Strong drafting helped pass the competition
You want to know what great drafting is? It’s this: Kendrick Perkins*, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Ryan Gomes, Rajon Rondo*, Leon Powe*, Glen “Big Baby” Davis*.
Also this: Jon Lester, David Murphy, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden, Justin Masterson.
And this: Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Daniel Graham, Deion Branch, Jarvis Green, David Givens, Ty Warren, Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen, Vince Wilfork, Benjamin Watson, Logan Mankins, Ellis Hobbs, Nick Kaczur, James Sanders, Laurence Maroney, Steven Gostkowski.
You want to know how long this Golden Age of Boston pro sports – three Super Bowl wins, two World Series crowns and now an NBA championship, all bunched into eight glorious years – is going to last? Probably as long as Messrs. Ainge, Epstein, Belichick and Pioli (or their successors) keep mining gold like this.
If the Bruins would like to join in the festivities, by the way, they’ll need a few more talent hauls like the one from 2006 that netted Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic.
OK, now about those asterisks on some of the Celtics names. Technically, those players weren’t drafted by Boston. But let’s acknowledge that the NBA draft is bizarre – half the teams are picking for other teams, and woe to the fresh-faced kid who gets too emotionally attached to that logo cap he dons for the cameras on draft night. Unless he’s in, say, the top five, there’s a good chance he’s going to be switching headgear by evening’s end.
Considering the unique, barroom vibe – gotta wait for last call to see who’s actually going home with whom – can we agree that whatever rookies you end up with when the draft machinations are done constitute your draft class for that year? If so, then Perkins (Grizzlies, 2003), Rondo (Suns, 2006), Powe (Nuggets, 2006) and Davis (Sonics, 2007) all qualify as Celtics picks because they came in draft-night deals.
All of them have their fingerprints all over trophy No. 17.
That’s usually the way it works. If you draft well, eventually you put yourself in position to win. If not, your foundation rots away every few years and you become the Arizona Cardinals. Or the Pirates. Or the Bucks.
That’s not to say that trades and free agent signings haven’t benefited the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots during this run. Without trades, after all, there would be no Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen around here. No Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett or Mike Lowell. No Randy Moss or Wes Welker. There would have been no Corey Dillon in 2004.
Free agency brought Manny Ramirez to town. Johnny Damon, too. Plus Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas, James Posey and Eddie House, to name a few. Heck, the Sox signed David Ortiz off the street after the Twins cut him loose.
We also aren’t saying that the current front offices had to start from Absolute Scratch.
Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli inherited Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk and Adam Vinatieri.
Theo Epstein and his baseball ops people had Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek and Manny on the roster, with Kevin Youkilis and Hanley Ramirez (the key to the Beckett/Lowell deal) in the system.
The Celtics’ cupboard was much barer, but Rick Pitino (bless his heart) did leave us Paul Pierce, your reigning NBA Finals MVP.
Of course, here’s how many titles those holdovers had won before the current regimes took over: Zero.
So, the new bosses have been doing something right. The main something is drafting.
You know how hard that is? Can you appreciate what a crapshoot it can be to stare at an 18- to 22-year-old kid and project how he will handle fame, money, big-league breaking pitches, complex pass defenses or NBA pick-and-rolls? Not to mention the assorted groupies and old-neighborhood leeches?
History is riddled with what-were-they-thinking draft gaffes. Some of the biggest:
The Trail Blazers pass on Michael Jordan to take Sam Bowie No. 2 overall in 1984.
The Mets, picking first in 1966, select catcher Steve Chilcott instead of Reggie Jackson.
Everyone buries Brady into the sixth round in 2000.
The Pistons grab Darko Milicic at No. 2 in 2003. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are the next three off the board.
The Hawks, in desperate need of a point guard, ignore Deron Williams and Chris Paul at No. 2 in 2005, opting instead for Marvin Williams.
So, again, this isn’t easy. Even smart suits – they don’t get much sharper than Pistons boss Joe Dumars, he of the Milicic Migraine – can screw up. It’s the success rate that matters, and the Celtics, Sox and Patriots have been hitting at a pretty good clip here.
Garnett is King of the City right now, and rightfully so. But don’t forget that it was Jefferson’s tremendous upside (he averaged 21 points and 11 boards for Minnesota this season) that enticed T-Wolves boss Kevin McHale to pull the trigger. No Big Al in the draft (at No. 15 overall, by the way), no banner four years later.
Have there been some misses? Sure. Take the Patriots’ 2007 draft … please. But all in all, the talent has been replenished (with young, relatively cheap pieces) at a startling rate around here, which is why no one pines for Pedro or Branch or Antoine Walker anymore.
Not very long ago, this was Loserville – a sad-sack sports town where our teams mostly disappointed and only occasionally teased. That crown of thorns now belongs to Philadelphia, where they haven’t celebrated a Big Four pro championship since the Moses Malone/Dr. J Sixers in 1983.
Philly’s best hope these days: The Phillies, who in a span of seven years plucked Jimmy Rollins (1996), Pat Burrell (1998), Chase Utley (2000), Ryan Howard (2001) and ace Cole Hamels (2002).
If the drought finally ends in some October in the near future you’ll know why.
The draft means everything.
Eric McHugh may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.