As Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum prepare to propel the Celtics into the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers on Sunday against all probability, the equally unlikely scenario that Brooklyn complied when Wyc Grousbeck pushed for all the chips in the infamous worst trade ever by the Nets in 2013 directly brought the two rising stars to Boston.
Danny Ainge approached Grousbeck with the skeleton of a deal that would rock Celtics fans to their core. He had assembled a trade that would ship Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. Boston prepared to leap into a rebuild, and Ainge secured two first round picks from Billy King to jumpstart that process.
Grousbeck, who said he signs off, adjusts or declines any basketball move the Celtics make in his 15th season as their owner, sent Ainge packing. In an interview with Bill Simmons released on Friday on his podcast, Grousbeck said he demanded Ainge go get another pick.
“As I recall he came to me with that deal on draft day,” he said, responding to question about the biggest disagreement him and Ainge ever had. “I said ‘great, let’s go get a third pick.’”
Trader Danny, who Grousbeck joked dealt his family and has a whole new one, worried about losing the deal by pushing back, but returned stunned that the Nets folded.
Grousbeck pressed him back to the table: “go get a fourth pick.”
He had a feeling that the Nets would stop at nothing to get a blockbuster deal done that offseason, so he planned to push until King said no. At the request of a fourth pick, Brooklyn balked, so Grousbeck adjusted the wording to secure the bag.
They wouldn’t request a fourth unprotected draft pick, they would slide in a pick swap. Both sides never imagined that throw in would become the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Jaylen Brown, who is currently averaging 16.9 points per game in the playoffs in his second season.
The second pick became number one in 2018, yielding Boston Jayson Tatum and an additional No. 1-protected Kings pick through Philadelphia that will convey next year unless the Lakers’ 2.9 percent odds at leaping into two or three this year hits. Tatum is averaging 18.8 PPG for Boston in his first postseason.
Billy King was removed as Brooklyn’s general manger in January of 2016. Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who spearheaded the move, bought 80 percent of the Nets and helped move them to Brooklyn, sold 49 percent of his share in October 2017.
Over the past three seasons since Kevin Garnett departed, Brooklyn’s finished a combined 69-177 (.280), while Boston picked for them twice and traded that third and final first rounder to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. The Celtics won 63.4 percent of their games over that stretch.
“Normally we try to play down the middle of the road with people,” Grousbeck said. “Swapping a pick doesn’t feel like you’re losing a pick ... that’s how the Brooklyn trade evolved as I recall it, which was working together with Danny to get the best possible deal out of Brooklyn.”
The Celtics traded Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White in exchange for the salary filler of Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and the quartet of draft stock. That group became Brad Stevens’ first cast of NBA characters, with which he won 25 games. Pierce lasted one season in Brooklyn, Garnett 1.5, and ultimately the deal only carried them out of the first round once.