If you squint, you can almost picture these two as teammates in green.
About a month ago Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus took a look back at the 2007 lottery. Of course that was the lottery that included Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, and for Celtics fans, The Big Stomach Punch.
Too wrapped up in the Celtics playoff battles, I had to set this article aside for another time. I had hoped to bring it up before the finals, but alas the perfect story never materialized. Still, it is interesting the way the fate of several franchises changed with the bounce of a few ping pong balls.
By no definition did the Celtics come out of the lottery losers. Whether they might have been better off with Durant is a fascinating hypothetical. Had he developed the same way and signed an extension, Durant would have guaranteed Boston at least a decade of contention. Boston could have put an intriguing group of young role players around Durant. The Celtics held on to Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, starters on the championship team, but would also have kept Al Jefferson, Tony Allen and Gerald Green. Given his acumen drafting in the late first round and second round, Ainge could surely have filled out a solid bench. If Jefferson and Perkins could have coexisted defensively, that's a competitive lineup. Of course, there is no guarantee that group would have won a championship or even reached the Finals, and the 2008 flag flies forever.
Yup, no regrets. None. If I had to go back and do it all over again, I'd do it just the same way. But without hindsight, if we had won the lottery it would have been an interesting decision. Danny always says he was a Durant guy and Doc said he wanted Oden at the time. Who would have won that debate?
And who's to say that the core of young players would have stayed together? Would Al Jefferson demanded too much money? Would Perkins have developed into the defensive stud he's become without the tutelage of Kevin Garnett?
What would have happened to Paul Pierce? I have to assume he would have demanded to be traded elsewhere which means he'd likely not be a Finals MVP and he certainly wouldn't have the Celtic legacy that he now enjoys.
On the other hand, had Ainge gotten Durant, that might have been an impressive (or at least entertaining) group. Rondo and Tony Allen would be a terror on defense but terrible at shooting. Durant and Jefferson would be amazing scorers but especially in the early years they'd be turnstiles on defense (when Jefferson was healthy that is). You can bet that team would have had some rebuilding years, so Ainge would have had a few higher draft picks to use. Would he have been able to grab a James Harden or someone like that?
Interestingly, earlier this year Doc Rivers compared Harden to Paul Pierce.
Rivers absolutely gushed over Harden, and his comparison to the Celtics captain, who will undoubtedly have his jersey retired in the rafters of TD Garden, was high praise. "He's Paul Pierce, version two, except that he's a better passer," Rivers said of Harden. "He plays at a great NBA speed -- he came into the league playing at that speed. I don't think a coach has ever said he's going too fast. He has a great tempo about him, an unbelievable feel."
What would have happened? We'll never know I guess. Which is kind of the point. We'll never know, but sometimes it is fun to wonder "what if?"