The Boston Celtics have come a long way since the 1960s. Bill Russell reined supreme, winning eleven NBA championships in just thirteen seasons, to go along with five MVP awards. He revolutionized the game, becoming the first man to make blocking shots the spectacle and necessity that it is today. John Havlicek was at his side during the most successful decade for any team in league history, and is still one of the most prolific scorers the game has ever seen, after recording a total of 26,395 points in his sixteen year career.
Then came the man who everyone remembers best; Larry Bird. One of the top five players of all time, and the best lanky white guy you could ever hope to watch. He was part of arguably the greatest rivalry in sports history; Larry Legend versus Magic Johnson. Along with the likes of Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson, the Celtics won three titles between 1980 and ’86.
After years of being at the pinnacle of the NBA, along with the Los Angeles Lakers, the condition of the Celtics has taken several turns for the worse. And after witnessing their last two seasons, it's safe to say the good old days are well and truly over.
They’ve lost the four stars (Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo) that brought them a championship in 2008 and now find themselves hanging onto the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference by the skin of their teeth (Boston are just one win ahead of the Charlotte Hornets in ninth).
However, now that their young stars are slowly finding their feet, they have 17 potential draft picks in the next two years alone and Brad Stevens is emerging as an apparent genius, the Boston Celtics can finally attempt a return to glory.
This season has included its fair share of ups and downs. From the countless four and five game losing streaks, to the loss of their two best players in Rondo and Jeff Green, the Celtics have battled all year long, with just a 31-39 win record in a very weak Eastern Conference to show for it. Where the Celtics have been able to succeed though, is building for the future. And not just for a hopeful, could-happen-in-five-years kind of turn around, but by arming themselves with more draft picks and potential talent than Danny Ainge knows what to do with.
Regardless of the fact that the Celtics' roster has been gutted, they have somehow started to improve. It shouldn’t make sense, and it’s still puzzling to say the least, but what Brad Stevens has done with Boston this year is something that fans should be extremely excited about. They’ve lost a dynamic passer and triple-double threat, as well as their only scorer who could create anything from an iso, yet they look better. From the growth of Marcus Smart to the 5’9” Isaiah Thomas (averaging 27.9 points per 36 minutes) who never fails to play above his size, the Celtics are showing that they actually have some promise.
Right now, their roster still essentially consists of role players. Guys like Avery Bradley, Evan Turner and Thomas could start on a few respectable teams, but other than that, the rest of their rotation doesn't exactly resemble anything close to the Celtics' teams of a few years ago.
Talent aside though, Boston are putting together the pieces that can begin to turn their franchise around.
They may have only won 44 percent of their games, although considering the amount of changes they have experienced over the last couple of seasons, a scoring differential of only -1.0 really isn't too bad, especially when teams such as the Sacramento Kings, with serious talent in the form of DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, have a differential of -3.9.
A lot of it comes down to the coaching of Brad Stevens, who has turned this Celtics squad into a team that can actually be entertaining to watch. They run the floor, guys like Smart hustle with every ounce of energy they have, and a nothing-to-lose mindset really shows in the way they continue to play with heart. Instead of simply waiting for the season to end in order to secure a lottery pick (aka, pretty much everyone in the Eastern Conference).
First off, they play fast. Their 98.5 possessions per game gives them the fifth highest pace rating in the league, ahead of teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and L.A. Clippers. Even their assist ratio of 18 percent ranks them sixth in the league, which is impressive to say the least when you consider the lack of firepower they have on offense.
These areas that the Celtics excel in all speak volumes of Stevens' coaching ability, and the way he's turned almost nothing into something should give fans no doubts that he is the man for the job. Of course they aren't a contender, or even a dark horse in the East yet, but they are proving to have potential under his leadership.
Now, they need to look forward to what they can achieve in the draft.
This year alone the Celtics have eight possible draft picks, five of which are in the first round. Most people can't even pull that off in NBA 2K15 when they trade their entire team away, but somehow Ainge has done it. However, three of those picks (from Dallas, Minnesota and Philadelphia) are protected, which means a more likely scenario for Boston this year is two picks in the first round and three in the second.
Looking forward to 2016, they still show no signs of slowing down.
The Celtics have secured nine potential picks for next year's draft, with four coming in the first round. Once again, due to protected picks from Dallas and Minnesota, they may not land all those selections. They still have a lot going for them though, and Chris Forsberg of ESPN has broken down Boston's draft future, and predicts that they can at least end up with five first round and eight second-round picks over the next two years.
With so many assets at their disposal, the Celtics have the chance to rebuild their entire team from the ground up by 2016. It goes without saying that they won't be drafting an entirely new team, which means they have a hell of a lot of chips on the table to bring in some of the NBA's existing talent. Two first-round picks could land them an starting caliber player alone (by Boston's standards), and that hardly even puts a dent in their pick wallet.
Their current core still has a long way to go if they want to contend in the playoffs, but with the leadership of Stevens and the front office wizardry of Ainge, the Celtics are beginning their return. Much like the Lakers, Boston isn't a team that is used to rebuilding, especially rebuilding without even one star player to hang onto.
Yet, it's because of the way this group has kept fighting through adversity, and with the opportunity to make some serious trades and draft a host of potential, the Celtics can become a team with the amount of depth to begin their road back to contention.