Back in March, I wrote an article comparing the Celtics’ current roster to previous championship teams. One of the squads on that list that shared similarities to this Boston group was the 2015 Golden State Warriors.
That Warriors team was the beginning of their dynasty, and it was so rewarding for Bay Area fans because their franchise built a contender from the ground up. That being said, it took quite a while for the Dubs to reach that point.
Let’s rewind to June 25, 2009. Golden State was coming off a disappointing season in which they finished 29-53, earning the No. 7 pick in the NBA Draft. Heading into the draft, the Warriors’ plans were up in the air. The team was in advanced talks with the Phoenix Suns (and ironically, their general manager Steve Kerr) to trade the seventh overall pick in a package for Amar’e Stoudamire. However, when sharpshooter Stephen Curry fell into Golden State’s lap after Minnesota opted not to select him with back-to-back picks, the Warriors rolled the dice and drafted the Davidson guard.
This move raised eyebrows among diehard fans, and for good reason. After all, the team already had a young star guard in Monta Ellis. Golden State’s front office was questioned once again in 2011 when they selected yet another guard with the 11th overall pick, Klay Thompson.
During the 2011-12 season, Golden State and GM Bob Myers were faced with a tough decision. The Curry-Ellis duo had reached its breaking point. One had to go, and Myers chose to stick with the younger player who flashed more potential, dealing Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut and other pieces.
The Warriors then continued to add to their core through the draft, this time selecting forward Harrison Barnes with the seventh overall pick and stealing Draymond Green at No. 35 in 2012. In the following season, Curry and Thompson began to flourish, earning the “Splash Brothers” nickname. With their individual progress came team success, as Golden State finished 47-35 under coach Mark Jackson.
In the next two off-seasons, the Warriors made a couple more key acquisitions. The first was bringing in veteran swingman Andre Iguodala via a three-team trade. The young guys had shown signs of significant talent but lacked maturity which Iguodala provided. The second was hiring Steve Kerr as the team’s new head coach. Kerr had flashed immense basketball knowledge in his post-playing days with Phoenix and TNT as an analyst, earning a great opportunity with the up-and-coming Warriors.
The rest is history. Golden State embraced the youth movement and made three-point shooting the focal point of their offense, hitting triples at a rate the league had never seen. With that unique system came results. A combination of production from the young guys and leadership from vets like Iguodala won the Warriors a championship in 2015.
This was a title that fans could be incredibly proud of because they had watched their core grow up and bloom into superstars. Over the next couple of years, the Warriors added a pair of championships with some help from a non-homegrown star in Kevin Durant. With Durant now in Brooklyn, Myers and the Dubs have returned to their roots, reaching the Finals with that original core and a couple of new young additions.
The Celtics will meet them in the coming days for a chance to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy and hang Banner 18. This is Boston’s first trip to the Finals since 2010, and it is incredibly rewarding for Green Teamers because of the similar homegrown path their team took.
It’s been a long road to reach this point. So, how did we get here?
We won’t need to travel as far back in time to examine Boston’s route to the 2022 NBA Finals, but it’s necessary to credit Danny Ainge pulling off one of the biggest heists in league history. Without the 2013 trade that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for their 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018 first-round picks, none of this would be possible.
After that trade was completed, the Celtics were stuck in basketball purgatory for a couple of seasons. In reality, that period probably felt longer for fans than it actually was due to the level of talent on those teams (or should I say, lack thereof). The one aspect of those Celtics squads that kept hope alive for the future of the franchise was the coach. In the same offseason that Ainge dealt the legendary Celtics to Brooklyn, he also hired first-time NBA head coach Brad Stevens to usher in the new era in Boston. Regardless of the results, Stevens invigorated his teams, breathing new life into the organization with strong defensive schemes and brilliant game-planning. Sound familiar?
In the 2016 NBA Draft, Boston took advantage of that first-round pick from Brooklyn. The Nets had entered a downhill spiral with no way to rebuild, and the Celtics were eager to reap the benefits from their dismay.
Heading into the draft, Ainge’s plans were unclear. The 2016 class was considered a two-man group, with Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram the consensus top two picks. Boston certainly had offers on the table for the No. 3 overall pick, just like the Warriors did at No. 7 in 2009. However, Ainge opted to draft Jaylen Brown, a phenomenal athletic prospect with raw skills in need of development.
After the draft, the Celtics were looking at a couple of solid pieces to work with in Brown and Isaiah Thomas, who had been acquired before last season’s trade deadline. In need of a strong veteran presence, along came Al Horford. Led by Stevens, this core exceeded all expectations in their first season together, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals before ultimately falling to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the 2017 NBA Draft, Boston continued to add to their young core, trading out of the first overall pick to eventually take their guy in Jayson Tatum at No. 3. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t easy to hit on first-round draft picks consistently, but that’s exactly what Ainge did in successive years. During the 2017 offseason, Boston also flipped Isaiah Thomas and the 2018 Nets pick for Kyrie Irving and signed Gordon Hayward, the biggest free agent franchise acquisition to date.
Over the next few years, Boston followed a similar path as the Warriors, utilizing a combination of young talent and veteran pieces to build contending teams. Unlike Golden State, the veterans didn’t fit as seamlessly as many had hoped. Hayward suffered a brutal season-ending injury just minutes into his Celtics debut. Irving dealt with injuries and was constantly in the spotlight due to his outspoken personality and inability to take responsibility for the team’s disappointing campaigns.
Nonetheless, Boston reached the Eastern Conference Finals two more times over the next three seasons. A rookie Tatum almost led the banged-up Celtics to the Finals in 2018, but LeBron spoiled their fantastic postseason run once again. After Irving went back on his word and left the Celtics in the 2019 offseason, Boston bounced back and reached the ECF with Kemba Walker holding down the backcourt in the bubble.
Yet again, they couldn’t get over the hump, losing to a determined Heat team.
After a tough 2021 campaign that ended in a first-round exit to Irving, KD, and the Nets, the Celtics were left with more questions than answers. Change was necessary, and it happened following the conclusion of the season.
Danny Ainge stepped down and left the organization and was succeeded by Brad Stevens, who shocked fans by forfeiting coaching duties and becoming the new President of Basketball Operations. A new voice was needed in the locker room, and it was provided by first-time head coach Ime Udoka.
Again, sound familiar?
With a clear vision for the direction of the team, Stevens dealt an injured Walker to Oklahoma City for old friend Al Horford. Boston finally fully embraced the youth movement, handing the keys to Tatum and Brown. This time around, Horford and Marcus Smart fit seamlessly as the veteran leaders.
After a rough start to the season, the Celtics pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in NBA history, clawing out of the 11th seed to reach No. 2 in the East. Just like the Warriors determined that Curry was the No. 1 option and Thompson was the second fiddle, Boston finally reached a consensus that Tatum was the alpha and Brown was the No. 2 option. The mid-season acquisition of Derrick White only further galvanized the team, who established dominance on the defensive end while quietly finding their rhythm on offense.
When the playoffs arrived, the hottest team in basketball remained exactly that, running through the gauntlet of Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Miami. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokoumnpo, and Jimmy Butler all fell to this team.
Now, one final boss remains. It’s a team that built their dynasty through the draft with homegrown talent just like the Celtics. Can Boston overcome one last obstacle and follow in Golden State’s footsteps?
Only time will tell, but this team is ready for the moment.