After seeing a tweet asking the question of “what ifs” in the NBA , I took a little time and thought about what the biggest Celtic “what ifs” have been in my lifetime. Bear with me here as my basketball consciousness basically begins around 2002 so I can’t really elaborate on anything in the ’90s (thank god, they were a literal forest fire).
- What if the Celtics never made the Kyrie Irving trade
- What if they drafted Markelle Fultz instead of Jayson Tatum
- What if the Hornets accepted their offer for the 10th pick in 2015 that included a reported 5 first round picks (including the Brown/Tatum picks)
- What if Ray Allen never left for Miami
- What if Paul Pierce was traded in the summer of 2007 before the Celtics landed KG/Allen
5. What if Kendrick Perkins never got hurt in Game 6 in the 2010 Finals
The Celtics were up 3-2 and they looked like they had the Lakers on the ropes after winning 3 out of the previous 4 games including 2 straight in Boston. Then just like that, 7 minutes into a pivotal Game 6, Kendrick Perkins was lost for good. I’m going to blame Kobe/Andrew Bynum for this until the day I die because I need some sort of a scapegoat to cope.
After running through the East as a 4 seed and toppling both LeBron and the defending Eastern Conference champion Magic, it all seemed right for Banner 18 to come to Boston.
But alas, As the story goes, they got handled in Game 6 by a score of 89-67 and then blew a 13-point 3rd quarter lead in Game 7. Not only did this injury effect the Celtics in those Finals, but Perkins only played 12 games with the team the next season before being shipped off to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.
4. What if the Celtics traded Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo to Detroit
In June of 2009 after being ousted in the second round by the Orlando Magic, the Celtics had some work to do. KG’s health was in question, the team’s depth was in question, and things were shaky going into year three of the Big Three. So the Celtics tried to shake up the Big Three. They reportedly offered Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo to the Pistons for a package consisting of Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, and Rodney Stuckey. The Pistons declined this deal rather quickly reports suggest.
While I look at this deal nowadays and scoff at it, in the short term this could’ve been a good thing. Hamilton was perfect for the NBA back then. Prince was an elite defender who could take some of the burden off of guys like Pierce, Garnett, and Perkins. Then lastly, Rodney Stuckey was 23 at the time and put forth some quality years the next four seasons. On the flip-side, maybe Rondo and Allen could’ve kept the Pistons’ title window open for a couple of more seasons than it was.
The questions are: Do the Celtics still make The Finals that season?
Does Stuckey develop differently in Boston?
How do Hamilton/Prince mesh with Pierce/Garnett? etc.
3. What if Gordon Hayward never broke his ankle
I hate this one. I will never, ever, ever forget this moment and it’ll be something that is burnt into my brain forever because I’m a loser and let this team dictate my moods and overall happiness (it’s bonkers). The most exciting lead-up to a season since 2007-08 and 5 minutes in, the Celtics’ marquee free-agent signing’s leg crumbles in half. I was in a state of shock and dismay that delivered me repeating “No” on a loop for the entire first half.
If Gordon stays healthy, and that season plays out how it was supposed to, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are still probably Celtics, and they might even have a championship to show for it. While the average fan might not get how good Gordon Hayward was on the Jazz, that man HOOPED. He was a knockdown shooter, savvy playmaker, and brought it on the defensive end at a position that is utterly important in today’s NBA. Coming off of a career year where he averaged 21.9/5.4/3.9 on 47.1/39.8/84.4 shooting splits, he was perfect for the Celtics as their second-star with Kyrie Irving.
While this saga still isn’t completely over, the fact that things blew up so much in the aftermath make it stand out as a huge question mark.
2. What if the ping pong balls delivered KD
Now here is where things really go off the rails. Are we nixing the entire Big 3 for a what-if involving the Slim Reaper? OH YES WE ARE…Buddy.
The Celtics held the second-best odds in the 2007 NBA Draft lottery and instead of vaulting up to #1, they fell to #5. Yuck.
So here’s the hypothetical. The Celtics either stay put at #2 or they move up to #1. At the time, the two biggest prizes in that draft class were Ohio State star center Greg Oden, and this dude from Texas named Kevin Durant. To this day, Danny Ainge is adamant that if the Celtics got the #1 pick he was taking Durant.
Piggybacking off of the idea that Pierce was out of the door if a rebuild like this occurred, things get interesting. A Pierce departure seemingly leaves the Celtics with a bevy of draft picks, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, and whoever else stuck around after Danny nuked the roster. Add Kevin Durant to that mix and things could’ve been a whole lot different in the late 2000s and 2010s.
1. What if Kevin Garnett never had his mysterious knee injury in 2009
This was an easy choice for number 1 here. It’s the difference between that group winning only one championship and possibly winning three or more. While it might be hard to believe now, the 2008-09 Boston Celtics were better than their previous iteration that delivered the franchise’s 17th NBA Championship just a year prior. They had the experience, developed chemistry, had the swagger of a champion, and were absolutely ROLLING teams that season. Sitting atop the East and ready to go to battle, they sat at 44-11 the night Garnett took off funny on his right leg.
The big-man returned for just 4 more games until he was sidelined for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. While we did get to see Glen “Big Baby” Davis hit a playoff buzzer beater and throw a pudgy brat out of the way cause of KG’s injury, I’d rather have a healthy Garnett.
While he seemingly wore down at the same rate as most big-men do in the NBA, you have to trust me on this when I tell you it sped the process up tenfold. He never had the same athleticism, never had the same pop in his step, and never was able to play as relentlessly on defense as he did pre-injury.