Less than 14 months ago, the Boston Celtics were one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals. Two players remain from that team.
The Celtics prevailed against Philadelphia on that Saturday in May, 2012, with Rajon Rondo recording a triple-double after Paul Pierce fouled out with 4:16 to play and the Celtics clinging to a three-point lead. It remains the last playoff game played by the 76ers, who failed to make the postseason in 2013 and appear headed in a similar direction for 2014, 2015 and maybe longer.
The Celtics succumbed to the Knicks in the first round in 2013 and are starting over in a big way. Rondo and Brandon Bass are the only two players on the roster who were active for Game 7 of the Philadelphia series. The Celtics are no longer perceived as a threat in the East, at least not in the near future.
The Eastern Conference’s best and most historic rivalry – Wilt vs. Russell, Bird vs. Dr. J, Johnny Most vs. the city of Brotherly Love, Cedric Maxwell vs. the Sixers’ taunters – looks to be doomed for the time being.
The Celtics appear to have a plan going forward, amassing draft picks (nine first-rounders in the next five years) as well as young talent and a bright, appealing new coach.
The Celtics can claim – without an accompanying laugh track – that they are not tanking this season with an eye on what GM Danny Ainge calls a “top-heavy but not that deep” 2014 NBA draft.
There are five playoff locks in the East for 2014 – Miami, Indiana, Chicago, New York and Brooklyn. Beyond that, who can say?
Well, you can eliminate Charlotte. And Philadelphia.
Right now, the once-proud 76ers look more like their D-League affiliate than an NBA playoff contender. Then again, maybe that’s the plan. Last summer, the team said goodbye to Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Elton Brand. This summer it was Jrue Holiday. That leaves them with Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen from the team that took Boston to seven games in May 2012.
New GM Sam Hinkie is remaking the team from top to bottom. He still has yet to hire a coach. In the last few days, he has acquired four jettisoned Houston Rockets. Of those four, only one – James Anderson – has played in more than three NBA games. Two of the four, including Royce White, have yet to appear in an NBA regular-season game.
On draft night, Hinkie traded away his only All-Star in Holiday to the Pelicans for the rights to Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-round pick. Philadelphia could thus possess two lottery picks in 2014 if New Orleans cooperates. It will most assuredly have one – its own.