What do Mychal Thompson, James Worthy, Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Shaquille O'Neal have in common?
Give up? They are the only seven number one draft picks in the last 30 years to win an NBA championship. (By my count at least!)
Seven for 30. That's sobering for Celts fans who think banner 17 will be a mortal lock with the number one pick in June's draft.
Look deeper and the facts become even more arresting. Thompson, Worthy, and Magic played together with another number one pick (and NBA hall-of-famer) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Magic probably would have won at least one title without Kareem and/or Worthy. He DID win without Thompson. But how many championships would Kareemâ€"who couldn't win in Milwaukee or LAâ€"and Worthy would have won without Magic?
David Robinson also skews the picture. Even though he's a hall-of-famer too, he couldn't win without Duncan.
Shaq couldn't win in Orlando with Penny. He needed Kobe and then Flash. Which brings up another point: he won with different teams than the one that drafted him. So did Thompson (and for that matter, Kareem).
The picture looks more promising when you expand and look at number ones that made it to the NBA finals. Then you include Ralph Sampson, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, and Kenyon Martin. But Sampson's career fizzled early on and he never would have made the finals if the Rockets hadn't drafted Hakeem the very next year. Martin was hardly the leader of the Nets. (That was Jason Kidd.) And I know this will start a fight, but you can argue Larry Brown had more to do with the 76ers making the finals than Iverson did.
So the number one pick is no guarantee of a championship or even a chance to play for one. But sometimes great players get stuck on bad teams (can you say Paul Pierce?). We want a championship, but an MVP is nothing to sneeze at either.
The odds of selecting a future MVP are about the same as those that a number one pick will win you a title. Only eight number ones have been MVPs in the last 30 years: Duncan, Shaq, Magic, Hakeem, Iverson, Robinson, Kareem, and Bill Walton. Walton and Kareem, of course, were picked more than 30 years ago, so strictly speaking, we're talking 6 of the last 30.
Does this mean the Celtics should make a big trade, or start winning games again? Of course not. I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of all-star rosters over the last 30 years, but I count around 20 in the last 30 number one picks. Those are pretty good odds. And an all-star on the level of, say, Dwight Howard to compliment Pierce and Jefferson certainly is nothing to sneeze at.
The point is that in the last 30 years, championships have mostly been won by "players for the ages" (PAs). Often these actually are number one picksâ€"Magic, Shaq, Olajuwon, and Duncanâ€"but most top picks aren't part of "the Pantheon." On the other hand, there are plenty of PAs who dropped: Bird, Jordan, Isaiah, Kobe, and Wade (the latter two both deserve as much credit as Shaq for those championships). And even PAs still need help. Think LeBron or Garnett wouldn't give a couple years off their lives (or at least their careers) for a Parish, McHale, Worthy, Dumars, Rodman, Pippen, etcâ€¦?
So it takes a lot more than a number one pick to build a champion. It helps to sign quality free agents like the Lakers did with Shaq. (Hard to do when you're spending about a third of your cap space on Wally and Theo.) Good trades are key too. (Not so much for Telfair, Wally, and LaFrentz.)
So far the Celtics have compiled some intriguing young talent that could compliment an Oden or Durant. How good are the kids really? They put up numbers (not always in the right categories), but over an 18-game losing streak and Pierce's absence, we haven't exactly been getting our opponents' "A games." Al seems to be realizing his potential. Delonte and Ryan seem like solid second tier guys. But will Gerald become a complete player? Will Rondo develop a jump shot? Can Tony Allen come back from the second major knee injury in a young career? Who knows?
One thing's for sure: NO team in history has won a championship relying so heavily on young players. It's critical to have a coach who can not only motivate players, but also get them to execute on the court, and to have a GM who can make deals that will move the team forward. That's why what happens with Doc and Danny after this seasonâ€"and whoever may follow in their wakeâ€"may have more to do with the Celtics' fortunes than Oden or Durant.