What were the best trades in Celtics history? Ranking the Top 10
The path to many of the Boston Celtics’ 17 championships started with shrewd roster management, especially on the trade market.
General managers Red Auerbach and Danny Ainge have made some of the boldest swaps in team history and often been rewarded for those risks. Lopsided trades have become as much of a calling card of the Celtics franchise as their title banners.
Let’s examine the 10 best swaps in team history.
10. Kyrie Irving
Aug. 30, 2017: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 first-round pick (Collin Sexton) and a 2020 second-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for Kyrie Irving
Unlike many moves ahead on this list, this deal didn’t deliver any titles. Still, it was the right move for the franchise and should have positioned the team to better compete for that lofty goal. Alas, Irving and newly signed Gordon Hayward both got hurt that first season (Boston still came four minutes away from a Finals appearance) and, well, let’s just forget 2018-19 ever happened. The Irving experiment was still worth the roll of the dice, even if it left Boston scrambling a bit in the aftermath of his departure.
9. Ray Allen
June 28, 2007: A 2007 first-round pick (Jeff Green), Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and a 2008 second-round pick (Trent Plaisted) to Seattle in exchange for Ray Allen and a 2007 second-round pick (Glen Davis)
After the crushing disappointment of the 2007 draft lottery, the Celtics quickly dusted themselves off. Ainge peddled the No. 5 pick to Seattle to acquire Ray Allen, giving Boston another veteran piece who aided them in selling Kevin Garnett on a long-term future in Boston. Even while Garnett and Pierce took much of the spotlight, Allen embraced his role and was vital in Boston’s title runs.
8. Tiny Archibald
Aug. 4, 1978: Kevin Kunnert, Kermit Washington, Sidney Wicks, and Freeman Wiliams to San Diego in exchange for Tiny Archibald, Marvin Barnes, Billy Knight, and a 1981 second-round pick (Danny Ainge)
Archibald was 30, coming off an Achilles injury, and out of shape when he arrived in Boston. He was never quite his old self but he delivered three All-Star seasons and helped the Celtics’ newly assembled Big Three win their first title in 1981. What’s more, the future second-round pick in the swap turned into Danny Ainge, who eventually became a key cog in the Big Three’s other two title victories (not to mention all his fingerprints on the deals in this list as a general manager).
7. Jayson Tatum
June 19, 2017: A 2017 first-round pick (Markelle Fultz) to Philadelphia in exchange for a 2017 first-round pick (Jayson Tatum) and a 2019 first-round pick (Romeo Langford)
It wouldn’t be the first time the Celtics dealt the No. 1 pick and hit a home run at No. 3 (more on that with the No. 2 item on this list). Still, Boston electing to pass on consensus top pick Markelle Fultz and rolling the dice that Jayson Tatum would be there at No. 3 was still a risky move. Fultz navigated shoulder woes in his rookie year while Tatum capped his first season by dunking on LeBron James and nearly willed the Celtics to the NBA Finals. If Langford emerges as an impact player down the road, this deal has potential to be remembered even more fondly.
6. Isaiah Thomas
Feb. 19, 2015: Tayshaun Prince, Marcus Thornton, and a 2016 first-round pick (Skal Labissiere) in a three-team deal with Detroit and Phoenix in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Gigi Datome, and Jonas Jerebko
The Celtics thought they were getting a microwave-type scorer and a sixth man. Two and a half years later, Thomas finished fifth in the MVP voting and guided Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals before his body gave out. Thomas might have been the future face of the franchise if not for that balky hip. Gigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko were quality role players, too. Boston looked bound for the lottery before Thomas’ arrival but instead he helped turn the Celtics into the type of team that Al Horford and Kevin Durant would consider in the summer of 2016.
5. Dennis Johnson
June 27, 1983: Rick Robey, and two 1983 second-round picks (Rod Foster, Paul Williams) to Phoenix in exchange for Dennis Johnson and two 1983 draft picks (Greg Kite, Winfred King)
Sure, Johnson was regarded as moody and had a bit of a down year in 1983, but this always seemed like a head-scratcher for Phoenix. Robey was a backup center who averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds for his career. Johnson, a four-time All-Star with Seattle and Phoenix, brought defensive toughness and clutch shooting to an already talent-filled Boston squad. He aided title runs in 1984 and 1986.
4. The Brooklyn picks
July 12, 2013: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, D.J. White, a 2017 first-round pick (Kyle Kuzma), a 2017 second-round pick (Sasha Vezenkov) to Brooklyn in exchange for Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, a 2014 first-round pick (James Young), a 2016 first-round pick (Jaylen Brown), a 2017 first-round pick swap (Markelle Fultz), a 2018 first-round pick (Collin Sexton)
Danny Ainge often wondered if Red Auerbach missed a chance to trade Larry Bird and Kevin McHale at the end of their careers and pledged he would trade his aging stars if it meant shortening the team’s wait to compete again. True to his word, he dealt Garnett and Pierce to win-now thirsty Brooklyn in 2013 and brought back an unprecedented haul of picks that delivered both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. This deal has a chance to shimmy upwards if Tatum and Brown are the core of a future Boston title squad.
3. Kevin Garnett
July 31, 2007: Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and two 2009 first-round picks (Wayne Ellington, Jonny Flynn) to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Garnett
Some will always believe that Kevin McHale was doing old buddy Danny Ainge and the Celtics a favor but convincing Kevin Garnett of a future in Boston was no easy task. And, fortunately for Boston, McHale preferred Jefferson over the other young bigs on the trade market that year. The arrival of Garnett and Ray Allen morphed a Celtics team that had lost a franchise-record 17 straight the year before into an immediate juggernaut. Playing with an obvious urgency, Boston claimed its 17th title and the only question is whether they could have gotten another with better health.
2. Kevin McHale, Robert Parish
June 9, 1980: Two 1980 first-round picks (Joe Barry Carroll, Rickey Brown) to Golden State in exchange for Robert Parish and a 1980 first-round pick (Kevin McHale)
Maybe the greatest heist in Celtics history, Red Auerbach dealt the Nos. 1 and 13 picks in the 1980 draft to Golden State in exchange for Robert Parish and the No. 3 pick, which delivered Kevin McHale. The Warriors selected 7-foot Joe Barry Carroll, who ended up with the nicknames “Joe Barely Cares” and “Just Barely Carroll.” He did earn a single All-Star nod and averaged 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds for his career but, juxtaposed with Boston’s Big Three winning three titles, he’s remembered as a bust because of this trade.
1. Bill Russell
April 30, 1956: Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to St. Louis in exchange for a 1956 first-round pick (Bill Russell)
The move that set the Celtics dynasty into motion. Boston sent Macauley, a five-time All-Star, to St. Louis in exchange for a No. 2 pick — but it might not be remembered so fondly if not for the real swindle. Celtics owner Walter Brown famously sent one week of the Ice Capades to Rochester so the Royals wouldn’t take Russell with the No. 1 pick in that year’s draft. Rochester instead selected Si Green. Macauley only played three seasons with his new team but won an NBA title in 1958 with St. Louis, taking down Boston in six games. It was the only playoff series Russell lost in his first 10 years in the NBA.