The NBA season opens Tuesday with two of the top teams in the east facing off in a rematch of a second round 2018 players series – Philadelphia 76ers vs Boston Celtics. Celtics finished 2nd in the east in 2018, while Philly finished 3rd. Both teams are projected to finish in the top 3 once again and in a Lebron James-less eastern conference, the door is wide open for either team to make the NBA finals (and lose to the Warriors).
76ers have recent lottery picks Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz while the Celtics are led by a mix of high picks and veterans – Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, plus Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford. But life wasn’t always this glorious for these two teams. There was a time not too long ago, that both of these teams needed to trust the process.
From 2004-2012, the Sixers made the playoffs 5 times and were never higher than the 6 seed. That final season, 2011-12, saw the Sixers finish 8th in the east and won their first round series against the Bulls. They would go on to lose to, who else, but the Celtics in round two in 7 games. That Sixers team included Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Nikola Vucevic, and current Sixers GM Elton Brand.
After finishing 9th in 2013, the Sixers began a massive rebuild. From 2013-2017 they never finished higher than 14th in the east and won 19, 18, 10, and 28 games each season during their rebuild. The process came to fruition last season when the Sixers went 52-30 and finished third.
As miserable of a four year stretch as it was, it did lead to a number of high picks – Simmons and Fultz went #1, Joel Embiid went #3. Plus guys like Robert Covington, Dario Saric, TJ McConnell, and vets like JJ Redick and now Wilson Chandler.
The Celtics process didn’t last as long as the Sixers. After the 2012-13 season, which ended in a 6 game playoff series loss to the Knicks, they decided to break up the core, which meant trading Kevin Garnett and long-time Celtics hero Paul Pierce. Despite making the playoffs, Celtics only won 41 games in 2013.
In 2013-14, the Celtics would go 25-57, bottoming out with a make shift roster, in Brad Stevens first year as head coach. Any time Jeff Green leads a team in scoring, you know they are a bad team. Green averaged 16.9 ppg. Rajon Rondo averaged 11.7 ppg and 9.8 apg. Rondo’s 10 assists is impressive considering he was surrounded with Green, Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, and Jared Sullinger, to name a few.
Brad Stevens, being the incredible coach he is, led the Celtics back to the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, but lost in the first round both times. 2017 and 2018 were much better as the Celtics won 53 and 55 games, respectively, but both times lost to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The process worked for Boston because they managed to be competitive, while also stockpiling young assets thanks to the Garnett/Pierce trade with the Nets. That traded netted them Tatum and Brown and the asset used to acquire Kyrie Irving. Building through the draft gave the Celtics the needed cap space to sign Al Horford and Kyrie Irving.
Both teams had playoff rosters that they rebuilt, reset and are now preparing to make a run at the Eastern Conference Championship. Which team is more likely to lose to the Warriors in the finals – Sixers or Celtics?