The year was 1979. While the Celtics won their final game, it had been a remarkably depressing year. The team endured the last of the Marvin Barnes era. Infamously annoying owner John Y. Brown traded away three first round picks to the Knicks for Bob McAdoo; Red Auerbach stopped him from including the rights to Larry Bird, which may have been what kept Red from fleeing for his own sanity. Jo Jo White was traded away to the Golden State Warriors, leaving only player-coach Dave Cowens and reserve guard Kevin Stacom as the only links to their previous banner year in 1976. The Celtics finished a dismal 29-53. That final game of the year against the Nets they were led in scoring by Jeff Judkins with 29 points. Rick Robey and Cedric Maxwell also cracked 20 points each and Tiny Archibald pitched in 19.
Sure, the Celtics had the Hick from French Lick coming on board the next year, and a new coach, but so what?
A lot it turned out as the Celtics had a 32 win turnaround. How'd they do it?
In the off-season to everyone's relief except the citizens of Kentucky, Brown was bought out of his ownership by Harry Mangurian. Red then unloaded McAdoo on the Pistons for two first round picks in the 1980 draft as part of the compensation for signing M. L. Carr. No, really! The Celtics also added Gerald Henderson and Eric Fernsten as free agents. And midway into the season they signed Pistol Pete Maravich as a free agent.
That's it. Seven of the players on the roster of the 78-79 stinkeroo --Judkins, Robey, Archibald, Cowens, Maxwell, Don Chaney and Chris Ford-- were there for the resurgence.
I bring all this up to console folks who look at the Celtics not wheeling and dealing today, or dealing away Rondo, and see nothing but doom and gloom ahead. We're already ahead of the curve by not having a millstone of an owner, as well as having both the new coach and the pile of draft picks in hand. For our current roster the part of Bob McAdoo's non-Celticness will be played by Gerald Wallace's contract. If anyone not named Red Auerbach can make it vanish in a puff of something useful, my money's on Danny Ainge.
Is there a second Larry Bird coming along in the 2014 draft? If there is, I haven't seen him yet. Has the lay of the NBA landscape changed in the past 35 years. Yes, but not as much as folks want to believe. Winning team basketball is still winning team basketball.Witness that individual stars from Jordan to Shaq to LeBron needed several years' maturity and a team around them to win their titles.
Let's leave hand-wringing about a lack of deals to the rumor-weavers and enjoy watching the current Celtics. I think more of them will be with us longer than we expect. And that may not be such a bad thing.