Building on our discussion of positions and swing-player team building with a Celtic bent, let’s try to channel the spirit of Red Auerbach to build our own All-Time Celtic squad. We’ll need to cover all the traditional bases and build in versatility with a good mix of combo guards, swingmen, swing forwards, and center-forwards.
All-Celtics 1st Team:
Point Guard – Bob Cousy; He’s an MVP, a champion, and the pioneer of creative fastbreak playmaking in the NBA. Boston has had many All-Star level guards in its history, but nobody close to Cousy to man the point.
Swingman – John Havlicek; Selecting a perimeter player to sandwich between Cousy and Bird (spoiler!) is very difficult. Do you want the athleticism and shot-making of Sam Jones? How about the sweet stroke of Ray Allen? What about the toughness and one-on-one scoring acumen of Paul Pierce? I’m going with Hondo because of the great synergy his perpetual motion cutting game gives him with great passers like Cousy and Bird. Hondo is also a great all-around player, a good outside shooter, a capable defender, and a good enough ball-handler to play man the second guard spot.
Swing Forward – Larry Bird; 3 time league MVP, 2 time Finals MVP and simply the best Celtic of All-Time (all apologies to Bill Russell [spoiler!]), Bird does it all. He’s the best high volume shooter of all time (Find another player who shot 50-40-90 for a season while scoring over 25 points per game. You can’t because he’s the only one). He’s the best passing forward of all time. He’s one of the best swing-forward rebounders of all time. He’s possibly the best pick and roll forward ever – on both sides of the pick and roll. He’s a clever team defender, and to top it all off, he’s so confident and such a vocal leader, he would probably take control of this All-Time team.
Center-Forward – Kevin Garnett; MVP, DPoY, Champion, and heart and soul of the best defense since David Robinson left the Spurs. KG may not have been a Celtic all that long, but he has certainly put his stamp on the organization. His ability to defend the pick and roll has been unmatched, maybe in NBA history (Russell and Olajuwon may have something to say about that), and he has a complete back to the basket game as well as range out to 20 feet on his jumper. Also he’s 7 feet tall with hops and great hands, so playing with Cousy and Bird will get him a ton of easy looks at the rim.
Center-Forward – Bill Russell; 5 time MVP, 11 time Champion, would have plenty of DPoY awards if they’d been handed out in his day, Russell is the ultimate winner and probably the best player ever at impacting the game without needing to shoot the ball. An absolutely dominating rebounder and hugely versatile defender, William Russell also had the ability to run the offense as a high-post passer. Russ’s fiery determination should be a great complement to Bird’s icy-cold clutch game as far as leadership skills go – two guys who desperately need to win at all costs pushing the rest of the team to greater heights.
All-Celtics 2nd Team:
Combo Guard – Dennis Johnson; DJ’s not the flashiest or most dynamic player the Celtics could field as their second team’s primary ball-handler. He’s not the most talented. But he’s probably the savviest, the best defender, and the one a coach would most trust to make a good decision in a difficult moment. DJ also brings great versatility with his ability to defend guards of all size and even some smaller forwards. He can score off the dribble, in the post, or on the catch and shoot jumper, but his mindset as a Celtic was to set the offense and pass before looking for his own shot.
Swingman – Sam Jones; Picking between Jones and Ray Allen (and Bill Sharman and Reggie Lewis) for the 2nd team off guard is not easy. I go with Sam because his best years were played in Boston, and he showed the ability to be the team’s primary scorer in several championship seasons. No player other than Russell owns more championship rings than Sam Jones. Like every big minute player on those title teams, Sam was a steady defender, and after Russell may have been the team’s most athletic starter. He could score off the dribble, running the break, or in catch and shoot situations. Did he have Allen’s range? No, but he could space the floor, and his success as the team’s primary shooter tells it all.
Swingman – Paul Pierce; It bothers me leaving Pierce off the 1st team even if he’s pushed to the 2nd by Larry Bird and John Havlicek. Make no mistake, Pierce is 1st team material. He is really a player without weakness. He can score from any range in a huge variety of ways with his superior jumper, driving ability, and post game. Like Bird he’s a great pick and roll player both as the dribbler and the screen setter. Pierce is also a fantastic defender who has done great work against offensive monsters like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on the way to winning Boston’s first title in 22 years. The Truth’s best asset may be his ability to maneuver inside and get himself to the foul line. On a team whose greatest stars are marked by their selflessness, Pierce’s aggressive style is great fit.
Center-Forward – Kevin McHale; The only player in NBA history to shoot over 60% from the field and 80% from the line in the same season, McHale was a dominating low-post force for the ’80s Celtics dynasty. For my money, there’s never been a more complete post game in NBA history. Gumby’s combination of quick hook shots, turnaround fadeaways, drop-step lay-ups, and full array of twisting up-and-under counter moves combined with his long-armed build and tremendous balance made him completely unguardable on the blocks. Kareem couldn’t handle him. Hakeem couldn’t handle him. Rodman couldn’t handle him. If you can show up those players in the post, you’re not getting stopped one-on-one. To top it off, McHale was also a fantastic finisher on the move, scoring tons of his points as the roller in the pick and roll with Bird and as the trailer on the fastbreak. Add to the offense McHale’s top level defensive game (he was actually drafted as a defensive specialist and made several All-Defense teams), and you’ve got one of the best power forwards of all time.
Center-Forward – Dave Cowens; MVP, league leader in Defensive Win Shares, multi-time All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive Team, Cowens has a reputation as a blue-collar banger, and that shoe fits, but he was actually a tremendous athlete and very good jump shooter as well. I haven’t seen a whole heck of a lot of Cowens myself but in the games I have watched two attributes stand out above all others: 1. he takes people entering his paint personally and isn’t afraid to knock them on their butts for it, and 2. he’s an incredibly dedicated outlet passer – Wes Unseld had nothing on Dave Cowens when it came to securing the board and snapping the ball upcourt to his ball-handlers in a split-second. Like Russell, Cowens give the Celtics an MVP center capable of contributing mightily with little to no need to score the bal.
All-Celtics 3rd Team
Point Guard – Rajon Rondo; We could put Tiny Archibald, JoJo White, or the great Sherm Douglas in this spot, but Rondo is my pick for his passing, athleticism, and defensive ability. The modern Celtics are at their best with Rondo controlling the tempo and pressuring opposing ball-handlers, and those skills would mesh beautifully with the championship players from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. The only real limits in Rondo’s game are his poor jumpshooting skills which mean we could not line him up with Cousy on the floor.
Swingman – Ray Allen; Limitless range, good speed, great savvy, and a nice handle, you can’t ask for anything more from a shooting guard except maybe good defense. Guess what? Ray Allen plays good defense. In his few years with the Celtics, he’s hit a slew of clutch shots, spearheaded NBA Finals come from behind victories, and generally been a low-key, high-impact piece of a championship team.
Swingman – Reggie Lewis; Hey, I realize this spot belongs to Bailey Howell (or Cedric Maxwell), but too bad. It’s my post, and I love Reggie Lewis. Reggie was 6′ 7″, skinny, but very strong. He had all the skills – handles, post-up, three point range, and the best baseline pull-up this side of Rolando Blackman. Reggie was a terrific athlete and finished very well around the rim, and he played tremendous one on one defense, utilizing his length and quickness to great effect.
Swing Forward – Tommy Heinson; I considered putting Antoine Walker here, but I didn’t want to lose a Tommy Point. Before Heinson was the biggest homer in local sports announcing, he was the second big man on the Russell Celtic title teams. Nicknamed the Tommy Gun, Heinson led the team in scoring several times while holding off opposing big forwards on defense.
Center – Robert Parish; The Chief is another player that I wanted to select as early as the first team because as centers go, it’s hard to find anything to complain about with Parish’s game. Big and strong, he played tough man to man defense in the post against the likes of Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Patrick Ewing, and he was a terrific team defender as a shotblocker and intimidator. Parish could shoot to about twelve feet, and had a super high release on the catch and in the post which made his shot almost unblockable. His most important contributions to the Celtic offense were in the hustle and hard work categories. He ran the floor with great dedication, helping to draw attention on the delayed break and often beating his man downcourt for great position. He also set tough screens to free up Bird and Ainge on the perimeter or to get McHale room to post up. From 1980-88 only three centers won the NBA title. Kareem, Moses, and Robert Parish.