On one hand, it seems like we’ve been waiting for fireworks for a long time. As fans, we’re impatient to get back into the conversation with the contenders of the league.
However, a thought occurred to me recently that should be obvious but gets frequently overlooked. The "rebuilding" of this team is already over. We’re already entered the "building a contender" phase. That next step is a difficult one, but we’ve come a long way in a short period of time.
Think about it. The Celtics won only 25 games just 3 seasons ago. They just completed a 48-win season, and now they have two All-Stars under contract. You could make an argument that this team is one (big) piece away from being a contender (and they have the assets to acquire that big piece if given the opportunity).
That’s huge. Perhaps it is hard to appreciate in this age of instant gratification and 2 hour news cycles. So I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the Celtics rebuilding efforts over the years.
For really big-picture perspective, let’s look way back to the era before Danny Ainge took over, starting from the 1986 Championship year.
First of all, let’s appreciate how good the Celtics were even after the 1986 title. It wasn’t till Bird finally retired 7 years later that the team entered the Dark Ages. It was another 9 seasons before the team would crack 40 wins again.
We bottomed out just before Pitino took over, and we missed out on Dunan, and you know how that all shook out. The team got a little post-Pitino bounce as Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker made basketball fun again. Of course that run to the Eastern Conference Finals was fool's gold, and the team made the mistake of trading for Vin Baker and his albatross salary.
By the time Ainge took over, the team was loaded with veterans with limited upside, and there was no salary flexibility to speak of. So he had to start tearing things down before he could build them back up again.
It took five years, but the team eventually bottomed out. We missed out on Durant (and Greg Oden by the way), but Ainge rebounded by trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and the rest was history.
It is a shame that the Big 3 only delivered one title, but I blame KG’s injury for one missed opportunity and tip my cap to the Lakers’ rebounding big men for the other one.
Many thought that we should have broken up the team a little earlier, but Ainge never got the deals he was looking for, and it turns out that he was right to wait for the perfect deal.
Pierce and Garnett were traded in 2013, and Brad Stevens was hired. The rebuild was officially on, but who knew how long it was going to take? Was it going to be another five years before we would see real progress? Or would it be another decade of frustration?
Turns out it was just a year and a half.
The 25-win year was painful to be sure, and things weren’t looking all that great in the first half of 2014-15. Then Rondo was traded, Isaiah Thomas was acquired, and the team was off to the races.
Now we’ve got a team that has been to two straight playoffs (losing in the first round both times). We’ve got two All-Stars, a solid group of supporting players, and assets to make moves either now or in the future. That’s a great position to be in.