The Diary of an Illinois Boston Fan

In Danny We Trust

Last off-season I wrote a blip about how I’m not sure we are properly rating Danny Ainge. He had always been lauded as such a great GM, yet it felt like he frequently missed when it came to draft picks.

I’d like to write this as an apology to Danny Ainge.

While his track record is still probably 50/50 on draft picks (And he’s found far more success trading those picks for stars like Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and the surprising rise of Isaiah Thomas), recently he’s hit hard and hit big with his draft choices.

In the game 7 win against Washington, four of the biggest contributors weren’t free agents or players acquired in trades…instead they were Kelly Olynyk (technically involved in a trade, but only after Boston negotiated to get the Dallas pick and Dallas selected Olynyk for the Celtics), Marcus Smart (the only Celtics own lottery pick of the last decade), Terry Rozier (non-lottery) and Jaylon Brown (the first of 3 straight Nets picks that Ainge acquired in the greatest trade steal in NBA---and perhaps sports--- history).

The Jordan Mickeys, the Jared Sullingers, the Fab Melos…they seemed to be the measuring stick for how Ainge and co. should be judged for talent evaluation. Even Olynyk and Smart were thought to be less than average picks that showed Danny Ainge’s “true colors”.

Then Game 7 happened.

In today’s NBA, people keep expecting great things in one or two years at best from incoming college athletes. The Andrew Wiggins and Towns prototypes are the crown jewels and anything less is a disappointment. For Boston, patience has been the biggest key.

Just based off of message boards, I can’t think of a much more maligned player than Kelly Olynyk amongst Celtics fan circles. He puts up a “stinker” (so less than 10 pts for a career 6 point scorer) and suddenly he’s the worst player to ever don the white and green. He drops 15 and a block then he’s back in good graces. Fans didn’t know how to quantify or even qualify Olynyk and his impact on the success of the franchise. I don’t want to be a prisoner of the moment and say he will be our new great savior, but his 26 point performance to deliver the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals will go down as one of the best individual playoff moments in Celtics history---which says a lot for a franchise with the most championships in league history.

Marcus Smart is basically Tony Allen 2.0 with a better jump shot (yes, that’s how bad Tony Allen is at shooting the ball). I can’t remember a player that just does…IT…things that change momentum---and therefore games---as frequently as Smart does. Be it an offensive rebound and kick out to a three point shooter, to diving for every loose ball, to taking and making a heat check 3…Marcus Smart’s defensive versatility is the linchpin for how the Celtics close out games. It’s going to be ugly, you’re gonna scream, but damn it…you’re usually going to love the outcome. It’s not often the 6th pick in the lottery is this important to a team with legitimate championship aspirations.

Then there’s the quiet growth of Terry Rozier and Jaylon Brown. Even as recently as the Chicago series, Boston faithful criticized that Bobby Portis was selected 6 picks AFTER Rozier and the Bulls were going to beat the Celtics because of it. Then, in the last two games of that series, it’s almost like Rozier was forced fed every Facebook comment and tweet talking about him over Portis and had just about enough. Playoff minutes are always important to the development of young players, but none more than Rozier and Brown. Rozier came in as the second unit PG and honed in on his defensive abilities while orchestrating the offense as the Celtics have had the most bench points these playoffs. He plays with extreme energy and uses his athleticism to outrebound guys nearly a foot taller than him (Robin Lopez and Marcin Gortat). I don’t fully know WHAT woke Rozier up but he’s starting to remind me of peak Rondo in all the best ways.

Brown, in the same breath, has rejuvenated his status as a future face of the Boston Cletics in this past series against the Celtics. Much like Rozier, Brown is using his elite athletic abilities and extended minutes as a young player to develop an all around game. He’s still shaky at times on offense, but he’s gaining constant confidence and his abilities as a small ball power forward and uses his jumping feats to make electric momentum changing plays like his reverse layup to start a 13-3 run in the 3rd quarter of game 7.

Ainge deserves all the credit in the world not only for picking these guys, but hiring the right coach that is willing to dig deep into his bench each game to figure out who best suits his needs. Some coaches painstakingly hold tight to 7 or 8 guys that they’ll lock in for every moment of these playoffs and potentially stunt the team development of younger players (looking at you Scott Brooks, who confusingly sat Kelly Oubre all game long in game 7). But all year long---the month of May not being any different- — Brad Stevens has relied heavily on 11 players to make it this far. All from different journeys in their careers. All built by Danny Ainge and his ultimate guide to reloading instead of rebuilding.

While I don’t expect much against Cleveland, this team feels a lot (please excuse me for the hyperbole) like the 2015 Chicago Cubs. A really talented team that’s achieving one year too early. This team is closer to the 2018 champions than the 2017 champions. And that’s okay. Being this way and coming together as a team this deep into the season is what creates future championships.

Danny Ainge saw that better than the rest of us. And for that…I apologize.