A Tale of Two Franchises

Drogin's Heroes

If Red Auerbach were dead, he'd be rolling over in his grave.

Unfortunately for him, he's alive.

The Boston Celtics have struggled to a dismal 11-34 record this season, including a league-worst 2-17 record away from the FleetCenter. Boston's best player is a twenty-year old rookie. Centers Frank Brickowski and Alton Lister are the Celtics twin Methusalehs, relics of some past age when players wore knee socks and sported afros.

Headlines that once read "Celtic Pride" now read "Celtics Continue Slide" or the more tragic, "Celtic Dies." But not even dark humor can redeem Boston's embarrassing season. This is no film noir. It's a horror show.

And sadly, Red Auerbach, the man who built the great Celtic dynasties of the 1960s and 1980s, is largely responsible for the franchise's collapse.


Auerbach has failed in two major ways: first, he has surrounded himself with a mediocre front-office staff and second, he has been unable to rebuild an aging organization through the draft.

His poor selection of general managers--Jan Volk, Dave Gavitt, and M.L. Carr--led to a lack of organizational direction; the Celtics never fully committed to rebuilding. Had the Celtics traded Kevin McHale or Robert Parish--as the Lakers traded A.C. Green and released Byron Scott--for younger players on the upside of their careers, Boston's current situation would be different.

Even when the Celtics did trade a player from the "glory days"--Danny Ainge--they only managed to acquire Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, two players with a great deal of heart but a dearth of skill.

But the true seeds of Boston destruction have been sewn in recent years through the draft. With the unfortunate deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis and the failures of Michael Smith and Jon Barry, Boston has not developed one player who was drafted from 1986-1991. Although Auerbach cannot be blamed for the Lewis and Bias tragedies, he bears much of the responsibility for Smith and Barry.

Of course, the Celtics' agonizing degeneration is all the more painful in light of the recent successes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston's storied rival of the 1960s and 1980s.

The Lakers' success is the result of a brilliant front office; general manager Jerry West orchestrated Shaquille O'Neal's signing brilliantly, trading away Anthony Peeler and George Lynch to Vancouver in order to free up the necessary money under the salary cap. The recent trade of Cedric Ceballos to Phoenix for Robert Horry underscored West's place as the NBA's top executive.

Similarly, West has taken risks through the draft, signing a moody Nick Van Exel when many other teams passed because of his attitude. The Lakers first-round draft picks have consistently become solid NBA players: Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell, Doug Christie, Anthony Peeler and Eddie Jones, are important contributors to their teams, if not stars.

The same cannot be said for many of Boston's draft-day selections; although they have no doubt learned Italian or discovered the best doughnut shop in Cedar Rapids, few have ever contributed to any NBA team.

As a result, while the Lakers contend for the Pacific Division title, the Celtics find themselves in their current, lottery-bound situation, desperately seeking Wake Forest center Tim Duncan.

And the reality is that Red Auerbach took them there.