Russell or Bird? Havlicek or Pierce? When it comes to selecting an all-time Celtics roster, there are no easy choices. But what if five people had to do it simultaneously? Well, there are still no easy choices, but there are debates and disses.
The Globe recently assembled its crew of NBA aficionados to complete a five-team, all-time Celtics draft. I was joined by NBA writer Gary Washburn, columnist Chad Finn, columnist and former Celtics beat writer Dan Shaughnessy, and retired columnist and Celtics beat writer Bob Ryan.
Eligible players should have spent at least one season in Boston, and former stars who made a pit stop late in their careers were to be avoided. (Sorry, Shaq and Pistol Pete.) Also, players were to be judged based on the era in which they played. Would Bob Cousy dominate today’s NBA? Probably not. But he dominated his NBA.
We selected eight players and one coach. The draft was held “snake style,” meaning the team with the last pick of the first round had the first pick of the second round, and so on.
Of course, we were all quite biased when assessing our own teams, so we figured it was best to ask an actual expert. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge ranked and evaluated each squad, including one that included him. The identities of the pseudo general managers were not revealed to Ainge until the end, when he found out that he had given Shaughnessy something else to gloat about.
OK, let’s get to the draft — and each picker’s explanation for their choices. Washburn won the lottery and was awarded the first pick.
1. Paul Pierce (No. 1 overall): Top 10 in several all-time Celtics categories, including second in scoring and first in 3-point shooting. Could play in any era because of his ability to post up and score from midrange.
2. Jayson Tatum (No. 10): Geared to be the next all-time great Celtic. Tatum is only 22 years old and arguably a top-10 player in the NBA. If he stays in Boston his entire career, he has a chance to set a bunch of team records.
3. Dennis Johnson (No. 11): The consummate team player and point guard of the great 1980s teams. Johnson was a top-level defender and turned himself into a distributor and big-game player.
4. Isaiah Thomas (No. 20): Had the best scoring season in team history. In his 2½ years in Boston, Thomas made two All-Star teams and led the resurgence of the franchise.
5. Kendrick Perkins (No. 21): In his prime, Perk was an enforcer, strong interior defender, good rebounder, and a tireless worker in the paint.
6. Paul Silas (No. 30): One of the league’s best offensive rebounders, a wide-bodied player who was an outstanding undersized big man and was the nucleus of those 1970s title teams.
7. Charlie Scott (No. 31): Helped the Celtics win the 1976 title with his ability to score in bunches and defend. A member of the Naismith Hall of Fame and one of the more underrated players of his era.
8. Avery Bradley (No. 40): A staunch defender, improving shooter, and energy player, Bradley made any defense better with his ability to guard full court. Had he stayed healthy, Bradley could have potentially been an All-Star.
9. Coach Doc Rivers (No. 41): The last Celtics coach to win a title will now have a chance to do it again with the Clippers.
Danny Ainge’s rank: 5
“We’re judging Jayson Tatum and he’s only 22. But Dennis Johnson and Isaiah Thomas, what a crazy dynamic backcourt that’d be with Paul Pierce. I just don’t think they have the same depth in the frontcourt that the other teams have.”
1. Bill Russell (No. 2 overall): Do I really need to explain this? My pal Gary Washburn made it easy by taking Pierce at No. 1. So, I got the greatest winner in history.
2. Kevin Garnett (No. 9): Good luck taking it to the basket on my team. Like Russell, I’ve got another team guy who can beat you without the rock in his hands.
3. Kyrie Irving (No. 12): OK, he’s high-maintenance. But we all can see I have more talent in my first three picks than anyone else in this draft. Russ and KG will get the most out of Kyrie.
4. Reggie Lewis (No. 19): My shooting guard to go with Kyrie. Good size, great hands, fearless going to the basket.
5. Red Auerbach (No. 22): Yeah, it’s a players’ league. But if Bill Belichick was available in the fifth round, you’d take him. Won a championship in each of his last eight seasons on the bench.
6. Ed Macauley (No. 29): So, you’ve never heard of him? Look him up. He’s my shooting forward. Hall of Famer. Another team guy.
7. Paul Westphal (No. 32): Great off the bench for my backcourt. Shooting guard, cerebral player. Hall of Famer.
8. Frank Ramsey (No. 39): Guard/forward who can shoot, defend, and win. Hall of Famer. The original Sixth Man. Seven rings.
9. Satch Sanders (No. 42): If Satch is on the floor with Russell and Garnett, the other guys will never score. Eight rings.
Ainge’s rank: 1
“I don’t like how he took Red Auerbach in the fifth round. I don’t get that, especially when you’re going to end up with a good coach at the end. But Russell and Garnett would be really fun to watch, just two of the best defensive, athletic players of all time. Kyrie is obviously one of the best scoring guards the Celtics have ever had. And Reggie Lewis, one of the great, great players in Celtics history. But Russell puts this team over the top.”
1. Larry Bird (No. 3 overall): Getting Larry Legend in the No. 3 spot in an all-time Celtics draft must be what the Chicago Bulls felt like when they lucked into that Jordan kid from North Carolina in 1984.
2. Jo Jo White (No. 8): The most underrated Celtics star, White’s grace and effortless cool belied his grit, as evidenced by his game-high 33 points in 60 minutes in the epic Game 5 of the 1976 Finals.
3. Robert Parish (No. 13): One of the pleasures of watching so many retro ’80s Celtics games lately is getting those memories jostled about how great The Chief was, whether dropping baseline turnaround jumpers or outrunning every big man in the league.
4. Tommy Heinsohn (No. 18): As a rookie in Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals, he scored 37 points and grabbed 23 rebounds. How many Tommy Points would he get for that?
5. Cedric Maxwell (No. 23): My roster is loaded with big-game players. Max, the MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals and the “jump on my back boys” Game 7 hero in ’84, was at his best in the spotlight.
6. Kemba Walker (No. 28): Really wanted Rajon Rondo in this spot, but getting Walker 16 picks after Irving feels like great value. He’s a slightly lesser player, a far superior teammate, and I’m pretty sure he knows the earth is round.
7. Marcus Smart (No. 33): Because he’s the guy who rips away the ball from the opposition’s best player with seven seconds on the clock and a 1-point lead, that’s why.
8. K.C. Jones (No. 38): Nine NBA seasons. Eight championships. And a wise sounding board for Coach Stevens.
9: Coach Brad Stevens (No. 43): The quintessential modern NBA coach, I’d love to see how Stevens and Bird, those sons of Indiana, would work strategic magic together.
Ainge’s rank: 2
“You’ve got a Hall of Fame front line. Bird, Tommy, Parish. Then you have Jo Jo White, who’s very special, and Cedric Maxwell was a great player. Then your defensive presence, with K.C. Jones and Marcus Smart, might be the best defensive backcourt in Celtics history. The depth and versatility is impressive. It was a tough choice between this team and [Shaughnessy’s].”
1. John Havlicek (No. 4 overall): The quintessential Celtic. Hondo is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, a 13-time All-Star, and an eight-time champion. A steal at fourth overall.
2. Bob Cousy (No. 7): This was where eras became a bit tricky, but there is no question that Cousy was the magician of his time. The franchise’s all-time assists leader was a wizard with the ball, and a former league MVP.
3. Ray Allen (No. 14): You put sour grapes aside when assembling a winner like this one. Imagine the 10-time All-Star spotting up for some dimes from Cousy.
4. Bill Sharman (No. 17): Have you ever seen Sharman play? Probably not. Neither have I. But the smooth-shooting guard is enshrined in Springfield, was first-team All-NBA four times, and won titles as a player and a coach.
5. Bill Walton (No. 24): Oh, look, our fifth Hall of Famer in a row, and another former league MVP. Sure, the eccentric big man’s best days were behind him when he wore green, but these rosters are filled with throwbacks anyway.
6. Rajon Rondo (No. 27): Imagine a team where Cousy needs a breather and in comes peak Rondo. The two-time first-team all-defense selection adds a gritty presence at that end. Selfishly, I also wanted a Hondo/Rondo duo.
7. Al Horford (No. 34): Put on a 76ers blindfold for a second and remember that during his three years in Boston Horford was the Celtics’ backbone. The five-time All-Star is a defensive-minded big man with the range to stretch it out beyond the arc.
8. Antoine Walker (No. 37): Walker is a forgotten Celtic in large part because his teams did not win. But he made three All-Star teams and formed one of the league’s top scoring duos alongside Paul Pierce.
9: Coach Bill Fitch (No. 44): Led the Celtics to the 1980-81 title and was a two-time NBA Coach of the Year.
Ainge’s rank: 3
“I don’t think Cousy and Rondo side-by-side would be great, but you have Hondo, Ray Allen, and Sharman to play with them. Havlicek seemed to be in better condition than everybody he played against, and I tried to emulate that. I think Walton and Horford would be an interesting combo at the 4 and 5. There was a time in 1977, when I was high school and the Blazers won the championship, when Walton might have had the best individual season I’ve ever witnessed.”
1. Dave Cowens (No. 5 overall): Redefines the concept of “hustle.” Great rebounder, reliable inside-outside scorer, and incredibly versatile defender, who can guard 7-foot-3-inch centers and 6-2 guards on a switch with equal aplomb. Runs the floor better than any center, alive or dead.
2. Kevin McHale (No. 6): The greatest low-post forward scoring practitioner ever. Only 60-80 guy ever. Versatile defender who takes on everyone from 6-3 Adrian Dantley to 7-4 Ralph Sampson. Ambidextrous shot-blocker extraordinaire.
3. Tiny Archibald (No. 15): A consummate pass-first, shoot-when-advisable point guard. Excellent fast-break middle man who can still go to the hoop with flair. Leave him alone and he drops 20 on you, no sweat.
4. Sam Jones (No. 16): Great shooter, exquisite driver with dazzling first step, and Mr. Clutch. Good defender. Maybe most underrated Hall of Famer of them all.
5. Jaylen Brown (No. 25): More midsize versatility. Superb defender and ever-improving scorer. Most of all, he brings an edge, an element of danger. Can pair with anybody.
6. Don Nelson (No. 26): Who shoots 54 percent from the floor and leads the league in field goal percentage at age 34, 90 percent of his baskets coming on 15-17 footers? Don Nelson, that’s who. Wily, with every trick in the book. Nobody quite like him.
7. Danny Ainge (No. 35): The perfect third guard. Can come in and fill it up (and with threes!) or step in to run your team. Dogged competitor who never gives up a cheap basket.
8. Dino Radja (No. 36): A little of this, a little of that at 6-10. Good shooter, good rebounder. Cerebral. Gives you size and versatility. McHale will take the better scoring forward. Dino will take the Larry role.
9. Coach Chris Ford (No. 45): A savvy player and a people-oriented coach. My guys will love playing for him.
Ainge’s rank: 4
“Sam Jones was better than people think, Kevin McHale was an underrated Celtic, and Dave Cowens was a league MVP. Very, very special players. I think the depth at the end of the bench is weak [laughs]. Ainge and Don Nelson are probably a little overrated. Jaylen would be fun to play with. I did play with Tiny, and we had a blast.”