The Five Biggest Trades in Boston Celtics’ History

Getty The trade for Kevin Garnett is one of the best moves the franchise ever made (Getty)

On Friday night, as everyone was gearing up for their 4th of July weekend, the Pacers traded away their resident superstar Paul George. Did he go to the Lakers, who he had said all along he intends to sign with in 2018 when he becomes a free agent? No. What about the Cavaliers, who have been rumored to be looking to replace Kevin Love? Nope. The Heat? Nope. The Rockets? Nope. Ah, so it was the Celtics, right?

Yeah, that’s a big old negative there.

Paul George traded, Paul George Thunder, Pacers Roster

The Indiana Pacers traded their star Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night. (Getty)

The Pacers traded George to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a shocker of a move. The trading of George wasn’t all the surprising. What was eye brow-raising was who Indiana got in return. Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. That’s it. The Pacers didn’t even get any draft picks for George.

The trade is especially painful for Celtics’ fans. Up until dinner time Friday here on the east coast, Boston was a front-runner for George, despite reports that they’d be unable to sign him to an extension. Celtics’ fans had been fed a company line from Boston’s front office – they’d sign Gordon Hayward, then trade for George and then boom, super team. Take that LeBron!

lebron james, memes, top best funny nba finals

LeBron James can sleep a little better after Paul George was sent to the Thunder,
not the Celtics (Getty)

But that all changed a few hours later and once again Boston’s General Manager Danny Ainge has swung and missed at a blockbuster trade. Although you can’t fault him for trying. Minutes after the trade started making the rounds on Twitter, word of what Boston was offering, both back at the trade deadline and recently, stared leaking out.

Given George’s stated desire to head to L.A. next season, it would make sense that the Celtics would revise their offer, pulling any of their beloved Brooklyn picks from trade talks, as well as balking at the idea of giving up Jaylen Brown and/or Jayson Tatum, their past two first round draft picks.

Now the Celtics and their fans find themselves in familiar territory.  In the past year they missed out on Jimmy Butler, as well as a much-needed rim-protector like Serge Ibaka or Nerlens Noel. It’s frustrating for fans because the Celtics have emerged as a legitimate contender in the East, but also continue to seem like a team that is one player away from being a real threat. Yet as familiar as this may feel to Celtics’ fans, it’s important to remember that it hasn’t always been like this. They haven’t always missed out on making a crucial blockbuster trade.

Let’s take a look at the five biggest trades in Celtics’ history.

1. The Celtics Become Perennial Winners By Trading for a Draft Pick That Would Become Bill Russell

Bill Russell is honored at a game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat in 2016 (Getty)

There isn’t a conversation that can be had about the history of Celtics that doesn’t include Russell, the team’s center from 1956 to 1969. With Russell leading the way, the Celtics went on an impressive and unrivaled run of 11 championships in 13 seasons. And just think, if not for an alleged promise of an Ice Capades’ appearance in Rochester, New York, none of it would have ever happened.

First though, there was the trade. On the day of the draft in 1956, Celtics’ coach and general manager Red Auerbach sent Ed Macauley, the team’s all-star center, and rookie Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks. The Hawks sent the Celtics the second pick in the draft in return. Auerbach had his eye on Russell, but also knew the Rochester Royals were sitting ahead of him with the first pick.

According to Auerbach he urged the ownership of the Rochester Royals to pass on Royals thanks in large part to a promise made by Walter Brown, the Celtics’ owner who also owned the Ice Capades. Auerbach encouraged Brown to call up the Royals’ owner and “tell them he’d send the Ice Capades up there for a week if they didn’t draft Russell.”

Who is going to turn down the Ice Capades?

That’s a fun story, it just might not be a true one. Either way, the Celtics were able to draft Russell and 11 titles later, had cemented their reputation and legacy as one of the league’s most successful franchises.

2. Boston Hoodwinks the Warriors, Trading for Robert Parish and a Draft Pick That Became Kevin McHale

Kevin McHale with fellow members of the 1986 Celtics Bill Walton and Danny Ainge in 2016 (Getty)

In 1980 Auerbach was looking for players that would compliment his team’s young star, Larry Bird. History would not be kind to the deal Auerbach ended up making with the Golden State Warriors, specifically from the Warriors’ side of things.

The Warriors traded the third overall pick in the 1980 draft, as well as center Robert Parish. In return, the Warriors received Boston’s picks, the first overall pick and the 13th pick. Golden State would select Joe Barry Carroll first and Rickey Brown at thirteen. Carroll went on to have a decent career, nothing to getting especially excited about, while Brown only stayed in the NBA for a couple of seasons before heading to Europe.

With the third pick, the Celtics drafted Kevin McHale, a power forward from the University of Minnesota who had averaged 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Gophers. The Celtics now had one of the most devastating front courts in league history, with Parish flanked by Bird and McHale. The trio helped Boston win three titles (1981, 1984, 1986.)

3. The Celtics Create a New Big 3 by Trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen

Paul Pierce Celtics, Kevin Garnett Celtics, Paul Pierce Kevin Garnett

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett with the Celtics in 2013 (Getty)

The bounty of picks Boston would receive in their 2013 trade with Brooklyn would never have come if not for another trade Ainge made five seasons earlier. The Celtics were coming off another losing season, their second in a row, and were faced with the decision of staying the course and continuing down the road of mediocrity or blowing things up and starting over.

Ainge elected to blow things up, but not in the way it was expected.

Ray Allen with the Celtics in 2008 (Getty)

First he acquired Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics on June 28, 2007. To do so he sent Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Jeff Green (the team’s first round pick that year) west. The Celtics also picked up forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis in the deal. Ainge then followed that deal up with another blockbuster. In exchange for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair and two first round draft picks the Celtics landed Kevin Garnett. Just like that the Celtics had a new Big 3, one that could rival the first iteration the franchise produced (Bird, McHale and Parish.)

The turn-around of the Celtics’ fate was as quick as the trades that prompted it. The team went 66-16 in 2007-08, beating the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, a far cry from the dismal season that preceded it.

Paul Pierce Celtics, Paul Pierce Nets

Paul Pierce with the Celtics after their win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (Getty)

Unfortunately it was also the high water mark for the Big 3 2.0. Over the next four seasons they lost three times in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and once in the NBA Finals.

4. Boston Trades Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets for a Handful of Draft Picks

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett with the Nets during the 2014 Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals (Getty)

In the summer of 2013 Ainge decided to pull the plug on the second version of Boston’s Big 3. From the start Ainge had freely admitted that the addition of Garnett and Allen had a limited shelf life and that they only had so big of a window to make their mark. By 2013, the window had closed completely and Ainge was looking for a way out.

Enter the Brooklyn Nets. Led by a new owner looking to spend money and a new image thanks to their move to Brooklyn, the Celtics couldn’t have found a more eager trading partner if they tried.

On July 12 Boston traded Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, D.J. White and two draft picks to Brooklyn for Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph and Gerald Wallace. In addition, Boston also received the Nets’ first round draft picks in 2014 (became James Young,) 2016 (became Jaylen Brown,) 2017 (traded to Philadelphia for the 3rd pick, they selected Jayson Tatum) and 2018.

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams with the Nets in 2013 (Getty)

At the time, it wasn’t the worst trade ever. From the Nets’ perspective, they got some big names to help fill the new Barclays Center and the promise of some immediate success. Pierce and Garnett would complete a starting lineup that included Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Why should the Nets care about giving away draft picks if those draft picks are late in the first round because they’re winning so much?

Except they didn’t win so much or if anything, they definitely didn’t win as much as planned. The Nets went 44-38 in 2013-14, losing in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and 38-44 the next year, losing in the first round. Pierce only stayed in Brooklyn for one year, Garnett left as a free agent in 2015.

5. Boston Gets a Much-Needed Leader, Trading for a Isaiah Thomas

will is isaiah thomas playing tonight,

Thomas brought leadership and playmaking to a young Celtics team (Getty)

Since the Brooklyn trade, Boston had become a promising young team with plenty of potential. What they were missing though was a star, an alpha dog to help lead the team. Ainge was able to land such a player when the Celtics traded for Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline in February 2015.

The three-team deal that brought Thomas to Boston from the Phoenix Suns also included the Detroit Pistons. Boston sent Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first round draft pick to Phoenix and Tayshaun Prince to the Pistons. Detroit sent Jonas Jerebko to the Celtics. It’s not as if Brooklyn needed anymore of a reason to regret the 2013 Garnett, Pierce trade, but they got one here, as a trade exception created by trading Pierce paved the way for the Celtics to land Thomas.

Since joining the Celtics Thomas has been the stud the team needed. He averaged 22.2 points and 6.2 assists in 2015-16 and 28.9 points and 5.9 assists in 2016-17, helping Boston finish in first place in the East. He also has become one of the team’s best recruiters, most recently making a not-so-subtle pitch to Blake Griffin of the Clippers on Instagram. Unfortunately, his success at recruiting might not be the best.

Isaiah Thomas

Isiaiah Thomas recently made an unsuccessful attempt to lure Blake Griffin to Boston. (Getty)

I’d be remiss to wrap this up without at least briefly mentioning some of the bigger fails in the Boston’s trade history. They definitely don’t rival the ones previously listed in terms of magnitude and overall impact, but they deserve to be mentioned.

Rick Pitino had a brief run with the Celtics that was largely forgettable. It included some regrettable boasts, some unfortunate comments and possibly most egregious, trading away Chauncey Billups less than a year after taking him third overall in the draft. The Celtics got Kenny Anderson, Popeye Jones and someone named Zan Tabek in return.

A couple years later Boston bailed on another high draft pick too soon, this time trading Joe Johnson to Phoenix in 2002. Johnson, who was the 10th pick in the 2001 Draft, played only 48 games for Boston. Boston traded away an established star a year later when they sent one of their young cornerstones Antonie Walker to Dallas for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills. It’s cool. LaFrentz was only in the second year of a seven year deal worth $70 million.

Perhaps the last meaningful bad trade the Celtics made was in 2011 when they traded fan favorite and team linch-pin Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green, a promising but unreliable player. The move derailed any momentum the 2011-12 Celtics had and they never recovered. Boston viewed Green as a bridge between the Big 3 era and whatever came next and signed him to a four-year, $36 million contract in 2012. A few years later Green was gone, traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.

So take a deep breath Celtics’ fans. Losing out on George might sting, it might feel painfully familiar. But it’s not as if you’ve only known failure when it comes to trades.



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