Celtics Insider

Blakely: The draft night regret that still haunts Celtics

Celtics Insider

Hindsight is always 20/20 when it comes to most things in life. 

In NBA circles, this is especially true when it comes to the NBA draft. 

Mike Zarren, assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics, recently joined The Athletic’s NBA Show podcast and reminisced about the 2011 NBA Draft. 

For those who don’t remember, that was the year the Celtics selected JaJuan Johnson out of Purdue with the 27th overall pick.

Three picks later, the Chicago Bulls selected Jimmy Butler and the rest as they say, is history. 

Zarren has been in the NBA long enough to realize that you’re not going to hit a home run with every draft pick. 

But he readily admits the 2011 draft is one that the Celtics whiffed on by not taking Butler. 

"The one that we talk about the most internally is Jimmy Butler and JaJuan Johnson," Zarren said. “Every team has tons of these stories. We had it narrowed down to those two guys and picked the wrong one."

Zarren added, “We should have picked Jimmy and we didn’t.”

Swing and a miss

Jimmy Butler, career NBA points
JaJuan Johnson, career NBA points

Folks often want to talk with Zarren about the 2013 NBA Draft when the Celtics traded up to select Kelly Olynyk and not Giannis Antetokounmpo, who went Milwaukee at No. 15 -- two spots behind Boston taking Olynyk at No. 13. 

But as Zarren and several NBA executives pointed out then and afterwards, Antetokounmpo's play in Greece gave very little insight into how he eventually grew into being a league MVP. 


“Look, I defy anyone to look at his statistics or his performance in Greece and learn that he was going to grow a bunch of inches and become the MVP of the league,” Zarren said. “I don’t think Milwaukee knew that either.” 

Zarren added, “I feel worse about the Jimmy one because we had it narrowed down to two guys.”

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There have been attempts by Boston since to acquire Butler via trade, but they've fall short for a variety of reasons. 

However, you have to wonder just how different the Celtics would be if Butler were in the fold back in 2011.

How would he have fit in with the Celtics’ Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen? 

Would there have been similar clashes with coaches and players like we've seen with him in previous NBA stops?

While having Butler back then would have been a nice get for the Celtics, it may have affected Boston’s decision-making on whether to draft Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in 2016 and 2017, respectively. 

As Boston returns to the Eastern Conference Finals and has its sights set on returning to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade, the play of Brown and Tatum has been huge.

Blakely: Tatum does it all when it matters most in Game 7

And when you look at the Miami Heat’s unexpected surge towards success in the playoffs, Butler’s talent and leadership has been absolutely vital to the Heat rocking an impressive 8-1 postseason record.

Sure, it would have been nice to have had Butler in Boston. 

But considering where he and the Celtics are right now, neither side should have regrets about how things have played out.