Shaq (not close to top-10 at this point in his career) and 29-year-old Antoine Walker (shimmy, shimmy, ya). This was an anomaly, but Wade was still two years older than Jayson Tatum is right now.

2004 Pistons

The go-to example of a title team that didn’t have a superstar. We know the names. Chauncey Billups (age 27) and Ben Wallace (age 29) were both borderline top-15 guys. But it’s hard to compare today’s game to then. The Pistons averaged 90.1 points in the regular season. They were 19th in the league in offensive rating. No champ has finished worse than 11th in ORTG since. 

Should the Celtics hire Larry Brown, grind out possessions, and aim for 90-87 defensive showdowns? How'd that turn out for the 76ers last season?

Forsberg: Which young role player will impact Celtics most in 2020-21?

Where do the Celtics fit in all this?

The Celtics could absolutely make an NBA Finals in the next several years. History just tells us they won’t win one until their best player is at least 26 years old.

Jayson Tatum was a top-20 player this year, his age 21 season (he was probably top 15 by season’s end). He’ll be a top-10 player soon enough. His age 26 season is 2024-25, the last year of his recently-signed extension before a player option in 2025-26.

That’s when the Celtics will absolutely be title contenders, Myles Turner in the lineup or not.