Danny Ainge has been known to be a great mind when it comes to drafting useful players and tracking their development. He has also been extremely smart and savvy when it comes to trading for players that could help the team both in the short and long term (Isaiah Thomas).
But it was one of the biggest oversights in the NBA Draft’s history that could taint Ainge’s legacy with the Celtics: The Greek Freak
A prospect out of Greece, Giannis was supposed to be a mid to late first round pick in the 2013 draft, and many teams (including the Celtics) had the opportunity to select him. However, it was the Milwaukee Bucks who took a chance on the athletic and long forward with the 15th pick.
Meanwhile, the Celtics traded their first round pick (which turned out to be Lucas Nogueira) and two future second rounders for the rights to the 13th pick in the draft, which turned out to be surging stretch-big Kelly Olynyk out of Gonzaga.
I think any basketball fan out there could agree that Giannis should have gone number one in that draft, which begs numerous questions: What if the Celtics had drafted Giannis instead of Kelly in that draft? How would the team look like today? Would the Celtics still have tried to acquire Isaiah Thomas?
Here is what I believe would have gone down:
Danny Ainge drafts Antetokounmpo, and quickly realizes he has hit the jackpot of the draft. Crafting him to be the team’s future at small forward, Danny thinks about whether or not Rajon Rondo and Giannis can co-exist together in Boston.This is all coming out at the point in time that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets.
After pondering this for a while, and realizing Giannis has the ability to handle the ball, Danny decides the best course of action is to trade Rondo (who at this point in time is a proven star), in order to make Giannis the primary ball handler and stat of the team.
As the NBA Lottery approaches, the Lakers (of all teams) reach out to the Celtics about potentially trading for Rondo. Kobe Bryant has had a long interest in pairing with the best assist guy in the league, but the Lakers-Celtics rivalry would make it tough to deal a star like Rondo to Hollywood.
Danny Ainge realizes his best course of action is to hope for a quick rebuild, so he deals Rondo to the Lakers for 2 future first round picks and the rights to an aging Steve Nash. Although both picks were unprotected, one of them came in the form of a 2014 draft that was not supposed to be very deep for star worthy talent.
After a season of ups and downs, the Celtics enter the draft with good odds on their pick and the Lakers have some trouble with chemistry as well, leaving the Celtics with decent odds at 2 potential top 10 picks. The Celtics pick falls at 6th, and the Lakers pick miraculously falls at 7th, and the Celtics pick Marcus Smart and athletic forward Julius Randle.
Now with a pretty decent roster, the fan base is excited about the team’s future. With a starting lineup of a young Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Julius Randle, and Vitor Faverani, the Celtics are battle ready, and preparing to lead the franchise to a new era of winning.
The 2014 season brings some early chemistry issues, but the Celtics find their groove after a rocky start to end the season 48 and 34, Giannis begins to shows flashes of the Greek Freak we know today. He makes his first All-Star appearance coming off the bench, and involves himself in offseason workouts with LeBron James, who begins to see Giannis as the future face of the league.
“I’ve seen him get better every year since he came in the league,” James had offered to the media when talking about Giannis. ” He’s no fluke man, he’s the real deal.”
These offseason workouts do wonders for Antetokounmpo’s game, and he leads the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2015 season. Averaging 20ppg, 7.8rbg, and a whopping 9.5apg, Giannis ultimately falls short against the Cavaliers’ new big three. This ultimately resonates with Giannis, and prompts him to recruit a fellow All-Star during the offseason.
The Greek Freak has arrived.