It's often said that in order to build a championship contender in the NBA, you need to get extraordinarily lucky. Somehow, a franchise player has to fall into your lap and turn your world upside down — either through a trade (think Kevin Garnett), a big free-agent signing (think Shaquille O'Neal), or a night of good fortune at the draft lottery (think Tim Duncan).
But you need more than just one serendipitous moment to win a title in this league. You need to build a supporting cast that can get the job done, and you need to do it without breaking the bank.
The draft is the best way. And over the last seven years, you could argue that no one's drafted better than the Celtics' own Danny Ainge.
Do franchise players win championships? Sure. But it absolutely can't hurt to surround them with a stockpile of talent like this:
Rajon Rondo — When Danny offered up a first-round pick in 2007 in exchange for the rights to Phoenix's No. 19 in a relatively weak 2006 draft, there were more than a few skeptics who wondered aloud what in the world he was thinking. But apparently he saw something in a scrawny little guard out of Kentucky — he saw speed. He saw athleticism. Maybe he even saw the potential to throw down triple-doubles against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Whatever he saw, he was right. You're looking at one of the best Celtics draft picks ever.
Kendrick Perkins — The 2003 draft was arguably the best of all time, considering the headliners at the top (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade). But it was also one of the deepest. Look at what happened at the end of the first round — you saw a run on reliable guys that start for playoff teams. Boris Diaw at No. 21, Carlos Delfino at 25, and then Perk, Leandro Barbosa and Josh Howard from 27 through 29. The Celtics locked up their starting center of the decade with a No. 27 pick. How many GMs can say that?
Glen Davis — Also, how many GMs can say they won an NBA Finals game with a second-round draft pick? Because that's what Danny did in 2007. The Big Baby who came off the bench and destroyed the Lakers in Game 4 was the same Big Baby that the Celtics picked at No. 35 overall back in 2007. And to think that Ainge acquired two pieces of his championship team — Ray Allen, and the rights to draft Baby — in the same trade. Not too shabby.
Tony Allen — He's had plenty of ups and plenty of downs, to be sure. But any day you can get an elite bench defensive stopper with the No. 25 overall pick is a good day. That's what Ainge and the Celtics did back in 2004.
Leon Powe — When you think of a guy who went four years ago at the No. 49 slot, who do you picture? Some stiff sitting on a bench for a club team in Germany? Or maybe a waiter or a bank teller somewhere, a total NBA has-been? Nope — it's Powe. Yet another role player who won the Celtics a Finals game (Game 2 against the Lakers, June 8, 2008, check it out). It's hard to find a diamond buried in the rough, but Ainge can do it.
Al Jefferson — Only one of the game's most dominant low-post scorers. And only a No. 15 pick back in 2004. Look at the guys picked immediately before him — Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair, Kris Humphries. Don't see any of them demanding a double-team every single night, do you? Heck, Swift is hardly even in the league anymore. The Celtics got three productive years out of Big Al before flipping him to the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. Yeah, that one worked out OK for them.
Ryan Gomes — Another piece of the KG-Minnesota trade, and another diamond in the rough uncovered by Ainge. Gomes went No. 50 overall in the 2005 draft, as the Celtics saw something in the Providence-educated local boy. They turned him into a starting forward right away, and he's been a double-digit scoring machine since day one. How does Danny do it?
Delonte West — Ironically, West went one pick before the aforementioned Tony Allen in 2004, going No. 24 to T.A.'s 25. They've met in the playoffs twice since, and T.A.'s Celtics have twice dispatched of Delonte's Cleveland Cavaliers. But Delonte was a serviceable starter for a couple of years back in Boston, before he too was part of the 2007 rebuilding effort to bring in Ray Allen and KG.
The NBA draft is always hit or miss in the later stages, but with Danny Ainge at the helm, the Celtics have always been way more hit than miss. What miracles can they get out of the 2010 class?
You'll have to wait for Thursday night to find out.
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