Sixers and Celtics: Once NBA Powerhouses, Now Perennially Pitiful

Forget the fact that I am a lifelong Boston Celtics fan who has been dreaming of the day the C’s would regain the championship form the once proud franchise last displayed back in 1986 – at this point, I would settle for some kind of competent performance from Boston’s equally beleaguered bitter rivals – and my hometown team – the Philadelphia 76ers.
Unfortunately, it appears that both franchises are going to be mired in their own self-made muck for several more years – if not another decade at the least.

This column will focus only on each team’s recent failures (post new millennium) because if I were to go into everything that has plagued both franchises since each last hoisted their respective championship trophies (1983 for Philly and ’86 for Boston) this column would read more like a full length horror novel.

I am also going to give my unsolicited (and free, I might add) advice to each team’s clueless caretaker, Boston GM, Danny Ainge and his Philadelphia counterpart, Billy King.

So let me get started before either of these knuckleheads makes another dumb trade that sets their respective franchise back another five years.

Although the Sixers have experienced more recent success than the Celtics, having reached the 2001 Finals, and having fielded more competitive teams under former Hall of Fame head coach, Larry Brown, when the “Indecisive One” decided to pack his bags for the greener pastures of the Motor City, the Sixers – and more specifically – resident superstar, Allen Iverson – had no idea how far – and how fast – the team would plummet.

The Sixers would win their first 10 games to start the season and record a 56-26 record and the top seed in the Eastern Conference on their way to the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the 2000-2001 season.
After the Sixers pulled a stunner in game one winning in overtime, the Lakers simply overpowered the willing, but simply overmatched, Sixers in four consecutive games.

That magical season, four Sixers were awarded major NBA awards. Iverson won the league’s MVP, Dikembe Mutombo won the Defensive Player of the Year award while Aaron McKie would captured the 6th Man Award, and Larry Brown, the Coach of the Year title. This moment is clearly the height of the Larry Brown era in Philadelphia – and in a bit of irony – the beginning of an enigmatic end for Brown, Iverson and the Sixers.

The following season, the Sixers limped into the playoffs with a 43-39 record before being beaten badly by, of all people, the Celtics in the fifth game of the first round by the Celtics, 120-87.

The 2002-03 season was another exercise in futility for Brown and Iverson. Yes, the Sixers finished with a decent 48-34 record, but they were not a powerful team by any stretch of the imagination.

The 76ers would end up falling in six games to the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the playoffs and shortly thereafter Brown relinquished his position as head coach, to take over, ironically, the Detroit Pistons, the team that had unceremoniously bounced his team from the playoffs.

The 03-04 season brought a new head coach (Randy Ayers) who promptly got off to a shaky 9-9 start and completely lost his team by the all-star break with a 21-31 record and appeared to have the basketball acumen of my three-year-old son, Emmanuel.

I thought the Sixers made a good move by bringing in assistant coach Chris Ford as Ayers’ replacement, but his “old school” ways, (you know, things like arriving on time and being a T-E-A-M) clashed quickly with Iverson on several occasions.
The Sixers would go on to miss the playoffs with a disappointing 33-49 record and begin a search for their fourth head coach in two seasons.

As Brown was leading the Pistons to their first championship title since 1990, the Sixers would eventually turn to veteran head coach Jim O’Brien (good move) to fix the many ailments of a franchise that was suddenly in the midst of mediocrity.
In 2004-05, however, the Sixers would underachieve again recording a modest 43-39 record. After losing to the Pistons in the first round, the Sixers would fire O’Brien, who also failed to get the dysfunctional attention span of both Iverson, and his inept teammates.

When former 76ers legend and Portland Trailblazers head coach, Maurice Cheeks, became available, the Sixers were all over him like a copy of the Marshall Democrat-News lines my cat’s litter box, but hey, that’s a story for another day.
At any rate, if the Sixers – and more specifically – King – thought that the hiring of Cheeks would cure all of their ailments, the 05-06 season erased any doubt that this team is headed nowhere fast and that something drastic has to be done to alter the future landscape for the franchise. The Sixers floundered all season, posting a 38-44 record although Iverson lit up the scoreboard as well as he ever has in his entire career. Several of my sources in Philadelphia told me throughout the season, that several players on the team (none, Iverson incredibly) were having problems listening to their pleading coaches in practice.

Now, let me say that, although I have never been an Iverson fan, its one thing for a guy to complain about practice but perform spectacularly once the games begin. However, I do have a major problem with a guy like clueless young center, Samuel Dalembert, not paying rapt attention to a Hall of Fame assistant coach like Moses Malone.
Which brings me to the point of what needs to be done to fix Philadelphia’s problems.
Number one, dump King in search of a general manager who actually has a clue on how to build a winning team for the long haul – or at least for what passes as a long haul in the NBA these days.

I have nothing against King personally, but he has clearly had more than his fair share of opportunities to improve the Sixers and has not taken advantage of any of his opportunities. On the other hand, he has strapped the Sixers financially by overpaying for players like Dalembert – and Kyle Korver – who are both, limited, and mediocre.

Next, I’d try and trade Iverson to any team willing to give up at least one really good young player with all-star talent and possibly a veteran or who can contribute immediately as well. If the Sixers could sucker the Celtics out of any of their young, promising guards, that would be the place to start, but realistically, anything short of moving Iverson guarantees the same results – and outlook for the future – that the Sixers ended this past season with.
You know, what amazes me the most is that this mess has gone on for over two decades in a city that is both, known for is basketball talent and overall basketball acumen of its fans.

The saddest part of all is that the 1982-83 team that last hoisted the championship trophy could probably still beat the current group of players who call themselves Sixers. Sure, they would probably need plenty of Tylenol, Ben Gay and every other medicinal treatment they could find afterward, but I have absolutely no doubt, they would out-think this team into a blowout of epic proportions by half time. As a matter of fact, I’ll go on record right now and say that Iverson, and possibly, Andre Iguoadala are the only current Sixers who would have even made the roster of the ’82-83 championship team.
And that folks, is not progress by any stretch of the imagination.

So what I bleed Celtic green. In my role as a sports columnist I get paid to call it like I see it and I will be the first person to admit that the Celtics are almost as atrocious as the Sixers both on the court and in their equally perplexing front office.
In 2000-01 The Celtics got off to an awful 12-22 start that forced their “savior” former head coach Rick Pitino into an early resignation, who told disappointed Celtics fans prior to making his exit, the cold harsh truth that Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were not walking through the door.

After taking over for Pitino to finish the prior season, O’Brien entered his first full season having helped the C’s achieve a modest measure of success under to finish the 2000-01 season. This translated into a 49-33 season in 2001-02 and the Celtics best record in a decade.

After knocking off both, the Sixers and Detroit Pistons, the Celtics lost to the New Jersey Nets in six games after reaching the conference finals for the first time since their last championship appearance.
The Celtics quickly followed that encouraging season up by getting rid of steady point guard Kenny Anderson for the aging “Gin” Baker. Oops, my bad, that would be Vin Baker – although at this point of his career, “Beefeater” could have legitimately been his first name.

Anyway, the Celtics qualified for the playoffs again with a record of 44-38. Boston would go on to beat the Pacers in six games before bowing out again to the New Jersey Nets after a deplorable 4-0 sweep at the hands of the defending eastern conference champs.

Prior to the ’03-04 season, the Celtics turned to former Celtic guard, Danny Ainge to help rebuild the most successful NBA franchise’s fortunes. Prior to the season opener, Ainge traded the enigmatic Antoine Walker and sweet shooting, Tony Delk, for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills, all marginal players, although Mills had experienced success in his younger playing days.

The trade also started a rift between O’Brien and Ainge, which would get much worse after the Celtics acquired another head case player (Ricky Davis) from the Cleveland Cavaliers for veteran locker room leader, Eric Williams, which eventually led to the resignation of O’Brien. Assistant John Carroll would finish the season for the Celtics guiding them into the playoffs with an uninspiring 36-46 record where they were promptly dispatched in four consecutive games by the Indiana Pacers, losing each game by double figures.

The 2004-05 season brought yet another head coach for the Celtics, this time, Doc Rivers, who would get off to an equally mediocre start his first season. However, as the all-star break rolled around the C’s started playing better and after they reacquired Walker from the Atlanta Hawks, for Gary Payton, who would be released and return to Boston, the Celtics immediately won 10 of their next 11 games as they won their first division title in 13 years with a record of 45-37.

In the playoffs the Celtics would face the Indiana Pacers and it is I this series where I began to see what the Celtics could be in another year or two. The Celtics had finally found a mixture of youth and veteran leadership that it appeared would bring them back to championship contention in a seemingly short amount of time. Although the Celtics would go on to lose in five games, it appeared as Ainge had a tangible plan that he was going to work to perfection.

However, Ainge decided to go really young following that season and drafted several young players who, I will admit, could one day become fixtures in Boston’s long term basketball plans. However, the Celtics took an inevitable step backwards and finished with a 33-49 record this past season as many of Boston’s young players went through some eye-opening growing pains.

In his quest for more youth, Ainge has done two things – build a decent base of that same youthful talent – and guarantee that the Celtics are not going to win anything significant before the end of this decade. Now, both teams are in fairly dire straits, although I must admit that the Sixers are just downright atrocious while the Celtics do have a slight glimmer of hope – no matter how dim. However, Boston is a far cry from being competitive themselves, so here is my advice on repairing the Celtic’s many problems.

Like the Sixers, Boston needs to get rid of their so-called general manager. While I always enjoyed Ainge’s intangibles as a player, not to mention his above average jump shot, I have to be honest and say that his tenure at the helm of his former team has been laced with one perplexing transaction after another.
Like King in Philadelphia, Ainge seems to be totally clueless on two fronts – what kind of coach he wants – and what kind of team he is trying to build. Unlike King however, who at least realizes that the NBA is all about the here and now, Ainge seems to come up with a new five-year youth plan every offseason.

This year’s recent draft only served to reinforce the fact that Ainge is about as bright as a three-watt light bulb. I am unequivocally going on record right now to say that Ainge’s decision to trade Villanova product Randy Foye is going to haunt the franchise for years to come. I know Ainge was able to unload Raef LaFrentz’ albatross of a contract, but Foye is a special player who is ready to step in immediately and produce double digit scoring and a veteran-like presence.
Not only did Ainge give up a player who could be in the Dwayne Wade mold, but all that for a player who may or may not be the wunderkind point guard he has predicted to become one day.

I will acknowledge the fact that Ainge has acquired some interesting young players, but the last time I checked, interesting young players didn’t win championship titles on a regular basis.
In addition to parting ways with Ainge, Boston should immediately look to move one of their young guards for an athletic young big body. (Think T.J. for Charlie Villanueva). The last thing on earth the Celtics should do is mortgage their future for Allen Iverson in an attempt to put a more productive team on the court right now.

Yes, Iverson will still get his 30 a game, but at what cost? Boston’s young guards, who all need more on-court experience, would now have major minutes reduced and be relegated to watching the nightly Allen Iverson and Paul Pierce show.
And while that may sound spectacular, I can guarantee you that it won’t be. Until the Celtics get some legitimate NBA frontcourt players, they will continue to struggle as a rag-tag perimeter led by the immense talents of Pierce.
You know, now that I think of it, Pierce is probably the only current Celtic who would be on the Celtic’s last championship winning team too.

I could go on and on dissecting King’s and Ainge’s respective transactions throughout their careers, but that directory of dim-witted decisions would probably make you ill. Until either franchise decides to push a truckload of money in front of me and offer me a general manager’s position, this is the best I can do – I mean really, can it get any worse?
Eric Williams is a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and syndicated freelance writer who can be heard every Wednesday at 3:15 eastern on Contact Eric at

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