Boston Celtics: Worst NBA Free Agent Signings in Franchise History
The Boston Celtics have made some poor free agent signings over the past 30 years, but, surprisingly, the number isn’t as bad as one might think, despite the team wallowing through the 1990s.
The reason is that most of the Celtics questionable moves have come by way of trade rather than offseason signings. Forgettable acquisitions—such as Sebastian Telfair, Raef LaFrentz and Joe Kleine—all made their way to Boston via a swap with another club, so they will not be included on this list.
Some moves immediately come to mind when thinking about colossal blunders in free agency, though. Who can forget the Celtics foray into international waters with the signing of Stojoko Vrankovic? And just how bad was Sly Williams off the court, that he only made it through six games during the Celtics 85-86 championship season?
The reason for this article is that the tenure of the Big Three in Boston is presumably coming to an end in the next season or two, so the Celtics will need to be aware of the failures of the past in order to know what types of players to stay away from in the future.
If the Celtics don’t move any of the Big Three this upcoming season, expect a lot of scrutiny to be placed on the team as it rebuilds for the future.
Players Not on the List
Certain players won’t be featured on this top-10 list, either because they weren’t given bad contracts, or they played at their expected level despite a lackluster presence.
Dominique Wilkins was signed for only one year and led a poor Celtics team in scoring during a season featuring a franchise that was still struggling to pick up the pieces after losing Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Reggie Lewis.
Xavier McDaniel was brought in as a sixth man, but he provided solid production during his three seasons. His career was also in a rapid decline, yet he was still a fan favorite.
Mark Blount was one of the last picks in the 1997 draft, and he was cut twice before the Celtics picked him up in 2000. Blount went on to start 63 percent of his games in a Celtics uniform (including games when he was traded back to the Celtics from Denver)—not too shabby for a guy who struggled to make a roster early on in his career.
10. Travis Knight, 1997
Travis Knight wasn’t a terrible player for the Celtics, but his contract was. On July 7, 1997 the Celtics signed Knight to a seven-year, $22 million dollar deal.
Who goes out and signs a player with one year’s experience to a deal that long?
The contract was so bad that Knight never actually played out the entire length of his deal. He was traded twice and eventually cut after only fulfilling six of the seven years.
The one redeeming facet of the Knight signing was that he was moved to the Lakers in a deal that netted the Celtics Tony Battie, a favorable exchange for Boston.
9. Wayne Turner, 1999
Wayne Turner was by no means a big signing for the Celtics, but the fact that he was even offered an NBA contract was questionable.
Turner was a high school star at Beaver Country Day, just outside of Boston, and was named a McDonald’s All-American in 1995.
Just to give you an idea of the quality of the 1995 McDonald’s All-American selections, the list featured several former and current Celtics. Chauncey Billups, Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury, Ron Mercer and Paul Pierce all made the list along with Turner.
Turner went on to play four unimpressive years at Kentucky before going undrafted in 1999. The Celtics signed Turner before the ’99 season began, and to his credit, he was able to play in three games before being released.
Basically, the Celtics could have saved their money by passing on Turner altogether. No one expected anything out of Turner, and that’s what he provided.
8. Dwayne Schintzius, 1999
The Celtics signed Schintzius in 1999 after he had been out of the league for a year, and after he shaved his mullet.
Thankfully, he had dyed his hair blonde—but that didn’t make up for the 0.7 PPG he averaged in 16 games with the team.
7. Troy Murphy, 2011
Remember the supposed bidding war that Troy Murphy was supposed to generate last season after being released by the New Jersey Nets?
The Celtics won out. In hindsight, however, there was no need for the hype that Murphy’s availability generated.
Murphy was thought to be a valuable component off of the bench for the Celtics, but he quickly showed that he wasn’t ready to bounce back to his 2010 status and only managed to appear in one playoff game last season.
6. Tom Gugliotta, 2004
“Googs” signed with the Celtics in 2004, but he didn’t make it through an entire year with the team. He was traded to Atlanta midway through the season.
While Gugliotta’s injury history limited expectations, he was worse than advertised. Googs played in 20 games, never reaching double figures in points and never playing more than 17 minutes in any game.
5. Calbert Cheaney, 1999
By now you can probably tell that the 1999 season was one of the worst in Celtics history. Calbert Cheaney was another free agent signing during that season that provided zero impact for the C’s.
Cheaney’s decline started the previous year in Washington, after the team acquired Mitch Richmond before the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. Calbert had generally been a starter in Washington throughout his career; however, minutes soon became hard to come by, and he put up career-low numbers across the board.
Boston still took a chance on him the following year, signing him to a multi-year deal. Unfortunately, Cheaney was not able to reclaim any of the luster from his first few seasons in the NBA, and the Celtics quickly gave up on him after one season, sending him to Denver for Chris Herren and Bryant Stith.
4. Stojko Vrankovic, 1990
Stojko Vrankovic signed with the Celtics during the initial wave of Euro-Fever at the beginning of the 90s.
There was a lot of talk surrounding him—at 7’2”, Stojko had a menacing presence on paper. However, the complete opposite was the case.
Vrankovic was soft-spoken on and off the court. He was an immediate bust; after two years, he went back to play in Europe before returning for another unproductive stint in the NBA.
3. Rasheed Wallace, 2009
Rasheed Wallace was on the worst signings for the Celtics for a couple of reasons.
First, he was at the end of his career, which didn’t warrant him a multi-year deal.
Second, the Celtics are still paying him almost $7 million dollars this year, the final year of that multi-year deal.
‘Sheed really showed his age during the 2009-10 season. Though always colorful, he was a fairly big bust in Boston.
2. Sly Williams, 1985
Sly Williams will go down as the craziest player ever signed by the Celtics. Williams signed for the veteran minimum in ’85 but caused more headaches during his 38 days with the team that the Celtics had no choice but to part ways with the embattled URI standout.
In Peter May’s book, The Last Banner: The Story of the 1985-86 Celtics and the NBA's Greatest Team of All Time, May states that the Celtics rarely knew where Williams was and used a “hemorrhoids ailment” as a cover for whatever the real story was.
Life after the Celtics didn’t get any better for Williams. He spent time in jail, battled drugs and wound up broke only two years after being out of the league.
1. Pervis Ellison, 1994
No player had more detractors in his Celtics career than Pervis Ellison. This is, of course, because Ellison was signed to a six-year contract and only twice played more than half of a season.
It’s hard to generate fandom when you’re clogging up a roster spot every season.
The former No. 1 pick in the 1989 draft, Ellison was expected to earn his large contract. Once injury and conditioning issues kept cropping up, however, fans turned on him and rode him for years.
In fairness to Ellison (somewhat), he shouldn’t have been signed to such a big deal. The Celtics brass should have simply passed on Ellison. He never had a realistic chance of performing at a high level because of his injuries.