Basketball has long been a sport dominated by the elite superstars. Without them, winning a title becomes nearly impossible. There are exceptions to every rule of course. In the NBA’s case that happened in 2004.
The 2004 Detroit Pistons had no bona-fide all-time great superstar on their roster and defeated the Lakers for an NBA title. For the most part though, history has proven that no superstar means no rings.
Just take a look at the teams that have won championships in the past three decades:
- Heat: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Shaquille O’Neal
- Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki
- Lakers: Kobe Byrant, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar
- Celtics: Kevin Garnett, Larry Bird
- Spurs: Tim Duncan
- Bulls: Michael Jordan
- Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon
- Pistons: Isiah Thomas
- 76ers: Julius Erving, Moses Malone
As can be seen, the past three decades have been dominated by players who rank in the 25 greatest ever, or right there on the cusp of it. Even going back further, Bill Russell, arguably the second best player ever has 11 titles just himself.
This is why obtaining an all-time great superstar is the best way to win a championship in the NBA, and exactly why tanking is the best option for the Celtics this upcoming season.
Some fans may argue Rajon Rondo is capable of leading the Celtics to a title, and Boston just needs to add some pieces around him. Yes, Rondo is a great player, but he’s far from this upper echelon of greatness listed above. Taking an even closer look at this list, only two point guards are listed above, and one of them is Magic Johnson who is closer to the height of a center than point guard.
Isiah Thomas is the only player around Rondo’s height that was able to lead his team to a title as the best player. The point is, Rondo can certainly lead the Celtics to consistent playoff berths, but without acquiring some level of all-time greatness, Boston will just be stuck in NBA purgatory.
Can a team led by Rondo and surrounded by Jeff Green, and possibly Josh Smith or Al Jefferson really take down some of the top NBA powers, particularly the Miami Heat?
Being a middle of the pack team is the worst place to be in the NBA, especially for a Boston Celtics organization that only hangs championship banners. This is why Boston’s best option to once again rein on top of the NBA world is to tank this following season.
No fan wants to bear the thought that their team is just going out there to lose games, but it’s a necessary evil. With next year’s NBA Draft holding perhaps the best NBA prospect since LeBron James, the opportunity is just too great to pass up. Yes, the NBA Draft lottery makes tanking a complete risk, but the reward is worth the gamble.
Under normal circumstances a simpler re-tooling may have been a better option, but the 2014 Draft class has the makings of being special, similar to that of 2003 (LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh).
Andrew Wiggins is the pride of next year’s class, but players such as Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, and Aaron Gordon all figure to be franchise caliber players.
The Celtics still appear to be too good on paper to find themselves at the bottom of the league next year, but these things can easily be manipulated. The Celtics can keep Rondo out halfway through the season, letting him fully recover from his torn ACL. Trading Rondo could also be an option if proper value could be obtained.
That would weaken the Celtics roster this year, but strengthen themselves as competitors in the race for Wiggins. If the Celtics could luck out and land Wiggins, they should then have the all-time great player capable of leading them to championships.
Critics to the tanking method may question whether it’s worth conceding a season for an unproven prospect. That’s a reasonable point, but the last two players to receive this level of hype from NBA scouts were LeBron James and Tim Duncan. Both those players rank in the 10 best to ever play the game.
With Danny Ainge also acquiring a plethora of picks this past week, and freeing up cap space, he has set this team up nicely for the future. If the Celtics could land Wiggins, or even one of these other high level prospects, he’ll have the ability to surround them with other pieces.
Another concern is that the Celtics have tried this twice before, once in 1997 for Tim Duncan and another time for Kevin Durant/Greg Oden in 2007. Both times Boston missed out on the top pick. But 2007 provided the Celtics with the fifth pick which became a valuable asset in the eventual acquisition of Boston’s “Big Three.”
Had the Celtics won that 1997 lottery, they would probably be looking at several more championship banners hanging from the rafters. It doesn’t mean that tanking wasn’t smart, they just didn’t get the desired result. The Spurs sure don’t regret tanking that 1997 season.
Ainge’s plan still remains unclear, but the best path to winning first begins with a lot of losing.