12.04.2012

10 Auerbachian Coups



Funny thing about Red Auerbach and his numerous coups: Da Cooz was not one of da coups.

Nope, Red can't deny it. He wanted Andy Phillip. He wanted Max Zaslofsky. He wanted 7 1-8. He wanted anything that was in that famous hat on that fateful day back in 1950 rather than the rights to Robert Joseph Cousy, a college hot shot whom Auerbach believed to be too much a fancy-pants kind of player.

But over the next three decades, there would be many true Auerbachian heists. Time after time, Auerbach made a move that either (a) no one understood or (b) no one else thought of, and with those maneuvers, he built the longest-running dynasty in NBA history.

So numerous were the Auerbach coups, in fact, that they can be divided into two categories, the Major Coups and the Basic Everyday Coups. Do keep in mind, however, that over the years, Red had significant accomplices such as Walter Brown, Bill Fitch and Jan Volk. Still, without the Auerbach aura hovering over the franchise, none of the noted Celtic thefts would have been possible.



(1) Let's start with No. 6.

The first and greatest Auerbach coup remains the pursuit of Bill Russell, the foundation of all Celtic on-court success for the last 35 years.

The plain truth is that only Red Auerbach possessed the requisite vision to comprehend what Bill Russell might mean to a professional team. "I do have a recollection of Arnold coming to me in December 1955 and saying, `I think we're going to get a guy at center who's going to turn us around,"' says Cousy. "And that was at a time when the jury was out as to whether or not Russell would make it in this league."

With the aid of owner Walter Brown, Auerbach plotted and schemed. He got St. Louis away from the Russell trail by trading Ed Macauley and the rights to Cliff Hagan. He eliminated Rochester by persuading Brown to barter with Rochester owner Lester Harrison, to whom Brown steered a lucrative Ice Capades gig in exchange for the latter avoiding Russell in the draft. With the hindsight of 11 NBA Russell-inspired championships, we now know how shortsighted the others were, compared to Auerbach.

Wonder if Portland (Mychal Thompson), Kansas City (Phil Ford), Indiana (Rick Robey), New York (Micheal Ray Richardson) or Golden State (Purvis Short) would like their draft picks back? That is, unless you think Larry Bird wasn't worth waiting a year for.

(3) Joe Barry for Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

With the No. 1 pick in the 1980 draft, Red and Bill Fitch ensured a happy Celtic decade by trading that choice and the No. 13 spot they also held to Golden State for four-year (disappointing) veteran Parish and the third pick in the draft, which became McHale. No. 1 was Joe Barry Carroll, a k a Mr. Lethargic. No. 13 turned out to be Rickey Brown (still toiling in Europe).

Is "swindle" too strong a word?

(4) Dave Who?

Cowens, Dave Cowens. The guy was never seen on TV or in the NCAA tournament because Florida State was on probation, so vox pop uli was not tuned into him the way they were Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich, Rudy Tomjanovich or many others in the celebrated Class of 1970.

Red traveled to scout Cowens in a game at the University of Dayton. The game hardly began when Auerbach put on his coat because he had seen what he came to see. "I only stayed five minutes," he later recalled, "and I made a big scene when I left so people would think I was disgusted."

Center? Forward? Red wasn't sure. He just knew he had seen a Celtic.

(1) Red listens to Bones.

When in doubt, Red asked old buddies (often ex-players of his) for draft recommendations. In 1957, L Bones McKinney pitched Red a 6-foot-4-inch guard from little-known (to white people, anyway) North Carolina College by the name of Sam Jones. The Celtics could use Sam Jones today, and so what if he's 60 (honest-to-God) years old?

(2) Red drafts John Havlicek.

Hey, Jerry Lucas was the Ohio State Big Cheese, not John Havlicek.

(3) What does he want with Don Nelson?

In 1965, Red heeded the advice of Tom Heinsohn and picked up this ex-Chicago Zephyr and ex-Laker. No. 19 now hangs from the Garden rafters.

(4) Right, Mel Counts and who else?

Nobody else. Red traded Mel Counts to the Baltimore Bullets for Bailey Howell. Two more titles soon followed.

(5) Hey, weren't you supposed to be Private White?

To this day, no one knows how it was done, but Red managed to get Jo Jo White, a 1-A Uncle Sam draft choice, into the Marine Reserves, and thus into his lineup after at least seven teams passed up the Kansas star in the 1969 draft because they figured he'd be saluting for the next two years.

(6) Let's take Charlie Scott and see what happens.

In the 1970 draft, Red took Charlie Scott in Round 7, even though the skinny North Carolina guard alL ready had signed with the ABA. Two years later, Red used his Scott draft rights to secure Paul Silas from Phoenix and thus guarantee champ ionships Nos. 12 (1974) and 13 (1976).

(7) Three strikes and the rest of the NBA is out.

Danny Ainge told the world he was sticking with baseball. Red drafted him in the 1981 second round, and suddenly, Danny wasn't so sure. Funny how that worked.

(8) But wasn't DJ supposed to be a problem child?

Many folks said Dennis Johnson wasn't Red's type. But how could Red pass up Rick Robey for DJ? Now the No. 3 is up there and DJ is holding a clipboard on the bench.

(9) Hold it. Bill Walton's a little, you know, fragile.

Ultimately, yes. But Red traded Cedric Maxwell for the redhead, and in the 1985-86 season, Walton did all the preseason two-a-days, then missed just one practice and two games. The Celtics won 67 games and Walton won the Sixth Man Award. And the Celtics won their 16th, and last, title.

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