National Basketball Association fans of certain ages may not be aware the Boston Celtics were once responsible for multiple dynasties that dominated the league and won titles seemingly with ease. After all, the Celtics have largely been an afterthought for the better part of the current decade. LeBron James has owned the Eastern Conference playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers on two occasions and also as a member of the Miami Heat for a time. The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors are two clubs that have leapfrogged the Celtics in overall NBA power rankings even though Boston is, admittedly headed in the right direction as of the start of the summer of 2017. It’s not a stretch to suggest the Celtics may be one or two solid offseasons away from making a return to the NBA Finals.
Looking back, it isn’t all that difficult to understand how things went so wrong for the Celtics over such a long period of time. After all, Boston missed out on acquiring a plethora of would-be Superstars in draft classes for years. Some of those talents could have been key contributors either in a starting lineup or even coming off the bench. Others, however, have proven themselves to be cornerstones of championship rosters and future Hall-of-Fame talents. The harsh reality is that you could probably build a team capable of winning multiple titles if you put together a roster of the current NBA stars the Celtics could’ve drafted over the years.
15 Kyle Korver
Shooting guard Kyle Korver probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of current NBA stars who could have been a member of the Boston Celtics. Remember, though, that Korver dropped late into the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft, and he ultimately became one of the best three-point shooters in the game who, when at his best, could legitimately drain over 50 percent of his long-distance attempts on any given night.
You may not view Korver as being a must-have player for any championship roster, but we feel confident in saying just about any General Manager would take him over Troy Bell, who the Celtics took in the first round that year. The Celtics would love a redo when it comes to that draft.
14 Nikola Jokic
Following the conclusion of the 2016-17 NBA season, it seems as if the Celtics are prepared to move on from James Young, the guard Boston picked in the middle of the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.
Perhaps if the Celtics had been more patient and/or done a bit of additional homework, the club would’ve instead used such a selection on Nikola Jokic. Jokic, who starts for the Denver Nuggets, has to be viewed as one of the top young big men playing in the Western Conference, and it seems a given the Nuggets are going to build around him in an attempt to make a return to the top portion of the conference standings. He would fit in nicely on the current Boston roster given his skill set.
13 Rudy Gobert
Because of some wacky NBA rules, the Celtics ultimately ended up with the rights to Kelly Olynyk following the 2013 NBA Draft. Olynyk is a fine player, but he's probably mostly known for injuring Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love during the 2015 NBA Playoffs, a crime that got him suspended.
Had things gone differently on draft night in one way or another, Boston could’ve somehow earned the rights to Rudy Gobert, who dropped to the number 27th overall pick. Gobert has matured and evolved as a player, and he has emerged as one of the leaders of the Utah Jazz following this past season. He is also one of the best shot-blockers in the game, as he led that category for the 2016-17 season.
12 DeAndre Jordan
In fairness, Los Angeles Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan has appeared in more commercials than NBA Finals games during his stint with the club. Nevertheless, that doesn’t erase the fact Jordan could have been a good fit for the Celtics.
Jordan dropped into the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft and multiple picks after the Celtics acquired J.R. Giddens with the final selection of the first round. We honestly couldn’t blame you if you’re struggling to remember Giddens time with the Celtics or in the NBA, in general, as he didn’t make much of an impact for Boston. Jordan would’ve been a solid piece for multiple sides that passed on him, and it’s possible he could’ve helped the Celtics remain relevant during the current decade.
11 Goran Dragic
We don’t want to pick on the previously mentioned Mr. Giddens, but he has to be looked at as one of the most regrettable draft picks made by the franchise over the past decade when you consider who could be with Boston today.
Goran Dragic may never win an MVP award or lead a team to the NBA Finals, but he may, all things considered, be one of the most under-valued players in recent league history. Dragic remained available until the middle of the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft, and, while it took some time for him to find his feet in the league, he is now one of the true offensive leaders for a Miami Heat squad that requires his talents. Expect to continue to see good things from Dragic, who would look nice in Boston green, in the near future.
10 Mario Chalmers
We promise you, Boston fans, this is the last time we'll harp on the 2008 NBA Draft. Mario Chalmers has to be seen as one of the top value picks of his draft class, as he dropped down to the number 34 pick overall and showed himself capable of being a contributor at both ends of the court even if he never emerged as a Superstar.
Granted, we don’t know what Chalmers will be moving forward, as he's attempting to return from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered during the 2016-17 season. Still, we wonder if Chalmers’ career would’ve gone differently had he not been on the Miami Heat when LeBron James made the move to South Beach and created his own superteam. Perhaps Chalmers could’ve been even better with Boston.
9 Marc Gasol
In fairness to the Celtics, every team passed on Marc Gasol until he fell to the middle of the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft. Boston fans still have to wonder how things could’ve gone differently over the past ten years had the Celtics selected the big man who has been an All-Star on several occasions.
Instead, the Celtics drafted Jeff Green and Gave Pruitt ahead of Gasol. Boston didn’t even hold onto Green, and Pruitt’s time with the Celtics was nothing to write home about until he and the club parted ways. Gasol has proven his worth in the NBA and also in international competitions, and he would have been a solid piece to build around during a time when the Celtics were on the cusp of something special.
8 Joakim Noah
We stay with the 2007 NBA Draft, this time to mention a polarizing figure. It’s understood some fans out there are not all that keen on Joakim Noah, the ninth overall pick from this class, for one reason or another, and it also should be noted that his body is seemingly well past its physical prime these days.
It should not be ignored, however, that Noah was a dominant force underneath the rim, particularly on defense, during his best days with the Chicago Bulls, and he would’ve been a solid selection for the Celtics had the club retained his rights. Say, for the sake of argument, Noah would’ve remained healthy while with Boston. Things could’ve gone a lot differently for both entities over the past decade.
7 David Lee
Sometimes, things seemingly work out as they are meant to, and Boston fans probably see the 2005 NBA Draft that way considering all that happened after the fact. The Celtics selected Gerald Green with the 18th pick of that draft, and the flashy prospect who could dunk a basketball from just about anywhere inside the three-point line (only half-joking) failed to adequately improve as an overall player before the Celtics moved on from him after only two seasons.
There's no question David Lee, a recognized star among basketball fans, has had the better overall career, but Green was involved in the trade that netted the Celtics Kevin Garnett. Would Garnett have won a title in Boston if the Celtics drafted Lee? We’ll never know.
6 Khris Middleton
The 2012 NBA Draft is a low point in recent Boston history for one big reason, but we’ll focus on that player who should’ve been a Celtic later in this piece. For now, we’ll touch upon Khris Middleton, a player the Celtics could’ve had with any one of its pair of first-round selections from that year.
Middleton quietly emerged as one of the most underrated players in the NBA by the halfway point of the 2016-17 NBA season, and he is one of several reasons why fans of the Milwaukee Bucks have some hope for the team’s immediate future. He also deserves a ton of credit for making a full return from a hamstring injury that was serious enough to require surgery and that could have altered his career.
5 Tony Parker
You have to give the San Antonio Spurs credit for getting so much right during the 2000s. San Antonio took guard Tony Parker with the 28th overall pick of the 2001 NBA Draft, and Parker became one of several pieces to championship puzzles for what has to be considered one of the best franchises in all of North American professional sports over the past 17 years.
Boston had no fewer than three opportunities to take Parker before he went off the board, although one of those picks could have been used on a Hall-of-Fame talent a couple of years down the road. That the Celtics missed out on Parker and also on the player mentioned next in this list says a lot about the team’s struggles.
4 Isaiah Thomas
Some of you out there may see this as an example that doesn’t count since Isaiah Thomas currently features for the Celtics. What you have to remember here is that Thomas fell all the way down to the very final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft and that Boston eventually landed Thomas in a trade that included the Celtics spending a first-round pick to get him.
A first-round pick can be worth its weight in gold if spent correctly, and one would like to imagine the Celtics would do things differently if given the opportunity to turn the clock back. Yes, Boston is lucky to have Thomas serving as the current leader of the team, but the Celtics could’ve acquired him for free years ago.
3 Carmelo Anthony
This is an interesting one. Carmelo Anthony was taken with the third overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft and before the Celtics were ever called to the podium on that night. As Braden Campbell of boston.com once explained, however, the Celtics technically could have owned the rights to the pick used on Anthony. Had the Celtics bitten the figurative bullet and not taken Kendrick Brown in the 2001 NBA Draft, Boston would have carried-over the rights of the Denver Nuggets selection for 2003.
Denver, as you know, landed Anthony, and Anthony has been just about as good as advertised throughout a lengthy career. Anthony would’ve been the face of the Celtics for at least some time, and he may even still be with the club today had Boston been able to draft him.
2 Jimmy Butler
It seems, these days, as if we cannot go a full year without hearing some rumor linking the Celtics with current Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler, in part because the Bulls need a full roster rebuild. What’s funny about this is that the Celtics could’ve had Butler for free.
Butler fell to the last overall pick of the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, while the Celtics used selection number 25 on MarShon Brooks. Brooks never came all that close to making it in the NBA, and Butler is now one of the league’s top stars who is reportedly coveted by multiple teams. Boston making a move to land Butler’s services this summer would be good business, but it still has to sting a bit that he could, and probably should, already be a member of the Celtics.
1 Draymond Green
The Celtics owned the rights to a pair of first-round picks back in 2012, and the club used one of those selections on Fab Melo. Melo, who made his name at Syracuse, never truly evolved into an NBA player during his brief stint in the league. Meanwhile, forward Draymond Green dropped into the second round until the Golden State Warriors decided to bring him out west.
Green may not be the best overall player on the Warriors today, but he has been a vital part of two championship rosters and also of what may be the league’s team of the 2010s. Just think how much better the Celtics would be today if the team would’ve been able to scoop Green up after so many clubs dismissed him in the first round of the 2012 draft.