With the Boston Celtics in full-on rebuild mode, team president and general manager Danny Ainge felt the need to tell everybody that the team wasn’t tanking, even after trading away Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.
The popular comparison is to that of the 1997 season when the Celtics won 15 games leading up to a draft that included bona fide future superstar Tim Duncan at the top.
Boston landed Chauncey Billups with the third overall pick in the ’97 draft.
This time around, Andrew Wiggins will be at the top of next year’s selections, along with fellow high school standouts Jabari Parker and Julius Randle.
“We are not tanking, Ainge told the Globe. “That’s ridiculous. This is the Boston Celtics.”
Of course, the simple reasoning that they are the Celtics seems to be a bit of a cop-out, especially since M.L. Carr admitted that losing games was the goal back in ’97.
This all comes on the heels of an interview that Carr, head coach of that ’97 team, gave to ESPN Boston’s Jackie MacMullan.
Carr talked about both playing guys who would try hard, but wouldn’t be good enough players to make the team win, and taking out hot shooters:
I was bringing in guys like Nate Driggers and Brett Szabo. It was a joke. But the idea was not to make a move that would help us too much.
I remember one game in particular, when David Wesley was hitting jump shots and 3-pointers all over the floor. I had to get him out of the game.
He came over to me and said, ‘Coach, what are you doing? I just hit four shots in a row.’ I said, ‘I know, David, but I’m experimenting.’
I’ll tell you, it was brutal. Those players were smart. They knew what we were doing.
During that ’97 season, Boston put together six losing streaks of at least six games, including a 10- and 13-game losing streak near midseason.
The team was second overall in field-goal attempts, but 22nd in field goal percentage, content to run and chuck, while playing defense like it was something to be shrugged off as teams shot over 50 percent against them.
Carr was definitely experimenting, but he was doing so as the front office’s mad scientist.
A simple statement along the lines of, “This is the Boston Celtics,” doesn’t cut it just three days after a former head coach aired the organization’s dirty laundry.
Plus, it’s hard to call what the Celtics are doing the classic form of “tanking.” At the very least, we can’t make that decision until we actually see them play.
Ainge saw the writing on the wall, as general managers are paid to do.
The Celtics as they were before the NBA draft were not championship contenders. Not only that, they were in a slow track backward, one that would only lead to wasted years and frustration from their fans.
In order to speed up what would eventually be a necessary rebuilding process, Boston shipped out a head coach and got rid of two aging veterans with something left to contribute to a successful basketball team.
A few draft picks came back, along with the possibility of landing a solid lottery pick in the following draft.
However, they’re on a route that could potentially send them back up the Eastern Conference ladder faster than most rebuilding teams could hope, having retained Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley.
With a solid core, the possibility of players returning later in the season from injuries (Rondo and Jared Sullinger), along with a depleted roster, Boston is set up to lose games simply because their team is bad, not because they’re purposefully throwing games.
It seems the distinction being made here is that purposefully attempting to lose games is viewed differently depending on when teams make moves to lose games.
Trading away players choosing not to sign free agents is a “rebuilding” ploy in order to knock a team down multiple pegs and preserve cap space. Meanwhile, limiting players’ minutes, coming up with reasons for your better guys to sit out, and “experimenting” with the lineup is considered “tanking.”
It’s all in the timing, and Ainge is doing things at the right time, at least as far as public perception is concerned.
This is the reality of today’s NBA: Building up is followed by breaking down and continues in an endless cycle; teams just have to hope that the highs last longer than the lows.
If it’s any consolation, Carr looks at Ainge’s moves in a positive light:
“Danny is absolutely doing the right thing for the Celtics franchise. But he’s going to have a real tough road while they rebuild.”
Besides, if Boston is bad enough to win the lottery next season and add Wiggins, the notion of tanking will quickly be ,and he’ll once again be Boston’s golden boy.
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