In their 76-year history, the Boston Celtics have pulled off some significant trades — flat-out steals. Between the legendary Red Auerbach and Danny Ainge, the Celtics always seemed to have the upper hand when it came to trades.
We put together the top five trades in team history. There have been many more than five that saw the Celtics come out on top. Flipping the No. 1 draft pick in 2017 for the third pick, which they used to grab Jayson Tatum, and a future first-round pick doesn’t even make the cut. Here are the top five deals in Celtics history.
No. 5: The Boston Celtics acquire Dennis Johnson from the Phoenix Suns
In the early 1980s, the Celtics had matchup problems at the guard position against Eastern Conference rivals Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s when they turned to Dennis Johnson.
Johnson’s attitude became a problem with both his original team, the Seattle SuperSonics, and the Phoenix Suns. The Celtics acquired Johnson and a 1983 first- and third-round pick from the Suns for Rick Robey and a pair of second-round picks in ’83.
In his first year in Boston, Johnson helped lead the Celtics to their second championship when they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers. After getting dominated early in the series, the Celtics made a key defensive switch, putting Johnson on Magic Johnson. Not only did he help tame the Hall of Fame point guard, but DJ also scored better than 20 points in each of the last four games as the Celtics won in seven.
Johnson played seven seasons in Boston, winning two championships. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
No. 4: The Celtics send Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets for a boatload of picks
On paper, the trade doesn’t seem so one-sided, but this wasn’t handled on paper.
Knowing they were ready for a rebuild, Ainge sent an aging Kevin Garnett and an aging Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets, who were all in to win for the 2013-14 season. They also added Jason Terry and D.J. White.
In return, the Celtics received Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, and Kris Joseph, alone with first-round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018. The Celtics also had the right to swap first-round picks in 2017.
The picks were gold. The players the Celtics received were throw-ins. The draft picks in 2016 and 2017 turned out to be today’s cornerstones, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
No. 3: The Celtics pry Garnett away from the Minnesota Timberwolves
In the 2006-07 season, the Celtics struggled mightily. They went 24-58 after winning just 33 games the previous year.
Ainge knew he had to make a move. He made two. Ainge sent hot-shot prospect Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green, and two first-round draft picks for Garnett, who spent the last 12 seasons with Minnesota.
Ainge then traded for Ray Allen and Glen Davis, sending Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and Jeff Green to the Sonics.
While Garnett was the biggest addition, he, Allen, and Paul Pierce teamed up for Boston’s first Big Three since Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale. In their first year together, the Celtics won their first championship since 1986.
No. 2: Boston begins ’80s dynasty after a deal with the Golden State Warriors
The Celtics had the first pick in the 1980 NBA Draft. They also picked 13th. Auerbach pulled off a deal with the Golden State Warriors, sending both picks in exchange for center Robert Parish and the No. 3 pick. With the third pick, the selected Kevin McHale.
Parish and McHale teamed with Larry Bird throughout the ’80s, winning three championships and reaching the NBA Finals five times, including four straight from 1984 to 1987.
While the Warriors got a solid player in center Joe Barry Carroll with that first pick, Parish and McHale both had Hall of Fame careers and created an ’80s dynasty in Boston.
No. 1: The Celtics make a deal for Bill Russell
The chance for the Celtics to land Bill Russell in the 1956 NBA Draft seemed slim. The Rochester Royals owned the first pick, while the St. Louis Hawks picked second. In order for the Celtics to make a run at Russell, a significant deal would have to be made.
The Royals already had a big-time rebounder in Maurice Stokes, so they selected guard Si Green. The Hawks then drafted Russell, but they were intrigued by Boston’s Ed Macauley, a St. Louis native who was a six-time NBA All-Star and Boston’s best player.
The Hawks also wanted Cliff Hagan, and the teams eventually made the deal. The rest is history.
Russell went on to become one of the game’s all-time greats, winning 11 championships and capturing five MVPs.