By Sterling Pingree
30 games into the Boston Celtics season and they’ve been a revelation. Throw out whatever stats you want and they’ve been beyond even the most ardent “Green Teamer’s” wildest dreams. The team is 24-6: most wins the NBA, best record in the eastern conference and are 5-0 in the division. When you think about all the things that have gone right with this team, it’s not hard to realize how easily this all could have gone in the other direction and gone horribly, horrifically, heinously wrong.
Being the holiday season, think of this as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and this is how things would have been different for the Celtics if things went differently in the last six months.
- Boston trades the 2017 number one pick to Philadelphia for the 3rd pick in 2017 and a first rounder in either 2018 or 2019.
How this could have been different? If this trade doesn’t happen, does Danny Ainge have the guts to go against conventional wisdom and not pick Markelle Fultz number 1? The pundits all agreed that Fultz was the pick, would Danny stick to his guns and pick Tatum? What would that have done to Tatum? Having all of that pressure put on him from the onset isn’t the optimal situation for a 19-year old debuting in the NBA.
Let’s say that Ainge went chalk and took Fultz with the one pick, what would this team look like with Fultz rather than Tatum? So far this year, Fultz has only played 4 games because of a bum shoulder and in the 4 games that he did play, managed only 6 points per game. With the injury to Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum has been thrust into the starting lineup and has flourished averaging 13.8 ppg and 5.6 rebounds.
Even beyond performance on the court, what would the feelings be towards Ainge and the Celtics if they spent the number one pick on a guy who has only played 4 of the first 30 games of the season and at a low level to boot? I’m sure with all the clamoring to make something of all the assets that he has accumulated since the Brooklyn trade, that Celtics fans would give Danny the benefit of the doubt. (Sopping up the sarcasm with that last line.)
- Boston trades Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 first rounder and a 2020 2nd rounder to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving.
How this could have been different? If the Celtics don’t make this trade, you’re stuck with Isaiah Thomas, who hasn’t played a game yet this season with a hip injury. The Kyrie vs IT argument would be raging if this trade, which fell through once, never got resuscitated. The Celtics would be without a leading scorer and think of what keeping IT and Jae Crowder, who you tried to trade unsuccessfully to your conference rival, would do to your team chemistry. It would be “Nomar doesn’t get dealt for Magglio Ordonez” level awkward, except this time it would be with two members of your starting five.
Not bad enough? Let’s assume that the Celtics still signed Gordon Hayward in this scenario: how ticked off would Jae Crowder be to get replaced and then traded, only to find himself still a Celtic? Add to that the rousing ovation the Garden faithful gave Hayward last year, only that’s happening every night with Crowder clapping from the bench like he’s Jennifer Aniston watching Brad Pitt win an Oscar.
How much more catastrophic would the Gordon Hayward injury have been if these two moves hadn’t been made? I think it’s multiplied by more than a factor of 10. Now, not to diminish the impact or severity of the injury that occurred, but the reaction from Celtics fans would have been more “here we go again” if Tatum wasn’t the one to replace him.
Adding our first two scenarios together, this is the starting lineup that the Celtics would be putting out there night after night right now:
PG- Terry Rozier SG- Marcus Smart SF- Marcus Morris PF- Al Horford C- Aron Baynes
Add in Jae Crowder, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis off the bench, with Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward and Markelle Fultz on IR. What would this team’s record be? Could they even be .500? With the unknown nature of Fultz’s injury, the hope that IT will only miss half of this season and the season eliminating injury of Gordon Hayward it’s not hard to imagine that 2017-18 could easily have been written off as a lost season for the Celtics.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.