The Rod Wave: Looking back on how Billy King became crucial to the rise of the Boston Celtics 

Reflecting on the rise of the Boston Celtics during the era of Billy King, and the key trades that caused it. Photo by

In 2023, the Boston Celtics stand as one of the strongest teams in the NBA, currently sitting at 41-16 in the Eastern Conference and being favored by many to return to the NBA Finals for a chance at another championship trophy.

However, for much of the last decade, it wasn’t like that for Boston. With barriers like the impenetrable force that is LeBron James and aging franchise stars like Paul Pierce, the team was never able to reach the NBA finals other than their lone appearance in 2010. So, it’s been quite a road back to this level of contention. 

But, the rise of Boston can be credited to one lone trade that gave the team two of their most crucial franchise cornerstones, and an NBA executive making what some consider the worst trade in NBA history. 

Back in 2013, Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was anxious to build a contending lineup in Brooklyn, a team that had recently relocated in 2012. With new additions to the team, highlighted by the move for all-star Joe Johnson, Brooklyn and GM Billy King were looking for more to put the team back into contention. 

King, in particular, had made some quite questionable moves that turned out to be disastrous in the future. While the acquisition of Deron Williams was huge for its time as the former Jazz guard was one of the most talented in the league, the Nets would lose out on the opportunity to draft talent like UConn legend Kemba Walker, sharpshooter Klay Thompson and multi-time champion Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 NBA Draft. King’s move for forward Gerald Wallace would give the Portland Trail Blazers the sixth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, which Portland would use to select one of the best guards in today’s NBA: Damian Lillard. To make matters worse, a minor trade for big man Troy Murphy would give the Golden State Warriors the 35th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, a pick that they’d use to select Draymond Green, one of the best defenders in the modern NBA. Despite all of these catastrophic moves, King had yet to top his list of poor trades until one fateful day during the offseason. 

Meanwhile, in Boston, things weren’t going so hot either. The Celtics had lost a playoff series in the first round to the New York Knicks in six games and Doc Rivers’ contract was eliminated. It was clear that the team was moving in a new direction. To the dismay of the Boston faithful, two of the fanbase’s favorite players, Pierce and big man Kevin Garnett, were not part of those future plans. 

On June 28, 2013, the premier moment of King’s basketball career would occur, and the start of Boston’s rebuild would as well. The final trade was ginormous, and the coverage around the move would be similar. Boston would send Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White, with Terry being a 2017 first round pick and White being a 2017 second round pick. However, Boston’s package would pale in comparison. It would include Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans: a 2014 first round pick, a 2016 first round pick, a 2017 first round pick swap and a 2018 first round pick. 

It seems unthinkable to believe that Brooklyn was regarded by many as the winners of this trade. While Pierce did average 18.6 points in 2013, he was still an aging star that would certainly only become worse as Father Time took his toll. Garnett too was reaching his final years in the NBA, but King simply didn’t care. It was time to go all out for an NBA championship, and both of the premier pieces in Boston’s package expressed the same. 

What followed was a pure catastrophe. The Nets never reached a championship level, and the attitude of the team, according to Pierce, was not positive. 

“It was just the guys’ attitudes there. It wasn’t like we were surrounded by a bunch of young guys. They were vets who didn’t want to play and didn’t want to practice. I was looking around saying, ‘What’s this?’ Kevin (Garnett) and I had to pick them up every day in practice. 

If me and Kevin weren’t there, that team would have folded up. That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day,” Pierce said in an interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. 

 In just two seasons, both Pierce and Garnett were gone. Brooklyn’s future was also gone, now located hundreds of miles away in Boston. While Boston’s 2014 first round pick would end up being a bust in James Young, their next two picks in 2016 and 2017 would be the two most talented players on today’s Celtics roster: Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Their 2018 pick would be crucial in a trade for superstar Kyrie Irving. If you add in the missed opportunity to draft both Lillard and Green, the team lost out on 17 all-star appearances between four of those players, even if you subtract Irving, as he’d join the Nets in 2019. 

That 2013 trade has proven how valuable trade picks are in the modern NBA. Basketball is an ever-changing world, and teams that once seemed like they couldn’t be stopped can crumble in a few moves. With that fall, those teams’ picks that they may have traded away become incredibly valuable, and could be the difference-makers for a franchise. However, in 2023, we’re seeing some potentially disastrous moves occur. 

While it’s completely reasonable to deal multiple picks for a once-in-a-generation type player like Kevin Durant, it’s another thing to deal multiple picks, whether it’s second-round or first-round picks, for less impactful players. Teams today need to look at the Nets tenure of King as a cautionary tale. Are you really willing to risk your future for picks, or do you want to keep those picks for a potential franchise star? 

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