Sunday, January 26, the day Paul Pierce, Celtic of 15 years, will make his return to Boston. Kevin Garnett, who won his lone NBA championship in Boston, is coming too in what is sure to be one of the most emotional games of the season.
Another day that has changed both franchises: June 27, 2013. That day will live on forever in the hearts of Nets' and Celtics' history. The day both franchises decided to go in completely opposite directions.
Brooklyn and Boston agreed to make a blockbuster trade that involved Pierce and Garnett, two future Hall of Famers, and the heart and soul of the Celtics. The Nets instantly became the team dubbed to take down the Miami Heat in 2014.
The Celtics got a bevy of picks, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, two young players --one who's since been waived the other traded, and one Gerald Wallace in return for their two superstars and a quickly declining Jason Terry. Danny Ainge ended one era on Draft Night and wanted to start a new on by booking a pick in the highly touted 2014 draft.
After much talk for about the next four months, both teams took the floor, and the results couldn't have been more unexpected.
Brooklyn came out of the gate with a deflating loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but then beat the defending champion Heat. After that, though, it wasn't pretty. The Nets went 2-9 over their next 11 games, losing to the likes of the Magic and Kings, both by more than 20. Just as quickly as many were calling this team title contenders, many were ridiculing the Nets for being naïve for giving Jason Kidd a coaching job right out of retirement. The Nets became the laughingstock of the league with a 30-point loss to the also flailing Knicks, becoming the blueprint on how not to build a championship team.
The Celtics were playing quite well during this opening stretch. Led by new head coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics were playing better than what their talent showed. Yes, they were 5-10, but showed promise for the future. Despite being a "tank" team, the Celtics were remaining competitive in the lowly Eastern Conference.
By the middle of December, the "trade" was a disaster for the Nets. They showed flashes of competitive play, but it couldn't be sustained. The team was battling the injury bug all season long, Andrei Kirilenko played just four games before December 31, Deron Williams was battling ankle injuries all season long, and then Brook Lopez, a bright spot for the Nets all season, broke his foot on December 20 in Philadelphia, had to undergo foot reconstruction surgery and was ruled out for the rest of the season. On New Year's Day, Garnett said he didn't know where he fits in the offense and that "Father Time is getting to him."
At the same time, the Celtics continued to play the course. Unloading Pierce, Garnett, and Terry (who has had trouble staying on the floor in Brooklyn) may have been for the best. The trio has all been showing a steep drop-off in play and the Celtics have begun to develop young pieces for the future, and Rajon Rondo was due back to return from his torn ACL soon.
Then, 2014 happened. The Nets battled back from down double digits in Oklahoma City to take down the Thunder. The Celtics started the year by losing their first eight games. Order seemed to be restored. The Nets are in the process of winning nine of their last ten in the month of January, while the Celtics are 2-12 in the month.
So, after reviewing all that has happened, how has the trade done for both teams? The answer will vary based on who you ask, but it seems that both teams have won the trade, maybe even the Celtics more than the Nets.
The Celtics are 15-30, even in the lowly East, their playoff hopes are all but finished. However, they have a stable of picks in the coming drafts and will have a fine rebuild. It seems that Rondo is committed to remaining in Boston and have the organization build around him. Stevens has proved he can make the jump from two trips to the NCAA Finals with Butler to the NBA. As for the Nets they received, the Celtics have had trouble. Gerald Wallace has been nothing but a distraction in Boston, Keith Bogans has been excused indefinitely after an incident on the team bus, MarShon Brooks wasn't seen much in Boston, and has already been traded away, but Humphries has played well. Besides all that, the draft picks were the key to this trade on Boston's side, the rest just made the trade work.
The Nets have been interesting. At times there was no hope, even though the East was so poor. They had the talent, no doubt about it, but they couldn't remain healthy, and couldn't produce enough energy to play a full game, and their record showed. However, the new year has been great for this team.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have been revitalized and are playing great basketball. Garnett is shooting 67% from the floor and is posting a defensive rating of 97 while playing center. Pierce has found his niche in the Nets offense, providing space on the floor and picking his spots while deferring to Joe Johnson, who has been scorching this month.
Jason Kidd has turned the ridicule he received as a coach into praise and seems like he could be Coach of the Month in January. The Nets bench has been just as good as their starters as Kirilenko is healthy and showcasing his defensive talent. Andray Blatche has been playing his best basketball in a Nets uniform, averaging 12 points on 52% shooting this month. Deron Williams is healthy, but has volunteered come off the bench to help chemistry in the starting lineup. He too has played great since his return.
Both teams have been going in different directions all season long, but as they head into their matchup Sunday, the Nets are starting to garner some respect for the first time this season, while the Celtics are already looking ahead to the draft lottery. It doesn't happen often, but this trade may ultimately have benefited both teams.
Danny Ainge said Sunday that at the time he liked the idea that the deal seemed a win-win, at least at the time.
It did come together fairly quickly. What I was excited about was that it appeared at the time to be a great situation for everybody — I think that for Paul and KG and Jason Terry and for us. It looked like it was going to be a good situation for them to be a major contender again and be vying for a championship.
The real test of who won will come later this year, in mid-April when the Nets hopefully make the playoffs and late June when the Celtics pick in the Draft.
- Q and A with Danny Ainge - Baxter Holmes - Boston Globe