Despite the Celtics' 17 NBA Championships and perennial success over the years, the team has faced some trying times throughout its history and gone through some dark periods. There have been times when it's seemed as if the Celtics just couldn't get the right mix of talent at the right time, and went on to suffer at the hands of their rivals.
At other times, however, the Celtics did have some semblance of talent, but were unable to build around them, leaving players with superstar potential high and dry, forcing them to carry the team themselves. It's these types of players who either ended up being traded out of Boston or left to endure a Championship-less career and the old "if they only had more talent around them..." attached to them for life.
Here, we'll examine some of the great players to grace the parquet floor during the darkest times in Celtic history and how they fared both during and beyond their time in Boston.
For those of you unfamiliar with the NBA stars of decades past, the stately looking gentleman standing between Erik Spoelstra and Shaq is Bob McAdoo, one of the great shooters of the 1970's. His style was especially unique because he was not only a premier shooter, but a big guy who could play in the paint as well. Naturally, he's now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Although he spent very little time with the Celtics (playing only 20 games during the 1978-79 season), he is included here because he still had quite a bit of talent by this point in his career, yet he was mired on a team with so little else.
Although this year's squad featured Tiny Archibald and Cedric Maxwell, who would go on to be key members of the Celtics' Championship teams in the 1980's as well as a still-productive Dave Cowens, the team was mostly composed of spare parts and locker room cancers.
McAdoo was eventually traded to Detroit following the end of that abysmal season, and although he was only part of the Celtics for a quarter of a season, he might have been to contribute a great deal had he been surrounded by younger, healthier and more productive teammates.
Antoine Walker was drafted sixth overall in the 1996 draft out of Kentucky, fresh off a team that had just won the National Championship that previous March. Walker had a lot of talent coming out of college, and could have easily been a great complement in the frontcourt to a backcourt that would have been led by a young Chauncey Billups had the Celtics not traded him during his rookie year.
We'll get back to Chauncey Billups later; for now, let's focus on the career of Antoine Walker. He, along with later addition Paul Pierce, had to bear much of the load himself, doing his best to lead the team with his scoring and rebounding. His and Pierce's efforts led to only two Playoff appearances over the course of Walker's six seasons in Boston prior to his being traded.
Antoine Walker proceeded to bounce around the league for the rest of his career, playing in Dallas, Atlanta, Boston again briefly, and finally Miami and Minnesota before dropping out of sight and mind, reportedly with serious money issues.
Walker is the classic "if he only he played on a better team..." player. He had little else in terms of talent beyond Paul Pierce, and it's unfortunate that he was traded out of Boston without a real shot at a Championship.
Many might also forget that Chauncey Billups, known for his various stints in Detroit, Minnesota and Denver, was drafted third overall by the Celtics in 1997 out of Colorado.
After posting a franchise-worst 15-67 record during the 1996-97 season, the Celtics were in desperate need of a major talent upgrade. Drafting Billups seemed like a great move, as he showed great potential while at Colorado, and could have been a great leader of the backcourt to complement Antoine Walker and the frontcourt.
Billups went on to play a half-season with the Celtics before being traded to the Toronto Raptors and beginning his career elsewhere.
How the Celtics could have ever traded is beyond me. But then again, how they could have drafted him and not brought in more talent to surround him (with the exception of Antoine Walker) is ever further beyond me.
People have very short memories, and I think some people forget that Paul Pierce has been with the Celtics for so long. Drafted 10th overall in the 1998 draft, Pierce has spent his entire career spanning 13 seasons in Boston.
Arguably, Pierce is the one player who wasted the most talent in Boston. He spent his prime playing years on a bunch of really really really bad teams, and was forced to endure a decade of futility in which he was the lone bright spot on an otherwise incompetent with a dangerous incompetent front office.
Luckily, Paul Pierce finally got talent around him in the form of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and he did have Rajon Rondo the year prior, but now they're all past their prime, and it's very likely that their 2008 Championship will be the only one of Pierce's career.
Much like others before him, if he had only had more talent around him earlier in his career (say, KG and Ray Allen five years prior), Pierce could have won multiple championships and achieved more lasting success.