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Painful Reminders (Part I): The Celtics Drafted JaJuan Johnson Instead of Jimmy Butler

 

On June 23rd, 2011, Brian Robb and I stood around a high top bar table in Tommy Doyle’s in Kendall Square.  Before us lay one of the biggest mounds of buffalo chicken wings I had ever endeavor to make disappear.  These 25 cent flappers- one of the few indulgences afforded to the participants of our recreation basketball league- were to be enjoyed over the course of the next two hours while we waited to find out the identity of the newest member of the Boston Celtics.

We sat there, sucking meat off bone and gulping down pitchers of cheap domestic, waiting with immense anticipation.  We were both pulling for the Celtics to draft an athletic but undersized power forward from Morehead State named Kenneth Faried.  The Celtics had been absolutely dreadful on the glass during the 2010-2011 season and Faried had spent his final collegiate season putting Windex out of business.

It was a perfect fit, really.  The C’s were drafting late in the first round, Faried played for a small school, was undersized, and a relative unknown.  It was likely that Faried would be snapped up prior to the C’s pick, but seeing the soon-to-be-called Manimal in green was definitely a possibility worth pulling for.

As the big names started to go to their expected destinations, my stomach started to churn like a bonnet-wearer holding a dasher-staff at Sturbridge Village.  I couldn’t tell if it was my assumption that Faried would be gone by the time the Celtics picked or the buffalo/beer mess coagulating in my lower intestine.  Whatever it was, it was going to be my 2011 NBA Draft companion.

With the 22nd pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets select Kenneth Faried, forward, Morehead State.

We had wanted Faried but we had backups. There was our hometown hero Reggie Jackson that lit up our Alma Mater for three years.  The Celtics didn’t need a point guard so seeing Jackson go right before the Celtics’ pick was, again, okay.  The other two guys on our short list, JaJuan Johnson and Jimmy Butler, were still available.

With the 25th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics select Marshon Brooks, guard, Providence College.

Meh. Brooks was a relative unknown even locally for his first two years at PC before starting to gain national attention by being able to really pour it on.  While it was true that the Celtics could have used a future scoring threat, neither Robb nor I were completely wowed by Brooks.

After the pick, we went back to plowing through the plate of delicious chicken/buffalo/blue-cheese goo.  We still had a third of it to go when we saw on the scrolling news ticker that the C’s had traded Brooks’ rights to New Jersey for the rights to JaJuan Johnson.

Alright!  Johnson was 6’10″, athletic, and looked poised to become the next Kevin Garnett protege.  A few picks later, the Chicago Bulls unsurprisingly took Jimmy Butler but at that point, it didn’t matter.  The Celtics had chosen the CelticsHub pick.  We were hoping for Faried, but didn’t really think he’d be available.  All that mattered was that the Celtics were getting younger, bigger, and more athletic.

* * *

It’s now May 6th, 2013 and I’m watching a second year veteran Jimmy Butler score 21 points, snag 14 rebounds, and spend 48 minutes defending the world’s best player.  At the same time, JaJuan Johnson is somewhere trying to decide which DLeague sweatpants to throw on so he can return his Redbox copy of “Jack Reacher.”*

There are a million cliches that reassure me that I shouldn’t feel bad about this.  The truth is, however, the Celtics are facing some tough questions this offseason.  Many of these questions are the result a singular decision in the past.  In this case, drafting Jimmy Butler instead of JaJuan Johnson may have affected the amount of money and years thrown at Jeff Green.  Or the decision to go all out in trying to secure Courtney Lee.  Or Doc Rivers having to completely run Paul Pierce into the ground this season/post-season.

The Bulls’ season is likely coming to end an end.  If not tonight, then surely in their next game.  Despite the anguish that accompanies losing to Miami in the playoffs, the Bulls have the comfort of knowing that they have an outright gem on their hands.  He’s quiet, he confident, he plays with energy, efficiency, and can really defend.  He may never be a star, but he’s definitely the type of player who is essential to a championship team.

There were other players (Norris Cole, Chandler Parsons, Isaiah Thomas) drafted after Johnson that have already seen success in this league, but none felt as personal as Butler.  Butler was my second realistic choice next to Johnson.

Again, there are so many moments when you could say, “what if…”  That doesn’t mean watching Butler play so well doesn’t stoke the fiery jealously raging within me.**

*In his defense, he has three team’s from this season alone to choose from.

**Could very well be residual from the buffalo wings.

  • fabzzz

    A lot of people saying Kelly Olynk for us this year…the Gonzaga dude.

    I don't see us getting any real value with this pick, but you never know. If we could somehow package it with another player and get someone more proven, I'd do that.

    I also remember wanting Lance Stephenson over Bradley…then when Bradley broke out, I was like I'm an idiot. Especially since he went 22(!!) picks after Bradley. Now Stephenson is a starter on a team headed for the ECF…who woulda thought?

  • P.R.

    While on the painful reminders…I'm not a big Chris Anderson fan, but he would have looked pretty good giving KG a rest or being paired together in stretches this season.

  • phoured

    does anyone else feel that if the bulls had someone else other than boozer they would be much better off?

    • Robert

      Pretty much, he's making 15m a year and is the 20th highest paid player in the NBA. Now, Boozer is not a stiff but that is crazy money for what he brings to the table. Because of his contract, they had to dismantle their excellent bench (Asik, Korver, Brewer) and have been unable to much else besides dumpster dive for their perennial hole at shooting guard.

      • kg215

        It was hilarious early in the season when Boozer actually was a stiff, he was getting booed by Chicago fans before he really stepped up in the 2nd half/playoffs.

  • check12check

    the front office for the C's has made a whole lot of bad decisions in recent years. I hope we make a solid choice with our draft this year. Bradley was a nice surprise and Terry and Lee both looked like good ideas, but have there been any other defend-able moves?

  • Swissflix

    Had Danny drafted Butler, people would have critized him for not drafting Johnson probably. Dude was athletic, after all. I really don't understand why many Celtics fans dislike Danny so much. Maybe they weren't around in the 90ies. Do they want MJ as a GM instead?
    More important than drafting a good player seems that Sully stays healthy for good. Does anyone know his status? Did surgery just repair that disc or was it supposed to take care of his back issues altogether?

    • check12check

      oh….good call. i totally forgot about sully. he was a good decision. if he can stay healthy he is at least a rotation big

      • elroz

        Rondo, Tony Allen, Al Jefferson, Big Baby, (traded for Perkins), Avery Bradley – Danny drafted these guys…remember… you cannot nail it every time.

        In 1989 the Celtics drafted Micheal Smith (he didn't "happen") and passed on Tim Hardaway and Shawn Kemp !!!!! AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH

        If you wanted young talent to pair next to the big three's last years, that was it … aaaaaaaahhhhhh

    • kg215

      I agree Danny has had plenty of bad picks but also plenty of good ones. It's kind of like all the Doc Rivers hate, it is irrational and a crappy attempt at making someone the scapegoat. "Our team didn't win even though we had a ton of injuries and some players were extremely inconsistent/cold from the perimeter, so yeah…… ALL DOCS FAULT FIRE HIM.

  • Chief

    @swissflix from what I’ve heard he’s back should be good from here on out, and he should have no back issues going forward. Lets hope that’s true as I can’t wait to see how he plays next season.

    • Swissflix

      Thanks for the info, Chief! I am excited as well. Will he really turn out to be a huge steal or will he remain a nice PF off the bench? Cannot wait for October!

  • The Cardinal

    It would be nice if we could draft someone who can contribute next season, but that's always a crap shoot – especially when you get away from the top 7 or 8 guys in the lottery.. I do like what Danny did by signing the "China connection" guys this season and as a strategy going forward, I'd guess reassessing talent that never quite made an impact in the NBA is an ongoing project.

    Thing about our roster is there are some good pieces here and there, but none good enough to elevate the rest unless Jeff Green continues his upward trajectory. I look at the Nuggets and the Bulls (minus Rose) as models of how teams can be dangerous while not having a lot of star power. At a minimum, you have to have energy guys who can control the boards and pressure other teams into mistakes, and consistently good ball movement like we had when Barbosa became a key rotation guy off the bench. An energy big who can rebound (same song, different refrain) and a versatile two guard who can break down a defense and knock down threes sure would be nice.

    • KB1

      That last statement reminds me of someone we used to have…. Nate Robinson! The guy played his heart out this post season. I believe he is a free agent too!

  • EJK

    Last year, Celtics fans were complaining that Ainge didn't keep Brooks, who was playing 30mpg and scoring 13ppg for a Nets team that finished 5th in the Atlantic. Fans declared that he could be a bench spark and spell the old and hobbling Allen and Pierce. Fans seemed to think that Doc would allow a rookie to step in off the bench and jack-up 11 shots per game. 13ppg on 11spg. Not very efficient.

    This year, I don't hear those same complaints.

    Now, I hear Celtics fans complaining that Ainge didn't draft Parsons or Butler.

    The draft is a crap shoot every year. Players' success is largely dependent on the teams and systems they're asked to play in. Parsons on the Rockets is a different player than Parsons on the Kings. Brooks on a 5th place Nets team is different than Brooks on a playoff Nets team (this season he played 12mpg and scored 5ppg).

    Compared to other GMs who have had to select in the vicinity of the Celtics over the past ten years, Ainge has done a tremendous job. We got Rondo. We got Bradley. We got Sully (who is 6th in rookie win shares this season). The Jeff Green draft pick netted us Allen (and eventually KG). We had Jefferson, Gomes, Allen, and West. Ainge has drafted some quality players over the past ten years, with most of his picks in the mid-teens or later.

    Let's not look back and critique. Let's look forward.

    • Morpheus

      Exactly.

  • elroz

    Rondo, Tony Allen, Al Jefferson, Big Baby, Delonte, got Perkins through draft trade, Avery Bradley: Danny drafted these guys…remember?

    You cannot nail it every time.

    In 1989 the Celtics drafted Micheal Smith (he didn't "happen") and passed on Tim Hardaway and Shawn Kemp !!!!! OMG!!! If you wanted young talent to pair next to the big three's last years, that was it … aaaaaaaahhhhhh

  • Sophomore

    Nice writing.

  • knotty

    who did they draft instead of mario chalmers…. after he just won a national championship and averaged over 40% from 3…..

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