8 Years Later: Revisiting the Celtics-Nets Blockbuster Trade – With the NBA Playoffs in full swing, the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets have been matched-up against one another, in a series that already sees the Nets up two games. With an average margin of victory of 15 points, coming off a second half comeback in Game 1, and an overall dominating performance in Game 2, it’s hard to imagine the Nets losing four games to this depleted Celtics team.
And with this in mind, we should revisit one of the most significant trade deals of the past decade, one which dramatically altered the fortunes and futures of these two teams, and has invariably led to both of them meeting each other for the first time in the playoffs since 2006.
In the late Spring of 2013, the Celtics were licking their wounds following a season in which they finished 41-40, and were defeated by the New York Knicks in the first round after six games. Having lost Ray Allen in the previous offseason, and with the aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still in a starting lineup that had little chance to beat Lebron’s Miami Heat in the playoffs, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Instead of relying on the veterans with depleting production for the next season, General Manager Danny Ainge saw the need for a full-on rebuild.
Rajon Rondo looked like to be the new cornerstone of the Celtics transition, and putting high draft picks around him would help build a superstar Celtics team that could compete not only with the best in the Eastern Conference, but the best throughout the entire league.
On the Net’s side of things, a trade for veterans who could bolster the squad seemed like a no-brainer.
They were coming off a 49-33 season in 2012-2013, and with hopes high on 24-year old Brook Lopez to become a certified all-star in the league, putting better pieces around him seemed like a sure-fire way for them to reach the finals. If they could get the right pieces without giving up a ton in either players or draft picks, they had the potential to be a powerhouse of the conference for years to come.
And so one of the most significant trades of recent memory was made, the Celtics giving up Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett(along with Jason Terry and D.J. White) for a collection of players including Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace. But perhaps more importantly, The Celtics received the Net’s first round picks for 2014, 2016, 2018, and in addition received the right to swap their 2017 with the Nets if theirs was better. The Nets gambled their future on the hopes of winning a championship with a cast of aging players, but lost in the 2013-2014 playoffs in the second round against the Miami Heat, marking the last time the Nets would make the playoffs until the 2018-2019 season.
Meanwhile the Celtics would turn their new picks into James Young in 2014(who now plays basketball in Israel), Jaylen Brown in 2016, and Jayson Tatum in 2017. The 2018 pick was traded to Cleveland, which became Collin Sexton. With those picks the Celtics built a core of superstars that would allow them to compete for years to come. Since that trade, the Celtics have made the playoffs in seven of those eight seasons, making the Eastern Conference Finals three times, and coming one game away from a finals appearance in 2018.
The Nets languished in obscurity for years without picks to develop their team, a death knell for their playoff hopes in the years following the trade, as those aging pieces left Brooklyn either through trade or free agency. Frequently in the conversation for worst team in the entire league for years, many pundits pointed to the 2013 trade as the deal which set Brooklyn back, and many questioned the logic behind giving up so much of the future for players who, despite their future hall of fame status, had had their best playing days behind them.
Sure they had name recognition that could’ve driven people to games and buy their merchandise, but in the end it backfired. But after years of failure, the Nets were able to build a core of good players who were able to achieve success, with the likes of Caris LaVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. And that was enough for the big names to see Brooklyn as a viable option.
Now we enter the 2021 playoffs, where the Nets, who’ve attracted all stars in the forms of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, trade for another in James Harden, and have signed important pieces like Blake Griffin, are now in the driver’s seat of the series. Injuries ravished the Celtics for the entire season, with all-star Jaylen Brown out for the rest of the season. But now it seems that the absolute steal of a trade that the Celtics made all those years ago hasn’t panned out as well as they had hoped. They are set for the future, and might have the chance to win the finals soon, but it seems as though that window is rapidly closing.
With the juggernaut of the Nets, along with consistently good teams like Milwaukee and Philadelphia, there isn’t a clear open path for the Celtics to make the finals anytime soon. And if the Nets of all teams are able to win the finals this year, the question will certainly come up about whether in the end, the Celtics-Nets trade even mattered for the overall success of these teams. Until the Celtics win some hardware with the guys they drafted with the Nets’ picks, who won this trade is still up in the air.