As we look ahead to the 2014 NBA Draft, I look back on the players current Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had a chance to develop with the Boston Celtics. Rivers, who also doubles as the Clippers’ Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, has only the 28th overall pick with which to work. Last year, the Clippers came away with only small forward Reggie Bullock, the 25th overall pick who had a forgettable rookie season.
It was ten years ago in 2004 that Rivers took the Boston Celtics job. Unlike in Los Angeles, Rivers did not have final say, as Danny Ainge was the team’s President of Basketball Operations. Besides that, Rivers obviously had the major task of developing talent.
I wanted to break up the nine Celtics drafts Rivers was a part of in three sections. The first period, 2004-2006, was the pre-championship era for Rivers in Boston. The 2007-2009 era represented the height of Boston’s success with Rivers. The 2010-2012 era represent the end of Rivers’ time – and were also the draft picks who would have to be passed over to a new coach due to Rivers’ departure.
Also, this reflection takes into account the players whose draft rights the Celtics retained. So while the Celtics drafted Randy Foye and Jeff Green, they will not make appearances here, as both players’ draft rights were exported by Boston for veterans. And while other teams drafted players such as Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis, their draft rights were acquired by Boston. In an effort for brevity, clarity, and Clippers’ relevance, not every player Rivers had will be featured here:
The Pre-Championship Era
C Al Jefferson (1st Round, 15th overall): Big Al came out from high school in Mississippi. Celtics gave him a limited role in first two seasons, then he blew up in year three to average 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 69 games (60 starts). His development under Rivers (who gave him Moses Malone tapes as a rookie) in three years was translated into being the centerpiece of the 2007 Kevin Garnett package.
SG Delonte West (1st Round, 24th overall): Celtics wanted to make West a PG, and was a starter there in his second season. Played more off the ball in year three before being included in 2007 Ray Allen package. Will reportedly play for Clippers in Las Vegas Summer League, and according to West, Rivers told West that he was a candidate to help replace J.J. Redick in case Redick was unable to come back from injury.
SG Tony Allen (1st Round, 25th overall): Another player who Celtics tried to groom as a PG early, which never made any sense. Career interrupted by ridiculous ACL tear in Year 3. Settled into role as rugged defender off the bench as Celtics roster improved, turning reliable defense into contract with Memphis after six seasons with Rivers.
SG Gerald Green (1st Round, 18th overall): The third high schooler drafted in 2005. Bounced between Celtics and D-League as a rookie before becoming rotational player in Year 2. 2007 Dunk Champ, included in Garnett package. Green has said he wished he listened to Rivers when he was in Boston.
PF Ryan Gomes (2nd Round, 50th overall): For a late 2nd-round pick, future Clipper did very well for himself in Boston, averaging over 22 minutes per game as a rookie and then becoming a starter in Year 2, averaging 12.1 points per game. One of three Celtics draftees included in Garnett trade.
PG Orien Greene (2nd Round, 53rd overall): Another late 2nd-round pick who would play heavy minutes as a rookie, albeit out of position. Greene only spent one season in Boston, struggling offensively (40 percent from the field, 23 percent from three) but defending well, which was his key to clock with Rivers. Clippers could look to draft another Louisiana-Lafayette product in SG Elfrid Payton.
PG Rajon Rondo (1st Round, 21st overall, draft rights via Phoenix): The crown jewel of Rivers’ developmental ability. Unquestionably a top-five performer from one of the weakest drafts since 2000 (and made up for Celtics essentially trading seventh pick, Foye, for Sebastian Telfair). Played seven years with Rivers, more than any player who was a rookie with Rivers. Went from rookie backup to starter on championship team to All-Defensive team to All-Star to All-NBA selection. Never developed into scorer or shooter, but top playmaker and defensive disruptor before catalytic 2013 ACL tear.
Clippers takeaway: Out of the 22 draftees that ever played for Rivers in Boston, only Rondo became an All-Star. Rivers never got a small forward in these drafts (Paul Pierce’s presence probably had something to do with that). The only guard who could shoot was West – the others were defensive pests, while Rondo developed into a major piece. With Darren Collison testing the market, Rivers could look to develop his own backup scrapper.
The Championship Era
PF Glen Davis (2nd Round, 35th overall, draft rights via Seattle): Yet another short big man who made an impact with Celtics as a second-round pick and arguably the best, topping out at 11.7 points per game off the Boston bench in fourth season. Limited role as a rookie on championship team. Stepped into starting lineup with Garnett injured in Year 2, averaging over 15 points per game in 2009 playoffs. Traded for starter Brandon Bass after four years in Boston, reunited with Rivers in Los Angeles this past season; unfortunately, most memorable moment of Davis as a Clipper may have been getting tossed off the bench in Houston.
SG J.R. Giddens (1st Round, 30th overall): Spent rookie year in the D-League with only eight minutes played, started one game in Year 2 for Rivers, then traded weeks later as part of Nate Robinson package. Nothing to see here, at all, except the reminder not to expect miracles with Clippers set to select close to where Giddens went.
PG Lester Hudson (2nd Round, 58th overall): Hudson, a force at Tennessee-Martin, bounced between the D-League and the Celtics roster as a rookie. Let go in January 2010 after 70 minutes as a Celtic. Was rumored briefly to have interest from Clippers this past season.
Clippers takeaway: Once the Celtics became a good team again, the draft was no longer a true asset. Even when the Celtics were a lottery team, the team never had a rookie selected higher than 15th with Rivers present, shuffling off lottery picks for veterans. Giddens was the only first-round pick he had to work with in this particular period, and at 30th overall, that didn’t represent much quality. Davis was the only player from this group to put a career together, and it is notable that Rivers prefers backup big men who can’t be moved over tall, long athletic types.
The Post-Championship Era
PG Avery Bradley (1st Round, 19th overall): Yet another PG project for Rivers. Only 162 minutes as a rookie while shuttling back-and-forth between the D-League. Eventually replaced Ray Allen in starting lineup in second season, which ended early due to shoulder surgery. Final season with Rivers saw him continue to struggle offensively and as a playmaker, but excel defensively (NBA All-Defensive 2nd team selection despite missing 32 games). As mentioned earlier, Rivers would probably jump at the opportunity to add a young, defensive-minded guard like Bradley to the Clippers.
PF JaJuan Johnson (1st Round, 27th overall, draft rights via New Jersey): Johnson was the first tall, long, athletic big man the Celtics selected after years of drafting earthbound types. There may be many who would prefer the Clippers to add a tall, long, athletic big man late in the first round. Here is Exhibit A as to why Rivers would not go that route. Johnson only played 20+ minutes four times as a rookie, failing to grab more than five rebounds in those games. Rivers questioned his mental makeup, and Boston moved on after his rookie year.
PG E’Twaun Moore (2nd Round, 55th overall): Johnson’s teammate at Purdue, Moore was another PG project of Rivers who made the roster as a second-round rookie. Played 20+ minutes only five times, shooting only 38 percent from the field. Traded with Johnson the following offseason, though he has stuck around in the league, unlike Johnson. Moore is a free agent this summer and it wouldn’t be a total shock if Rivers kicked his tires, as he praised Moore for what Johnson lacked.
PF Jared Sullinger (1st Round, 21st overall): The Celtics essentially replaced Johnson with a familiar widebody type in Sullinger, whose strong rebounding ability (5.9 per game in 19.8 minutes per game, four double-doubles) earned him more minutes in the first two months of his rookie season than Johnson earned in his entire career. Rivers complimented Sullinger early, calling him a “big fat guy.” Unfortunately, Sullinger’s foul issues prevented him from playing more before back woes ended his season by February 2013. Rivers left the following offseason.
C Fab Melo (1st Round, 22nd overall): Melo was quite possibly the worst Celtics first-round pick out of anyone Rivers had to coach. Actually, he may have been the worst pick period. Melo spent most of his rookie season in the D-League, playing only 36 minutes with seven points, three rebounds, and seven fouls as a rookie. This was despite Sullinger’s midseason injury and Boston’s lack of size. Melo was traded from Boston after his first season and hasn’t played in the NBA since.
Clippers takeaway: It will be interesting to see if the Clippers can acquire a second-round pick. Though not all of them are evaluated here, every second-rounder’s draft rights that the Celtics acquired with Rivers as head coach saw the floor for Boston. Even though players like Luke Harangody and Kris Joseph didn’t make it through the entire rookie season, they still had a fair opportunity as far as making the roster. Picks like Bradley and Sullinger outline the strengths of Rivers with young players: big-bodied big men and defensive oriented guards. Picks like Johnson and Melo outline red flags Rivers may have with players who are little more than tall and athletic.
The Clippers could use a functional backup big man and should be interested in a guard who can defend. Rivers never really worked extensively with a young small forward in Boston. There’s a chance that player is still Bullock in Los Angeles, but I don’t believe he is the long, athletic defender the Clippers could use on the wing. We’ll see if Bullock gets a vote of confidence on the wing, a complement, or new competition.