As a blogger, it is my moral requirement to give you some sort of decade in review article this week. As a Celtics fan that has already read (and linked to) several lists and "best of's" and started several forum topics on this subject, I wanted to present something just a little different.
You see, the last ten years has been a journey. And to fully appreciate that journey, it helps to not just look back at some of the stops along the way, but also to see them in context with what was going on at the time. Lets start with the beginning.
The 1999-2000 season was the last full year of Rick Pitino's regime. The club went 35-47 which was one win worse than his first (and best) year on the job and 2 wins more than ML Carr's best year. How's that for perspective? The starting lineup consisted of a young Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker (who shot .256 from 3 point range that year), Kenny Anderson, Vitaly Potapenko, and some combination of Adrian Griffin, Eric Williams, or Calbert Cheaney. They also had Tony Battie, Dana Barros, Danny Fortson, and of course "I love Wal-tah!"
Pitino was canned 34 games into the next season and the team seemed to come together under then interim coach Jim O'Brien (going 24-24 the rest of the way). Management rewarded him with the full time coaching gig and the team responded by going all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals the following year.
Before skimming past it, the 2001 draft needs to be mentioned. The Celtics had 3 first round picks and got next to nothing long term out of it. What could have been Joe Johnson, Troy Murphy, and Tony Parker ended up being Rodney Rogers, Tony Delk, Kedrick Brown, and Joe "basketball is not my" Forte. You might make the case that RR and Delk helped us advance in the playoffs, but that memory doesn't help when I watch Johnson light it up for the Hawks.
Still, the ECF playoffs were a heck of a run and generated quite a bit of buzz around the team that they had been missing since the early 90's. Which is why it was so hard to hear the cold, hard truth that Danny Ainge preached when he arrived in 2003. The message: this was a fundamentally flawed team that wouldn't win a title as it was constituted at that time. The team was good enough to make the playoffs, but never good enough to be true contenders. That truth was ultimately too hard for O'Brien to swallow so he left and was eventually replaced by Doc Rivers.
So the next couple of years were memorable more for the GM moves than the events that took place on the court. Some were hits (drafting Al Jefferson, reducing the cap hit on Vin Baker's contract), some were misses (re-signing Mark Blount, drafting Marcus Banks), some were just treading water (trading for Ricky Davis and Gary Payton), and some took several years to pan out (drafting Perkins, trading for Raef which turned into Ratliff which turned into KG).
Of course none of his moves generated as much buzz as bringing Antoine Walker back to town for the stretch run of the 2005 season. One thing that has characterized Danny's moves is that he was always willing to be creative and bold. In the Walker trade, he used Gary Payton's salary to match contracts but apparently arranged it so that Payton would be waived and re-signed with the team. The NBA actually made a waiting period rule to discourage teams from doing this from then on. That kind of creativity would pay off years later when Ainge found a way to bring two future Hall of Famers to Boston.
But not before suffering through the 24 win season of 06-07. They finally hit rock bottom that year. The team was no longer deceptively propped up by the likes of Walker, Payton, and Ricky Davis. The youth movement (including drafting Rajon) was in full effect and Pierce missed half the season leaving the team overmatched just about every night. By Christmas time fans went to bed with visions of Oden and Durnant dancing in their heads.
Of course we know how that turned out. Watching that guy pull the Celtics logo out of the number 5 card at the Lottery was one of the worst stomach punch moments I can remember as a fan (that didn't involve the death of a player or team patriarch). Thankfully Ainge was quick to recover and had one of the best offseasons that any GM has ever had. Good, bad, or ugly, all the moves leading up to that summer panned out when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett arrived in town.
The year that followed was nothing short of a perfect storm of basketball euphoria for Celtics fans. Three superstar players checked their egos at the door and bought into a system that required them to sacrifice stats and pour their blood, sweat, and tears into playing unglamorous defense night in and night out. The ideal 6th man was dropped into our laps and hit clutch shot after clutch shot while leading the 2nd team defense. A 2nd year point guard was trusted with the keys to the Ferrari and an undersized power forward 2nd round pick had the game of his life in the Finals. The cherry on top was throttling the Los Angeles Lakers to take home the 17th banner. It wasn't a dream. All this actually happened.
Of course a knee injury derailed the encore last year and mounting (though smaller) injuries are looming over this season, but the window is far from being closed and we have been blessed with witnessing the emergence of Rajon Rondo into All Star form (not to mention an All Star payday).
Now as a spoiled Boston fan I could say that the "Best of the 2000's" was the title and the "Worst of the 2000's" was everything else. But I can't say that. The journey was too fun. Sure there were valleys and potholes and stomach punch moments, but those only make the payoff that much more enjoyable. Besides, even during the leanest of times, there were entertaining moments to occupy our time.
Draft night and the trade deadline always were exciting times. It was almost like waiting for Christmas morning and tracking some of the rumors was at the very least amusing. There was the record comeback against the Nets in the aforementioned Eastern Conference Finals run. There was the Gerald Green dunk contest (which felt like junkfood - fun in the moment but not really satisfying or good for you in the long run). It was always something to keep us entertained and looking forward to the future.
There's a reason that there were more Celtics blogs than any other team even back in the days of 24 wins. We love this team through thick and thin, high and low, weak and strong. We one dream season out of the last 10 years, which is more than most fanbases can say, but we got 10 years of Celtics basketball. I don't know about you, but I had fun the whole decade long.
So what is in store for the next 10 years? I would guess the eventual retirements of the Big 3, the handing of the keys over to Rajon Rondo, and I'm sure Danny Ainge has a few more tricks up his sleeve. Regardless, I'm in. The journey continues on and I'm happy to be along for the ride.
Happy New Year everyone.