Pro Hoops History HOF: Ed Wachter

Ed Wachter
Ed Wachter

At 6’1″ tall, Ed Wachter was the best center in basketball during his heyday and one of pro basketball’s first stars. Born in 1883, eight years before the sport was created, Wachter began playing pro basketball at age 17 in 1900. It was only two years since the first pro basketball league started – grandiosely, it was called the National Basketball League despite being in just Pennsylvania and New Jersey – and Wachter would play a pivotal role in evolving the style and play of the game.

Hailing from Troy, New York, Wachter learned basketball at his local YMCA. The YMCA was the typical spot in this era for the best pro and amateur talent to emerge. At age 17, Wachter began his pro career in Massachusetts with the Ware Wonders of the Western Massachusetts League in 1900. Over the next decade, Wachter bounced around playing a year or two with teams in Haverhill (MA), Schenectady (NY), Gloversville (NY), Pittsfield (MA), and McKeesport (PA).

By 1905, Ed Wachter along with his brother Lew, Jimmy Williamson, and Bill Hardman traveled from team to team together forming a bond and rapport. While in Gloversville they whipped the Buffalo Germans in a match in 1908. Nonetheless, the barnstorming Germans would go on to win 111 straight games over the next three years as the press celebrated them as basketball’s best team.

Perhaps sensing they themselves were worthy of the title, Wachter and company went back to Troy, New York, and formed the Trojans in 1909. Competing in the Hudson Valley League, the Trojans thrived on their exquisite teamwork and wound up winning four straight championships (1910-1913). The first two of  these came in the Hudson league while the final two  came in the New York State League. Although in two different leagues, the Trojans were the first professional basketball team to secure four straight titles.

Ed Wachter proved the focal point of pro basketball’s first dynasty. Not only the best player, he also served as the team’s coach. His skills, vision, and prodding made the Trojans one of the first teams, and certainly the first great team, to employ crisp bounce-passing and a fastbreaking style of basketball. Aggressive, Wacther and the Trojans also instituted a grilling man-to-man defensive style that fostered the fastbreak.

Ed, along with is brother Lew, were also strong proponents of a daring rule change in basketball: the man fouled while in the act of shooting had to shoot the resulting free throws. Prior to this, teams generally selected their best foul shooter to take all free throws after any shooting foul. Ed and Lew’s new rule was adopted by the Hudson River Valley League in 1910. The rule would slowly spread and catch on with most other pro leagues by 1917 and with college basketball by 1924.

Even though his playing days began over a century ago, the influence of Ed Wachter remains with basketball to this day. Things as simple as how free throws are taken, or how bounce passes are made, we owe to the thoughts and skills of Wachter and the Troy Trojans.

Years Played: 1900 – 1924

 

Pro Hoops History HOF: Sam Cassell

Sam Cassell

Sam Cassell enjoyed a lengthy career as an NBA point guard, but only after an arduous college basketball journey. At age 20, he began playing junior college ball with San Jacinto College outside Houston. Then, at age 22, he transferred to Florida State. After two successful seasons there, Cassell was finally drafted into the NBA at age 24.

And nearly everywhere he went in the NBA, Cassell catalyzed improvement for his teams.

Selected by the Houston Rockets, the geriatric rookie immediately made a huge impact for the Rockets. No one doubts Hakeem Olajuwon was the primary fuel for the Rockets that won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995, but Cassell’s role as backup point guard and big game performer helped pull Houston out of some tough fixes. In the 1994 Finals, Cassell hit a huge three-pointer in the final moments to win Game 3. He finished that game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. Not bad for a rookie who averaged 7 points in the regular season. In the 1995 Finals, Cassell exploded for 31 points on 12 shots leading Houston to a 2-0 series lead over the Magic.

These huge playoff performances paid dividends for Cassell. By his third season, 1995-96, he was averaging 14.5 points and 5 assists per game off of Houston’s bench. Following that season, however, Cassell was traded to the Phoenix Suns and thus began his wandering days.

Over the next three seasons, Sam played for the Suns, Nets, and Mavericks before finally settling in Milwaukee. Not that he wasn’t productive. Cassell averaged 18 points and 6.5 assists in this span, but no club seemed to truly appreciate what he offered. The Nets were particularly foolish. They made their lone postseason between 1994 and 2002 while improving from 26 to 43 wins in their one full season with Cassell.

With the Bucks, though, Cassell found a home and exploited his talents to the max. His biggest assets, oddly for a point guard, were his abilities to post-up and generate lots of free throws. Milwaukee lacked a power forward or center capable of scoring, so Cassell’s production of 19 points and 7 assists per game while making 87% of his free throws was sorely needed. In 2001, teaming with Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen, Cassell’s Bucks narrowly missed out on the NBA Finals losing to the 76ers in a tough 7-game series.

Ever the wanderer, though, Cassell’s time in Milwaukee finished in 2003. Still, Cassell had a couple of curtain calls left.

The Timberwolves in 2004 enjoyed their best season in franchise history after Cassell’s acquisition. Indeed, it was a career year for Cassell who finally made the All-Star Team and was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team at the tender age of 34. With Kevin Garnett as league MVP and Cassell riding shotgun Minnesota made the Western Conference Finals. An unfortunate back injury to Sam kept the Wolves from mounting a full challenge to the Lakers, though, and they lost the series in six games.

In 2006, after an injury-plagued 2005 season, Cassell helped lift the Los Angeles Clippers from their wretched depths. Yes, the Clippers, a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff series since 1976 as the Buffalo Braves. Cassell’s savvy, leadership, and still potent skills mixed beautifully with another superb power forward (Elton Brand) as the Clippers won 47 games. In the playoffs, Sam’s Clippers advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals where they lost to the Suns in seven games. From that point on, Cassell was severely limited by injuries, but managed to snag a final NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

With his ebullient energy, pull-up jumpers, fearless forays to the rim, and confidence Cassell improved every team he appeared with. The Rockets, Nets, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Clippers were all demonstrably better with the services of Cassell. Even if those teams’ appreciation for Cassell usually proved very short-lived, that kind of track record is no accident, but proof of his prowess. In a career that was anything but short-lived, you can see that prowess almost from the get-go.

Years Played: 1993 – 2008

Accolades

3x Champion (1993-’94, 2008)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2004)
All-Star (2004

Statistics

NBA Career: (1993-94 through 2007-08)
Peak Career Production: (1997-98 through 2005-06)

Average and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 993 136 610 34th
PPG 15.7 12.2 18.4 30th
RPG 3.2 2.6 3.6 200th
APG 6.0 4.4 7.0 9th
SPG 1.07 0.77 1.16 54th
BPG 0.16 0.14 0.17 225th
TS% 0.544 0.525 0.547 68th
2PT% 0.477 0.430 0.482 98th
3PT% 0.331 0.363 0.333 142nd
FT% 0.861 0.847 0.866 15th
PER 19.5 15.9 20.9 21st
WS/48 0.141 0.093 0.158 24th
Ortg 110 106 112
Drtg 108 109 108

Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 993 136 610 34th
Minutes 29812 3539 20731 27th
Points 15635 1656 11229 18th
Rebounds 3221 349 2203 112th
Assists 5939 592 4275 6th
Steals 1058 105 710 33rd
Blocks 163 19 105 212th
2PTs 10529 448 3789 18th
3PTs 672 117 374 102nd
FTs 3567 409 2529 17th
WS 87.5 6.9 68.3 20th

The Lowdown: Slick Leonard

Slick Leonard

William Robert Leonard is a man of a million aliases. Some call him “Robert”. Others “Bob”. But the coolest of us call him “Slick”. As a legendary ABA coach, Slick proved to be tough, if not slippery, for opponents to handle. He took the Pacers to three titles in the upstart, renegade league. However, his time as a professional basketball player isn’t all that memorable.

Except when he tagged along with the Chicago Packers in the 1961-62 season. The Chicago Packers in 1961 were the 1st NBA expansion team in a decade. And my goodness did they show it on the court. Aside from Slick Leonard and rookie Walt Bellamy this team was absolutely atrocious. Beyond them, 8 other players appeared in 41+ games with the Packers that season. All but 3 would be out of the league the very next season. And only two survived the following year.

So with those facts in mind, it’s little wonder Leonard enjoyed a career season with the expansion Packers. Up to this point, Leonard had been a serviceable guard with the Lakers franchise. His claim to fame there had been a surprisingly great 1957 postseason where he averaged 21 points, 7.5 assists and 6 rebounds in 5 games. His other stake to stardom had been a coach-like  harping of his team’s shortcomings, in particular this rant to the Los Angeles Times:

“We’re so much better than that club (Cincinnati),” he said. “But we just don’t have the fire. We are a second place club, material wise, and we keep saying we’ll make up the games we’ve lost but there are only 31 games left.”

Not content with these salvos Leonard then bit into coach Fred Schaus for trying to make teammate “Hot Rod” Hundley, who he deemed a lackluster play maker, into a point guard:

“You can’t make a leader,” he said emphatically.

These quotes from January 1961 by an aging reserve may have played some role in Leonard’s subsequent availability in that summer’s expansion draft. Just a hunch on my part.

Now a member of the Chicago Packers, Leonard was free to not only shoot barbs but as many shots as he wanted on the court. Early in the season the Chicago Daily Tribune noted his playmaking ability and its impact, particularly on rookie sensation Walt Bellamy:

The Chicago Packers came up with a new star last night. His name is Bob Leonard, once an All-American playmaker at Indiana University.

The 29 year old backcourt man [cast aside in the player draft by the Los Angeles Lakers as being injury prone] dominated a second half rally that brought the Packers their second victory of the season. They have lost three.

Thanks to Leonard’s ball handling, Walt Bellamy… was able to score 35 points. Eleven of Bellamy’s field goals came in the second half and eight were the direct result of passes from Leonard.

Leonard himself had 27 points that game against the Knicks. Chicago stood at that point had 2 wins and 3 losses, a very respectable record for an expansion club. But the hard times hit hard and fast. Just three weeks later, Leonard again scored 27 points but Chicago lost to the Detroit Pistons. It was their seventh straight loss and put them at 2 wins and 11 losses.

In a mid-December contest that saw Bellamy (45 points) and Wilt Chamberlain (50 points) square off within the confines of the game, Leonard and Philadelphia Warriors point guard Guy Rodgers actually squared off following the (you guessed it) Packers loss:

[Leonard and Rodgers] traded punches in center court last night at the conclusion of Philadelphia’s 112 to 110 victory…

The Packers led, 110 to 108, with less than two minutes remaining, but baskets by Tom Gola and Rodgers gave Philadelphia the victory before 3,360.

The losing nights piled up in normal venues (Boston, New York, Philadelphia) and in neutral-site, zany locales like Louisville, Green Bay, East Chicago, Moline and Evansville. At least in February, Leonard secured some measure of revenge against his erstwhile club, the Lakers. Playing with an injured shoulder ol’ Slick scored 18 second half points, including five straight down the stretch, to give the Packers a rare win. However, it’d be important to note  Los Angeles was without Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

Even the redemption was somewhat in vain this season. In fact, everything was somewhat in vain for Leonard this season. He finally was able to demonstrate his full abilities at age 29 after 5 seasons in the NBA. He averaged a career-high 16 points, 5.5 assists and 37.5% FG while connecting on 75% of his free throws. But his demonstrations came on what is truly one of the worst teams in league history. These Packers went 18-62 and surely would have been worse had it not been for Leonard and, even more so, Walt Bellamy’s incredible campaign.

The next season Leonard would only suit up for 32 games of playing action. The Chicago Zephyrs (yes, they changed their name after one season) were just about as awful as they were the previous season finishing 25-55.

However, the silver lining of this season (and the next) would be that Leonard was given his first coaching opportunity. Although, these formative coaching years were unimpressive, they were still instructive. Dismissed by the Baltimore Bullets (yes, the Chicago Zephyrs/Packers had already relocated) after the 1964 season, Leonard’s next coaching job would be with the Indiana Pacers of the ABA and he’d truly make his mark on professional basketball. But for one season, his playing career was something remarkable.

When NBA Stars Go Back Home

In Sports Illustrated late last week, LeBron James announced he was going home. What success LeBron will have going back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers remains to be seen, but there are comparable precedents. So here I am to help examine previous, notable examples of star players going home… or at least back to the team that first drafted them. And you’ll notice, LeBron is one of the few to have won a title in his pit stop before returning home.

Old and Beat Up – Returning to Your First NBA Team as an Old Man

Bob Dandridge
Bob Dandridge

Bob Dandridge – Won a Title Before Going Back!
Drafted 45th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 Draft, Bob Dandridge went on to become a 3x All-Star with the Bucks from 1969-70 to 1976-77. During this period he averaged 18.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 48.8% FG and 77.1% FT for the Bucks. The superb small forward was hailed as a defensive stopper and efficient offensive scorer helping Milwaukee to a title in 1971 and another Finals appearance in 1974. In 1977, Dandridge became one of the first star players to change teams via free agency signing with the Washington Bullets. During his first season there, the Greyhound led Washington to an NBA title and helped push them back to the Finals the next season in 1979. At age 34, Dandridge returned to the Bucks in November 1981 but played a mere 11 games before being waived.

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Boston Celtics – Honored and Retired Numbers

Retired Numbers

#6 Bill Russell (1956 – 1969)

Bill Russell

11x Finals winner; Finalist; Conference Finalist
5x MVP, 2x MVP Runner-Up
3x All-NBA 1st Team, 8x All-NBA 2nd Team
12x All-Star, ASG MVP
15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
43.6% FG, 76.1% FT, 18.9 PER, 163.5 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#10 Jo Jo White (1969 – 1979)

Jo Jo White

2x Finals winner; 3x Conference Finalist
Finals MVP
2x All-NBA 2nd Team, 7x All-Star
18.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG
44.2% FG, 83.3% FT, 14.5 PER, 51.0 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#14 Bob Cousy (1950 – 1963)

Bob Cousy (skiids.com)

6x Finals Winner; Finals Runner-up; 3x Conference Finalist
MVP
10x All-NBA 1st Team, 2x All-NBA 2nd Team
13x All-Star, 2x ASG MVP
18.5 PPG, 7.6 APG, 5.2 RPG
37.5% FG, 80.3% FT, 19.8 PER, 91.0 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#15 Tommy Heinsohn (1956 – 1965)

Tommy Heinsohn

8x Finals Winner; Finalist
4x All-NBA 2nd Team, 6x All-Star
18.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 APG
40.5% FG, 79.0% FT, 17.8 PER, 60.0 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#17 John Havlicek (1962-1978)

John Havlicek

8x Finals Winner; 4x Conference Finalist
Finals MVP
4x All-NBA 1st Team, 7x All-NBA 2nd Team
5x All-Defensive 1st Team, 3x All-Defensive 2nd Team
13x All-Star
15.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.9 RPG
42.1% FG, 75.7% FT, 14.9 PER, 47.6 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#18 Dave Cowens (1970 – 1980)

Dave Cowens

2x Finals Winner, 4x Conference Finalist
MVP, MVP Runner-up
3x All-NBA 2nd Team
All-Defensive 1st Team, 2x All-Defensive 2nd Team
8x All-Star, ASG MVP
Rookie of the Year
18.2 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG
46.0% FG, 78.2% FT, 17.2 PER, 83.7 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#21 Bill Sharman (1951 – 1961)

4x Finals winner; Finalist Runner-up; 3x Conference Finalist
4x All-NBA 1st Team, 3x All-NBA 2nd Team
8x All-Star, ASG MVP
18.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG
42.8% FG, 88.3% FT, 18.2 PER, 80.9 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#22 Ed Macauley (1950 – 1956)

3x Conference Finalist
3x All-NBA 1st Team, All-NBA 2nd Team
6x All-Star, ASG MVP
18.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.7 APG
44.7% FG, 77.4% FT, 21.6 PER, 75.5 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#23 Frank Ramsey (1954 – 1964)

Frank Ramsey

7x Finals winner; Finalist Runner-up; Conference Finalist
13.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.8 APG
39.9% FG, 80.4% FT, 15.5 PER, 49.2 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#24 Sam Jones (1957 – 1969)

Sam Jones

10x Finals Winner; Finalist Runner-up; Conference Finalist
3x All-NBA 2nd Team
5x All-Star
17.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG
45.6% FG, 80.3% FT, 18.7 PER, 92.3 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#32 Kevin McHale (1980 – 1993)

Kevin McHale

3x Finals winner; 2x Finals Runner-up; 2x Conference Finalist
All-NBA 1st Team, 7x All-Star
3x All-Defensive 1st Team, 3x All-Defensive 2nd Team
2x Sixth Man of the Year
17.9, PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.7 BPG
55.4% FG, 79.8% FT, 20.0 PER, 113.0 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#33 Larry Bird (1979 – 1992)

Larry Bird

3x Finals winner; 2x Finals Runner-up; 3x Conference Finalist
3x MVP, 4x MVP Runner-Up
2x Finals MVP
9x All-NBA 1st Team, All-NBA 2nd Team
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team
Rookie of the Year
12x All-Star
24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG
49.6% FG, 37.6% 3PT, 88.6% FT, 23.5 PER, 145.8 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#00 Robert Parish (1980 – 1994)

Robert Parish

3x Finals winner; 2x Finals Runner-up; 2x Conference Finalist
All-NBA 2nd Team, All-NBA 3rd Team
9x All-Star
16.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG
55.2% FG, 73.0% FT, 19.8 PER, 122.4 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

Honored Numbers

#3 Dennis Johnson (1983 – 1990)
2x Finals Winner
All-Defensive 1st Team, 3x All-Defensive 2nd Team
#7 Nate “Tiny” Archibald (1978 – 1983)
Finals Winner
3x All-Star, All-NBA 2nd Team
#8 Antoine Walker (1996 – 2003; 2005)
3x All-Star
#11 Chuck Cooper (1950 – 1954)
#12 Don Chaney (1968 – 1975; 1978 – 1980)
2x Finals Winner
4x All-Defensive 2nd Team
#16 Tom “Satch” Sanders (1960 – 1973)
8x Finals Winner
All-Defensive 2nd Team
#18 Bailey Howell (1966 – 1970)
2x Finals Winner
All-Star
#18 Jim Loscutoff (1955 – 1964)
7x Finals Winner
#19 Don Nelson (1965 – 1976)
5x Finals Winner
#25 K.C. Jones (1958 – 1967)
8x Finals Winner
#31 Cedric Maxwell (1977 – 1985)
2x Finals Winner
Finals MVP
#35 Paul Silas (1972 – 1976)
2x Finals Winner
All-Star
2x All-Defensive 1st Team, 2x All-Defensive 2nd Team
#35 Reggie Lewis (1987 – 1993)
All-Star
#44 Danny Ainge (1981 – 1989)
2x Finals Winner
All-Star

Boston Celtics Franchise History: 1996-97 through 2005-06

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 1

Regular Season Record: 348-440
Regular Season Win Percentage: 44.1%
Playoff Appearances: 4
Playoff Series Wins: 3
Playoff Record: 16-21

For the first time in generations, the Celtics were veering into rudderless territory. The untimely deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis derailed any smooth succession plan from the Bird-McHale-Parish core of the 1980s. With barely any worthwhile talent on their roster, Boston couldn’t swindle or fleece another team of their draft picks. Boston therefore decided the quickest road back to contention would come through deliberately losing as many games as possible. The prize, should they win the 1997 Draft Lottery, would be Tim Duncan.

With such a lucrative payoff, the Celtics were full-steam ahead for losing in 1996-97. They didn’t just secure the worst record in the NBA that season, Boston absolutely shattered the franchise record for losses and lowest win percentage. Their 67 losses easily eclipsed the previous record of 50 losses in 1978. The .183 win percentage was an abysmal depth below the previous record of .293 waaaay back in 1950.

The team’s leading scorer and rebounder was rookie forward Antoine Walker. The versatile shimmy machine would be one of the only two players to make a serious impact for Boston during this decade. The other, unfortunately, was not Tim Duncan. Despite the losing, Boston fell to the 3rd slot and watched the San Antonio Spurs dance off with Duncan.

Dejected, Boston selected Chauncey Billups with their pick. The point guard would go on to a superb career, but Boston gave up on him 51 games into the 1997-98 season. Billups was traded, in essence, for veteran Kenny Anderson. That was a curious trade then and now for a team that was clearly years away from any legitimate contention. But for some reason, coach and personnel head Rick Pitino couldn’t discern the true, sorry state of the franchise.

In any event, Boston did finish with 36 wins in the 1997-98 season as Walker became an All-Star. Despite not tanking that season, Boston nonetheless found their second impact player in the 1998 Draft. Paul Pierce fell into their lap at the 10th pic. Suddenly, Boston had some hope for the future.

But over the next two seasons, Boston continued to mire in mediocrity under Pitino. Finally, in an act of mercy, Pitino stepped down as coach a third of the way through the 2000-01 season. Jim O’Brien took over as coach and guided Boston to a 24-24 record during his truncated tenure that season.

By this time, Pierce and Walker formed a  formidably potent one-two duo. Together they averaged 50 points, 15.5 rebounds, and 8.5 assists a game. However, the rest of the roster was atrocious. A lot of players who were decent at their very best.

Yet, somehow, the combined power of Pierce and Walker catapulted Boston to 49 wins in the 2001-02 season. It was their best regular season campaign in a decade. In the playoffs, the achieved success not seen since 1988 by reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Their opponent was the New Jersey Nets.

The highwater mark of the season  – and of this era – came in Game 3 of the series. Tied 1-1, the Celtics found themselves down by 21 points entering the fourth quarter. From that point forward, Paul Pierce carried the Celtics on his back as Boston scored 41 points in the final period to win the game 94-90. Now up 2-1 in the series, Boston promptly lost the next three games. Considering where they were just a season before, it was a helluva triumph.

The triumph proved paper-thin, however.

Another bone-headed trade earlier that season crippled the Celtics. Promising rookie Joe Johnson was dealt to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for veterans Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk. Boston foolishly became enamored with the idea these two players could give them a potent core for immediate contention.

When the dust settled, Delk and Rogers played a grand total of 116 games for Boston and Joe Johnson has famously played in seven all-star games.

Whoops

Ricky Davis celtics

The Celtics steadily declined to 44 wins in 2003 and then 36 wins in 2004. A brief bounce came in 2005 when they won 45 games, but in the 2006 season they fell right back down to 33 wins.

By that time, Paul Pierce was a lonely, lonely man. Walker had been traded just prior to the 2003-04 season to Dallas for a poo-poo platter of flotsam: Raef LaFrentz, Chris Mills, and Jiri Welsch plus a 2004 1st rounder that became the best part of the deal, Delonte West. The team’s leading players, besides Pierce, in 2006 were Ricky Davis, Wally Szczerbiak, and Mark Blount. Not exactly a murder’s row of talent.

In this rubble were buried some young gems. The aforementioned West, defensive swingman Tony Allen, the scowling Kendrick Perkins, and the offensively gifted Al Jefferson. However, they were young gems and Pierce was 28 years old in the absolute heart of his prime. He averaged 27 points that season and nearly 7 rebounds and 5 assists a game.

How long would he put up with putting up Herculean numbers for a team headed into a clear rebuild? Boston was again at a crossroads similar to where they were a decade before.

At least this time they did have a player of Pierce’s caliber to perhaps trade away and stock up on draft picks. Or maybe they should stick with Pierce and cross their fingers that another star would fall to them in the draft? Better yet, maybe they should repeat the 1996-97 season and deliberately lose in order to improve the odds of winning the lottery.

Whatever the decision, Boston unmistakeably found itself in a malaise heretofore unthinkable to the likes of Auerbach and Russel, Bird and Havlicek.

 

STARTING FIVE

C – Tony Battie (1999-’04) – 336 Games
6.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 51.7% FG, 68.7% FT

F – Paul Pierce (1999-’06) – 605 Games
23.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 44.0% FG, 35.7% 3PT, 79.0% FT

F – Antoine Walker (1996-’03, 2005) – 552 Games
20.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 41.3% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 66.2% FT

F – Eric Williams (1996-’04) – 398 Games
9.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 42.1% FG, 73.1% FT

G – Kenny Anderson (1997-’02) – 241 Games
11.3 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 43.5% FG, 35.9% 3PT, 78.9% FT

BENCH

F – Walter McCarty (1997-’05) – 494 Games
5.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 39.5% FG, 34.9% 3PT, 71.1% FT

G – Dana Barros (1996-’00) – 227 Games
9.1 PPG, 3.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 45.3% FG, 40.6% 3PT, 86.1% FT

Boston Celtics Franchise History: 1986-87 through 1995-96

Boston Celtics

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 1
Division Titles: 4

Regular Season Record: 465-355
Regular Season Win Percentage: 56.7%
Playoff Appearances: 8
Playoff Series Wins: 7
Playoff Record: 37-40

Fresh off three titles in six seasons, the Boston Celtics looked to further cement their hold as the best franchise in the history of the NBA heading into the 1986 Draft. Even though their 1985-86 team had won an incredible 67 games, the Celtics were perched at the top of the draft with the #2 pick thanks to a bone-headed trade by the Seattle SuperSonics.  With that pick, Boston selected the athletic and supremely-gifted Len Bias.

Sadly, Bias would be dead from a drug overdose within a couple of days and Boston’s long-term success was severely impaired.

As for immediate effects, Boston seemingly showed no signs of trouble. Their Big 3 of Parish, McHale, and Bird continued to hum along. In fact, McHale submitted his best season in 1986-87. Larry Bird had just won the three previous MVP awards. Parish was his usual, highly-reliable self. Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge continued to ably man the backcourt.

The problem was the bench. It was razor-thin and old by this point. Scott Wedman lasted just six games. Bill Walton just 10. Other legends like Jerry Sichting, Fred Roberts, and Greg Kite were left as the backups. This is where the absence of Bias truly and immediately felt by Boston.

The Celtics still managed 59 wins in 1987, but in the playoffs they ran up against two remarkably formidable foes. One was a time-honored adversary: the Milwaukee Bucks. These Bucks had swept Boston in 1983 and now in ’87 they pushed Boston to seven games in the semi-finals. Surviving the Game 7 by the hair of their chin (119-113 thanks to a fourth quarter surge) the Celtics moved on to face the Detroit Pistons. Larry Bird’s steal and pass underneath to Dennis Johnson barely gave Boston a Game 5 victory (108-107) and provided a 3-2 series lead. Without that moment, Boston likely would have lost the series. As it stood, they still nearly lost the series. In Game 7, Bird played every minute and dropped 37/9/9 to thwart Detroit 117 to 114.

In the Finals, the Celtics faced the Lakers for the third time in four years. The Lakers, thanks to Magic Johnson’s baby hook in Game 4, secured the series in six games. This proved to be Boston’s last best hope for a title for the next two decades.

Injuries and age began to ravage the Celtics. McHale, who broken his foot in March 1987, delayed surgery until after the season. Playing on the foot gave Boston its shot at another title that season, but definitely altered the rest of McHale’s career. Bone spurs, a bad back, and torn Achilles combined to mar the rest of Bird’s career. In the 1988-89 season, Larry Legend played in just six games.

Naturally, the indestructible Robert Parish chugged along without problem.

To be sure, Boston was still a team to contend with every season, but they were no longer a title contender. Especially after the 1987-88 season. After Bird famously dueled Dominique Wilkins in Game 7 of the semi-finals, Boston moved on to the ECF to again face Detroit. The Celtics put up a valiant fight as five of the six contests were decided by less than six points, but their depleted bench was too big of a weakness. The Pistons played eight players more than 20 minutes a game, meanwhile Boston only played their starters more than that. Indeed, four of their starters averaged over 40 minutes a game. Hell, four of their starters were over age 30.

In 1989, with Bird sidelined most of the season, Boston discovered a taste of youth within their midst.

Rejuvenation

Reggie Lewis

Reggie Lewis made the most of Bird’s absence. The second-year forward who couldn’t get off the bench his rookie season blossomed with 18.5 PPG in the 1988-89 season. Rookie Brian Shaw also saw an uptick  (8.5 PPG, 6 APG) after Ainge was traded to the Sacramento Kings. The youngsters barely allowed Boston a winning record (42-40) and were cleanly swept by the Pistons in the first round, but Boston was in for a mini-Renaissance in the early 1990s that’s often forgot.

Bird’s return in 1990 pushed Boston back up to 52 wins. The fearsome four Boston trotted out made them a frisky playoff foe for anyone.

Bird – 24 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 7.5 APG
McHale – 21 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2 BPG
Lewis – 17 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3 APG
Parish – 16 PPG, 10 RPG

The problem remained the bench. And with Dennis Johnson gassed on his last legs, the back court was a sieve as well. In the opening round against the New York Knicks, Boston was absolutely stunned by the sequence of events that unfolded.

The Celtics took the first two games of the best-of-five series in convincing fashion: a 116-105 Game 1 victory and an absolute 157-128 beatdown in Game 2. Then the Knicks proceeded to win the next three games to knock Boston out of the playoffs. Patrick Ewing was particularly monstrous in ruining the Celtics with 32 points a game on 57% shooting. In Game 5, Ewing provided the dagger with a desperation turnaround three-pointer.

In 1991, the Celtics finally had a coherent team again with an actual bench. The team stormed out to a 29-4 start, finished the year with 56 wins, and garnered the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Gamble, Brian Shaw, Dee Brown, and Ed Pinckney weren’t all-stars nor all-timers but they were decent and good pieces to relieve the strain on Boston’s core. The balance Boston found is exemplified by six players averaging between 14 and 20 PPG that season.

The good fortune didn’t last into the next season as the roster went into flux with trades and injury, but still Boston managed 51 wins.

And here’s the crazy thing: Boston was within easy reach of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals both seasons. They probably would have lost to the Chicago Bulls once there, but that’s better the results we know Boston received.

As it stands, the Celtics lost to the hated Pistons one last time in 1991.  The six-game series ended with a nail-biting 117-113 Detroit victory in overtime in the final game. In 1992, the Celtics were even more heart-broken in a 4-3 series loss to the Cavaliers in the ECSF.

The 1992-93 season was the end of an era for Boston. Bird was now retired. McHale was clearly right behind him as he struggled throughout the year. Even Parish was beginning to crack at the tender age of 39. The continued excellence of Reggie Lewis kept Boston afloat with 48 wins. Shockingly, even he was lost during the playoffs due to a heart condition that ultimately killed him later that summer.

From that horrific moment, Boston truly washed into the tides of despair.

Parish made his official exit after the 1993-94 season as the Celtics won just 32 games. 35 and 33 wins followed in 1995 and 1996, respectively. There was certainly some talent in the rubble: Rick Fox, Dee Brown, and the delightful post player Dino Radja. However, they weren’t enough on their own to reconstruct a dynasty.

Boston had flirted with such miserable points before: the post-Hondo malaise in 1978 and ’79, the brief post-Russell collapse in 1970, the soul-searching 1956 season.

This time was distinctly different, however. Larry Bird, Dave Cowens, and Bill Russell weren’t walking through the door to relieve Boston of the pain. Their only hope in the new NBA landscape of draft lotteries was to crash, burn, and hope for ping pong balls to bounce in their favor for a #1 pick.

With a superb college center in Tim Duncan soon up for grabs. Boston gutted the roster and hoped for another touch of Celtic Luck.

STARTING FIVE

C -Robert Parish (1986-’94) – 626 Games
15.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 55.8% FG, 73.7% FT

F – Reggie Lewis (1987-’93) – 450 Games
17.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 48.8% FG, 82.4% FT

F – Larry Bird (1986-’92) – 336 Games
24.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 49.5% FG, 38.9% 3PT, 91.6% FT

F – Kevin McHale (1986-’93) – 496 Games
19.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 BPG, 56.1% FG, 83.4% FT

G – Dennis Johnson (1986-’90) – 303 Games
10.8 PPG, 7.1 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 43.8% FG, 83.9% FT

BENCH

G – Dee Brown (1990-’96) – 414 Games
12.3 PPG. 4.3 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 45.2% FG, 33.5% 3PT, 83.3% FT

F/C – Dino Radja (1993-’96) – 199 Games
17.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 50.4% FG, 73.6% FT

F – Kevin Gamble (1988-’94) – 436 Games
11.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 51.8% FG, 81.6% FT