A Daily Babble Production
Despite the fact that it occurred nearly seven years ago, it is easy to understand the angst still held by many Celtics fans about the trade then-GM Chris Wallace made with the Phoenix Suns in February 2002.
But despite the fact the trade almost came back full circle to bite the green when departed Joe Johnson played catalyst for the Atlanta Hawks' near-upset of the Celts last spring, I have a hard time being as retrospectively upset as some.
For the sake of memory refreshment, the trade in question sent a rookie Johnson and the Celts' 2002 first-rounder (eventually used on Casey Jacobsen) along with guards Randy Brown and Milt Palacio for veterans Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers. It was a trade that was met with plenty of scrutiny at the time, followed by frustration when it came out that the Celtics likely could have included Kedrick Brown instead of Johnson and then agitation as Johnson grew into a less-heralded-than-he-should-be stud in Atlanta. All are understandable reactions.
We can chalk my lack of fervent anger about this deal up to a combination of factors: the fact that I was dopey enough at the time not to really have a clue as to what Johnson would become, the natural impatience that occurs when one's team has been a horror show for most of the last decade, and perhaps the naive belief, however misguided, that the 2001-02 Celtics team could make the Finals in a weak East and maybe even find a way to shoot themselves into a championship (a much easier proposition if the NBA Finals were single elimination).
For all of those reasons, I didn't hate the idea of dealing a falling-out-of-favor rookie, two expendable guards and a low first-rounder for two guys who would provide veteran help and playoff experience for a team with young leaders. As a rule of thumb, while I do believe that the guys paid to be front office executives should be held to a higher standard than fans, it seems disingenuous for me to unduly hammer a GM after the fact for a move I was on board with at the time. Oh, I'll still criticize and rant, but it's only fair to have a grain of salt attached when I know I would have made the same move.
[Aside: Note please that this is a general principle that is not always rigidly applied. For example, the Mark Blount contract? Completely on Danny Ainge. The fact that I got suckered in by his trillion double-doubles over the second half of the season was no excuse for an employee affiliated with the team to hand a guy who for his entire career only cared for half a contract year $41 million over six seasons. I'm extending myself an official Babble-sponsored pardon on that one, and my guilt on this issue will heretofore hopefully never be broached again in this space.]
But in addition to the at-the-time rationale, one other factor came into play after the fact: I became a huge Rodney Rogers fan.
Babble loyalists may have noted by now that I tend to gravitate toward lunch-pail role players and glue guys. Like so many Celtics fans, I love having Eddie House on this team. Eric Williams' scrappy play always made it tough for me to be frustrated with the fact that the guy wasn't a great player by any means. Shane Battier, Jason Maxiell and Paul Millsap are some of my current favorites around the league. And I'm the guy who once listed my political views on a survey as "Supporter of whatever it takes to keep Big Game James in green."
Add Rodney Rogers to that list.
He was only in Boston a short time (suiting up for 43 games all told between the regular season and playoffs), but his name always evokes positive memories for me.
On a team that loved to fly up and down the floor and heave the three, Rogers fit right in. He averaged 3.5 three-point attempts in less than 24 minutes per game as a Celtic, but the cool part was that he wasn't too bad about putting the ball in the hoop on some of those attempts. For his 27 regular season games with Boston, Rogers shot 41.1 percent from beyond the arc and 48.2 percent from the floor, key components of his 59.0 percent true shooting mark. That's not too shabby from a reserve gunner added at midseason.
RR won me over initially with the two selling points that he could shoot and that he did so with his left hand. He put up 10.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, impressive figures for his reserve role, and he was a lot of fun to watch. He was a fantastic asset off the bench on the nights when he was feeling it from beyond the arc, and every now and then, he surprised us with a well-placed lob from the top of the key or a spin move inside for a dunk or an easy lay-in. On the defensive end, Rogers might not have been a stalwart, but he did add some lineup flexibility for Jim O'Brien as he played bigger than his physique defensively and took minutes everywhere in the frontcourt. Rogers added a veteran presence, he played hard and he played well.
And so did his new team. There is no doubt that my memories of Rogers are likely enhanced by the fact that 2001-02 was the season of shining light for the Celtics at that point in time. The team had been mired in misery for years, having not made the playoffs since 1995, not won a series since '92 and gone without an NBA title since '86. The 2001-02 saw the emergences of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce as co-stars and the resurgence of Kenny Anderson. The team winning 49 games and taking two series en route to the Eastern Conference Finals represented a return to significantly happier days for Celts fans, although that was certainly a matter of relativity given the team's history of greater successes.
Rodney was an important piece down the stretch, and I always appreciated the work he put in for that Celtics team. If I remember one feeling about the off-season in the summer of 2002, it is how bummed out I was, perhaps irrationally so, when RR signed with the Nets. In the long run, it wouldn't compare to my thoughts when James Posey signed with the Hornets, but it was definitely a downer at the time. Rodney had become a favorite, and he was going to keep a place in my heart as a part of the first Celtics season in years even approaching the idea of success.
All that said, I was sorry to learn earlier this week that Rogers had injured his spinal cord in an ATV accident in North Carolina. It had been a while since I heard his name, and it immediately triggered those happy memories (in which his image is probably inflated beyond belief in my head) from his time as a Celtic.
So thanks, Rodney, for winning me over during your brief time with our beloved team, and all the best toward a speedy recovery.