Painful Reminders (Part I): The Celtics Drafted JaJuan Johnson Instead of Jimmy Butler
Posted by Brendan Jackson on May 15, 2013
On June 23rd, 2011, Brian Robb and I stood around a high top bar table in Tommy Doyle’s in Kendall Square. Before us lay one of the biggest mounds of buffalo chicken wings I had ever endeavor to make disappear. These 25 cent flappers- one of the few indulgences afforded to the participants of our recreation basketball league- were to be enjoyed over the course of the next two hours while we waited to find out the identity of the newest member of the Boston Celtics.
We sat there, sucking meat off bone and gulping down pitchers of cheap domestic, waiting with immense anticipation. We were both pulling for the Celtics to draft an athletic but undersized power forward from Morehead State named Kenneth Faried. The Celtics had been absolutely dreadful on the glass during the 2010-2011 season and Faried had spent his final collegiate season putting Windex out of business.
It was a perfect fit, really. The C’s were drafting late in the first round, Faried played for a small school, was undersized, and a relative unknown. It was likely that Faried would be snapped up prior to the C’s pick, but seeing the soon-to-be-called Manimal in green was definitely a possibility worth pulling for.
As the big names started to go to their expected destinations, my stomach started to churn like a bonnet-wearer holding a dasher-staff at Sturbridge Village. I couldn’t tell if it was my assumption that Faried would be gone by the time the Celtics picked or the buffalo/beer mess coagulating in my lower intestine. Whatever it was, it was going to be my 2011 NBA Draft companion.
With the 22nd pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets select Kenneth Faried, forward, Morehead State.
We had wanted Faried but we had backups. There was our hometown hero Reggie Jackson that lit up our Alma Mater for three years. The Celtics didn’t need a point guard so seeing Jackson go right before the Celtics’ pick was, again, okay. The other two guys on our short list, JaJuan Johnson and Jimmy Butler, were still available.
With the 25th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics select Marshon Brooks, guard, Providence College.
Meh. Brooks was a relative unknown even locally for his first two years at PC before starting to gain national attention by being able to really pour it on. While it was true that the Celtics could have used a future scoring threat, neither Robb nor I were completely wowed by Brooks.
After the pick, we went back to plowing through the plate of delicious chicken/buffalo/blue-cheese goo. We still had a third of it to go when we saw on the scrolling news ticker that the C’s had traded Brooks’ rights to New Jersey for the rights to JaJuan Johnson.
Alright! Johnson was 6’10″, athletic, and looked poised to become the next Kevin Garnett protege. A few picks later, the Chicago Bulls unsurprisingly took Jimmy Butler but at that point, it didn’t matter. The Celtics had chosen the CelticsHub pick. We were hoping for Faried, but didn’t really think he’d be available. All that mattered was that the Celtics were getting younger, bigger, and more athletic.
* * *
It’s now May 6th, 2013 and I’m watching a second year veteran Jimmy Butler score 21 points, snag 14 rebounds, and spend 48 minutes defending the world’s best player. At the same time, JaJuan Johnson is somewhere trying to decide which DLeague sweatpants to throw on so he can return his Redbox copy of “Jack Reacher.”*
There are a million cliches that reassure me that I shouldn’t feel bad about this. The truth is, however, the Celtics are facing some tough questions this offseason. Many of these questions are the result a singular decision in the past. In this case, drafting Jimmy Butler instead of JaJuan Johnson may have affected the amount of money and years thrown at Jeff Green. Or the decision to go all out in trying to secure Courtney Lee. Or Doc Rivers having to completely run Paul Pierce into the ground this season/post-season.
The Bulls’ season is likely coming to end an end. If not tonight, then surely in their next game. Despite the anguish that accompanies losing to Miami in the playoffs, the Bulls have the comfort of knowing that they have an outright gem on their hands. He’s quiet, he confident, he plays with energy, efficiency, and can really defend. He may never be a star, but he’s definitely the type of player who is essential to a championship team.
There were other players (Norris Cole, Chandler Parsons, Isaiah Thomas) drafted after Johnson that have already seen success in this league, but none felt as personal as Butler. Butler was my second realistic choice next to Johnson.
Again, there are so many moments when you could say, “what if…” That doesn’t mean watching Butler play so well doesn’t stoke the fiery jealously raging within me.**
*In his defense, he has three team’s from this season alone to choose from.
**Could very well be residual from the buffalo wings.