I grew up during the worst era in Boston Celtics franchise history. Born one year after the ’86 Celtics rampaged through the NBA using a clinic in team ball, my birth came months after the ’87 Celtics valiantly limped their way into the NBA Finals but could not defeat the Lakers. Kevin McHale nursed a broken foot, Larry Bird battled through nagging back injuries, Bill Walton regressed to his normal, injury-embattled self, and my father did not know it, but he was watching the last Finals the Celtics would make for more than 20 years. I was born a Celtics fan in 1987, into a hopeless rut of bad teams and decent playoff teams that were destined for failure.
One year prior to my birth, draft pick Len Bias had famously died of a cocaine overdose just two days after becoming a Celtic. Six years after my birth, the Celtics turned to Reggie Lewis to lead them into the post-Bird era, but Lewis collapsed onto the Brandeis University Court and would not survive. By then even Red Auerbach, the Celtic with the Midas Touch, had lost interest in the Celtics, at least to an extent.
“I don’t have the desire and the say anymore,” Red told Ken Shouler of ESPN.com in the early 1990s. “In other words, I can’t see myself getting on the phone three and four hours a day and calling this owner and wheeling and dealing. I don’t want to do that. To make a deal, you gotta be on the phone all the time.”
I can remember being seven or eight years old, watching teams led by Dino Radja, Sherman Douglas, Rick Fox, Xavier McDaniel and a 40-year old Robert Parish. I remember David Wesley’s ears, Dominique Wilkins’s brief Celtics cameo, Eric Montross’s one halfway-productive year, Dee Brown’s Reebok Pumps, and acquiring Pervis “Out of Service” Ellison. I remember Dana Barros and Todd Day infusing youthful energy into a suddenly rundown franchise. I remember Junior Burrough, Alton Lister, Acie Earl and Greg Minor. But one memory defines that Celtics era better than any other, and it’s entirely possible the memory has no basis in fact.
After one particularly egregious defensive performance, I remember Radja telling reporters something like, “If I score during an offensive possession, I shouldn’t have to play defense.” Again, I’m not sure this ever happened. But in my memory, Radja is a chain-smoking, buckets-getting foreigner with absolutely no desire to stop his opponent from scoring. This is the defining image inspired by the Celtics of my youth.
Then things got worse. Antoine Walker was our one hope. Marty Conlon and Brett Szabo weren’t just NBA regulars, but often starters. Todd Day didn’t very much enjoy defense and shot just 39.8%, but played 28.1 minutes per game. The 1996-97 Celtics were the worst Celtics team ever, every bit as bad as their 15-67 record. The Boston Garden had given way to the Fleet Center by then. No fans lusted for 105-degree heat inside the arena, but it hurt that you couldn’t even attend a 30-point loss and think, “At least Larry Bird used to play here.”
You know the rest. Walker shimmied a few times, the Celtics drafted Paul Pierce and became relevant, but not true contenders, Walker got traded away, then re-acquired, then traded away again, Todd Day gave way to Gerald Green, the C’s missed out on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, then lucked into Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and became a proud franchise all over again. Along the way, we were introduced to Jerome Moiso, Mikki Moore, Stephon Marbury, Mark Blount, Kedrick Brown, Vin Baker and Patrick O’Bryant, among a host of other putrid Celtics.
After living through the worst years in Celtics history, I consider myself more than qualified to judge the worst Celtics ever. So when Jeff Clark opened voting for that title on CelticsBlog (rules for consideration here), of course I wanted to put my two cents in.
Without further ado, the candidates:
Mark Blount turned a career year in 2003-04 into a six-year, $40 million extension. To say he stopped trying at that point would be generous. During two and a half more seasons with the Celtics, playing at least 26 minutes per game each season, Blount — a seven-footer, remember — never could muster five rebounds per game. He did, however, contribute to the English language. When a player runs left to chase after a rebound bouncing to his right, I call that “a Blount.”
When I think of Vin Baker, I think of a scene in Good Will Hunting.
“It’s not your fault, Vin. No, listen to me, it’s not your fault.”
Okay, so it is Baker’s fault he became an overweight alcoholic who squandered his prime, regressing from All-Star to punchline in two years. But the Celtics knew that. By the time the C’s traded for Baker in 2002 — shortly after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1988, by the way — he was already well into the second, ugly phase of his career, and he was still set to make more than $50 million over the remaining four years of his contract. He already drank too much. He already carried more weight than a baby whale. He already proved he wasn’t worth anything close to what he was paid.
So it’s tough to blame Baker for his Celtics tenure. Even if he sucked during his brief Boston stay.
It’s difficult to screw up so badly that your own teammate — a perennial All-Star and someone know mostly for his competitive, winning mindset — completely stops talking to you because he can’t stand your presence. Yet that’s what happened between Kevin Garnett and O’Bryant.
On the other hand, signing O’Bryant hardly hurt the Celtics. He was signed to a two-year, minimum deal and shipped away before he could spend one campaign in Boston. Hard to consider him the worst Celtic ever when he was signed off the free agent scrap heap and only played 108 minutes in Boston.
Rule No. 1 of “Worst Celtic ever” lists: Anyone who inspires a 3,590-word rant from Bill Simmons must be included as a candidate. Depending on how irritated you became by Wallace’s penchant for ill-advised three-pointers, lack of any hustle whatsoever and 30 or so pounds of excess weight, Wallace’s (admittedly mild) postseason revival might have redeemed himself in your eyes. Or maybe it didn’t.
Okay, maybe Green doesn’t deserve to be on this list. But this nomination is about the principle.
Physically, Green was a doppelganger for Tracy McGrady, long, sinewy and fluid, albeit without a protruding vein in his shoulder. Mentally, he was more like a drunken frat boy who had just gone thirteen rounds with a dizzy bat. In truth, Green wasn’t even that bad in Boston. During his second season out of high school, Green averaged 10.4 points per game in Boston, flashing enough potential to become part of a trade package that turned into Kevin Garnett. For reference, T-Mac averaged fewer points in more minutes per game during his second season.
It wasn’t until after Green left Boston that coaches grew tired of his act and fans everywhere realized that defense was foreign to him. At the time, in Boston, a lot of folks actually blamed Doc Rivers for Green’s defensive shortcomings. In retrospect, perhaps that was slightly unfair to Doc.
Green’s most compelling resume-builder for “worst Celtic ever”? The 2006-07 season, when the C’s compiled the second-worst record in franchise history, became known as “The Gerald Green Era.” Fair or otherwise, Green became synonymous with one of the darkest years the Celtics ever had.
Brett Szabo/Marty Conlon
I’m still 99% sure starting these two guys was an inside joke.
Kedrick Brown/Joe Forte
With the 11th and 21st picks in the 2001 NBA Draft, the Celtics could have selected Zach Randolph and/or Tony Parker, Gerald Wallace or Gilbert Arenas. Instead, they picked Joe Johnson, Kedrick Brown and Joe Forte, then traded Johnson away for Tony Delk and Rodney Rodgers after a promising start to his rookie season. Ladies and gentleman, the Chris Wallace era.
When you acquire a zany, well-known headcase who hadn’t played in more than a year, was coming off season-ending ankle surgery and then a half year of DNP-CDs, had regressed quite a bit even before all that, and sports a tattoo on the side of his face, expectations should be tempered. Yet because of Marbury’s All-Star past, his signing was met with optimism his skills no longer warranted.
He never lived up to the lofty hype, but the hype shouldn’t realistically have existed. If we had taken Marbury for what he was at the time, a washed-up cuckoo on the verge of a weird public breakdown, his Celtics tenure could, in a weird way, almost have been deemed a success. Sure, he stunk most of the time. But he never caused a locker room nuisance, at least not publicly, and he singlehandedly won a playoff game against Orlando (though Boston would proceed to lose the series). He wasn’t great, not at all, and he publicly melted down briefly after leaving the Celtics. But he didn’t cause any huge problems in Boston, other than his 34.2% shooting percentage, and that in itself should be viewed as a minor miracle.
Nate Robinson/Sam Cassell
The leading candidates from the “never met a shot they didn’t like, even though they aren’t very accurate shooters” category.
Oh, Mikki. I remember fondly the nights when you committed four fouls in the first quarter. I remember how your defensive rotations amounted to “umm, what am I supposed to do again?” I remember how your midseason acquisition was viewed by many as a coup. I remember how that feeling didn’t last long. I remember how Kevin Garnett was injured, Leon Powe went down, and the Celtics desperately needed an interior presence, any interior presence. I remember you not being able to provide it. I remember watching you and thinking the C’s should have kept Patrick O’Bryant. And that’s pretty much the worst putdown any big man can receive.
Jerome Moiso/Acie Earl/Eric Montross
The token “big men who the Celtics never should have drafted in the first round.” Moiso somehow survived five years in the NBA, totaling 386 points, 394 rebounds, 68 blocks and a lifetime of punchlines.
And the winner is…
Mark Blount. Not just because Blount achieved a level of rebounding suckitude that few seven-footers can ever attain. There have been worse Celtics, production-wise. Not just because Blount rebounded like the basketball was a piñata and he was a blindfolded little boy trying to spill candy from it, though his utter lack of hands and instincts was impressive. Mostly, Blount “wins” this award because he played to his potential for one season, suckered a $40 million contract extension from the Celtics brass, and promptly stopped even pretending to try.
So congratulations, Mark. I grew up in the golden era of miserable Boston Celtics, but even among the worst of the worst, you stand out.