NBA Draft 2011: Top 10 Draft Steals in Boston Celtics History
The Playoffs have finished. The Larry O'Brien Trophy has been awarded once more. Parades have been held, celebrations have died down (at least somewhat), and tears have been shed by winners and losers alike. It's almost time for the offseason, when rumours of trades and free agent signings will occasionally break the easy-going pace of baseball season and vacation time.
But before we get to all that happy stuff, it's almost time for the 2011 NBA Draft.
Set to take place on June 23 at the Prudential Center in Newark, the Draft will once again give teams the opportunity to reload their lineups and begin to work toward future success.
Sometimes teams rebuild around marquee players taken early in the draft, while other times the beginnings of a dynasty can be found farther down the draft board.
The Boston Celtics are well-known for building Championship-winning teams around a core of players rather than simply a single player. From the dynasty of the 50's and 60's to the Big Three of the 80's and the Big Three of the 21st century, the Celtics have found talent from all up and down the draft board. Here, we'll take a look at 10 of the biggest steals in Boston Celtics draft history, and how they've contributed to the team during their careers.
Note: I had a difficult time finding photos of several players in Bleacher Report's photo database, and due to the fact that uploading photos is sometimes a difficult copyright situation, I will refrain from doing so and a picture of the Celtics logo will appear instead.
1. Bill Russell (1956)*
The Celtics did not originally draft Bill Russell in 1956 (hence the asterisk); he was acquired in a trade that sent Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks. Red Auerbach had had his sights set on the University of San Francisco phenom for some time, but had performed too well in the previous season to have a shot at drafting him, and since he was already highly sought-after by much of the NBA, the Celtics had virtually no shot at landing him.
No shot, that is, until opportunity arose.
The Rochester Royals, who held the first pick in the 1956 Draft and were unwilling to give Russell the $25,000 signing bonus that he wanted, passed on Russell in favor of Sihugo Green, a smaller outside shooter. The Hawks, holding the second pick, were interested in Ed Macauley, the Celtics' starting center at the time. Macauley, with roots in St. Louis, had previously requested a trade to the Hawks in order to be near his ailing son. Auerbach took advantage of the opportunity to acquire Russell and sent Macauley and Cliff Hagan (who had served two years in the military and never played for the Celtics) to St. Louis, and Bill Russell came to Boston.
And as we all know, the rest is history.
2. Sam Jones (1957)
The basketball story of Sam Jones is an interesting one.
As the story goes according to NBA.com, the 1957 draft class did little to impress Red Auerbach, and with the eighth pick in the draft, he was desperately searching for a player to select. Auerbach normally only drafted players that he had personally seen perform, so it was naturally a big surprise when he selected Jones, a largely unknown player from an even more largely unknown school (North Carolina Central University), all while going on the advice of others who had seen Jones play.
Turning down the chance to teach high school, Jones struggled in his first few seasons with the Celtics, but finally hit his stride during the 1960-61 season, and went on to have four straight seasons averaging 20 points or more (1964-1968), and would finish his career averaging 17.7 PPG. In addition, he was a critical part of 10 Championship-winning Celtics teams, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.
The source of this story (paraphrased above): http://www.nba.com/history/players/sjones_bio.html
3. Tom "Satch" Sanders (1960)
Although Satch Sanders doesn't necessarily have the statistics that would make him a real "steal," the fact that he came out of a school like NYU seems like a theft in and of itself. Although they had their time in the spotlight in the fifties and sixties, the NYU Violets have never truly been known for their athletic programs. Sanders is probably one of the best known, if not the best known, player to come out of that basketball program.
Sanders was drafted eighth in the 1960 NBA Draft, and went to average 9.6 PPG and 6.3 RPG in his 13 year career, and was a part of eight Championship teams. Despite his compartively less spectacular stats, he was still a solid contributor for the Celtics for much of his career, despite several lackluster seasons toward the end of his playing years.
4. John Havlicek (1962)
Again, I'm sorry to report that no pictures of Hondo in action seem to exist here, another unfortunate occurrence.
Havlicek is widely regarded as one of the greatest Celtics of all time, and possibly one of the greatest players of all time. Despite playing on Ohio State's Championship-winning team in 1960, fellow Buckeye and eventual Hall-of-Famer Jerry Lucas was the more sought-after player in the 1962 NBA Draft, and was selected by the Cincinnati Royals with their territorial pick—following the selection of Dave DeBusschere (also now a Hall-of-Famer) by the Detroit Pistons with the second territorial pick.
Havlicek slipped to seventh in the draft (behind exactly zero additional Hall-of-Famers), where he was selected by the Celtics. Hondo would go on to play 16 seasons with Boston, averaging 20.8 PPG and 6.3 RPG over the course of his career. He widely became known for not only his scoring and rebounding ability (which was remarkable considering he was only 6'5"), but his seemingly non-stop motion and agility over the course of 48 minutes of play. It's been said that Havlicek ran over eight miles over the course of a single game.
He's also forever known for his steal of Hal Greer's inbounding pass against the Philadelphia 76ers during Game Seven of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals to preserve the Celtics' 110-109 victory. Johnny Most's famous call of the play ("Havlicek stole the ball!!!!!") will forever go down as one of the famous moments in Celtics history.
5. Jo Jo White (1969)
Jo Jo White came out of the storied Kansas Jayhawks basketball program, and was drafted ninth overall in the 1969 NBA Draft. Pickings were slim this time around, save for a young man out of UCLA named Lew Alcindor and a few others, namely Jo Jo White.
White endured some of the Celtics' more lean years, as Bill Russell retired following the Celtics' 11th NBA Championship in 13 seasons, and the Celtics endured their first losing season since the 1949-50 season. Such suffering was short-lived, however, as White became a key part of a new core of players, including John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, and Paul Silas, that would lead the Celtics to their 12th Championship in 1974.
Jo Jo became known as a real "iron man" of the NBA, playing in all 82 regular season games for five straight seasons, and would go on to be a part of the Celtics' 1976 Championship squad as well, winning Finals MVP honors in the process. His ability as a point guard amid a new group of talented players led the Celtics back to relevance following the end of the Russell era, and his underrated jump shot in addition to his distributing abilities made him a force to be reckoned with for much of the 1970's.
6. Cedric Maxwell
Sorry, Celtics fans. You'll have to endure seeing ol' Cornbread in Rockets attire.
Maxwell was drafted 12th overall in the 1977 NBA Draft, a draft which, again, was not the most ripe with talent (although it did feature future All-Stars Otis Birdsong, Marques Johnson, Walter Davis, Bernard King, Jack Sikma, and a few others. Bear in mind that the late 70's was a low point for the NBA). He also came out of an unheralded school, UNC-Charlotte, slipping beneath the radar of many NBA teams.
Cedric would be forced to endure some really terrible years for the Celtics, during which time the franchise seemed to be falling apart, as aging superstar John Havlicek approached retirement, while the likes of Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens were unable to lead a team full of players who cared very little for the game of basketball but cared very much about getting rich quickly and then blowing their money and frivolous luxuries and illicit substances.
However, with the arrival of Larry Bird in the fall of 1979 and newer, younger, more dedicated talent over the following seasons, Cornbread was finally on a winning team, and over the next several seasons played a critical role in the Celtics' newfound success. He's especially known for his superb play in the 1981 Playoffs, which eventually earned him a Finals MVP award.
Although he was traded out of Boston prior to the 1986 season, he is remembered most for his years with the Celtics, where despite his less-than-stellar stats, he played a large part in their 80's success.
7. Larry Bird (1978)
Despite his stellar college career at Indiana State, Larry Bird was not the automatic superstar upon entering the NBA. Initially drafted sixth overall in 1978 as a junior, Bird elected to return to Terre Haute to play out his senior season with the Sycamores.
Despite another phenomenal season, in which he led Indiana State to a 33-1 record and the National Finals against the Magic Johnson-led Michigan State Spartans, Bird was not immediately taken seriously upon his arrival in Boston.
Labeled "the hick from French Lick," Bird was tagged as being too slow and unable to defend bigger, stronger players in the NBA. Not only that, he played for a school few had heard of, in a conference (the Missouri Valley) that pretty much no one took seriously. Plus, as M.L. Carr once said, few believed there was actually a place called "French Lick."
Bird would go on to prove his critics wrong, as he played 13 storied seasons with the Boston Celtics, winning three Championships (1981, 1984, and 1986), three league MVP's, two Finals MVP's (1984 and 1986) and was selected to 12 All-Star teams and nine All-NBA First Teams. He averaged 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, and 6.3 APG, and is now regarded as one the best all-around players of all time.
He's not called Larry Legend for nothing.
8. Danny Ainge (1981)
Danny Ainge was sort of the Jimmer Fredette of his era, as both men came out of Brigham Young University's basketball program, except that there was far less hype and press coverage surrounding Ainge's draft potential, and Jimmer never played professional baseball. Yes, Danny Ainge spent three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, batting .220 and hitting two home runs and batting in 37 runs.
However, Ainge would ultimately make his mark in the NBA, as he was selected by the Celtics with the eighth pick of the second round of the 1981 NBA Draft. Ainge would go on to become a critical part of the Celtics' 1984 and 1986 Championship runs, and would be half of the Celtics' starting back-court for much of the mid to late 80's alongside Dennis Johnson, and would become known not only for his decent shooting, but also his fiery, combative personality.
Although Ainge was eventually traded to Sacramento and later to Portland and then Phoenix, Ainge's contributions to the Bird-era Celtics can never be overlooked. Oh, and that whole bringing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston during his tenure as General Manager was pretty cool too.
9. Paul Pierce (1998)
Nine teams passed on Paul Pierce in the 1998 NBA Draft. Sure, he was in the same draft as the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter, but also the likes of Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz, Robert Traylor, Larry Hughes, and Jason Williams, and Pierce was expected by many to be a lottery pick. Again, NINE TEAMS passed on Paul Pierce, who had a three-year run at Kansas that included three NCAA Tournament appearances, three Big Eight/Big 12 Championships, and First Team All-America honors.
It was not until the 10th pick of the '98 Draft that Pierce was selected by the Celtics, and it turned about to be one of the best picks that the Celtics have made in recent years. Despite enduring some of the leanest years in Celtic history, The Truth was always there to serve as the lone beacon of light in an otherwise dark period. His all-around ability was at times the only thing that enabled the Celtics to win, and it's fortunate that he was never traded.
As we all know, his dedication to the team finally paid off when he helped lead the Celtics to victory in the 2008 NBA Finals alongside KG and Ray Allen, and was rewarded with the Finals MVP that year. Now with over 20,000 career points, all with Boston, Paul Pierce is certain to someday see his #34 hang from the rafters of the Garden someday.
Nine teams. A real steal for sure.
10. Rajon Rondo (2006)*
Like Bill Russell 50 years prior, Rajon Rondo was never actually drafted by the Boston Celtics; rather, he was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 21st overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, and was then traded to the Celtics shortly thereafter.
In another relatively weak draft, Rondo went fairly late considering that the only other big names to come out of this draft were LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, and Rudy Gay (and to a lesser extent, Jordan Farmar and J.J. Redick). Rajon Rondo has gone on to become the Celtics' star point guard, and after a 2010-11 campaign that saw him average 11.2 assists per game, he is how being placed among the premier point guards in the NBA today.
His distributing ability is nearly unmatched, and he is beginning to develop a decent jump-shot as well. Assuming he stays and continues to mature as a player, he is well on his way becoming the Celtics' next franchise player.