Fine times here in New England. When winter begins to fade, we will have a spring like no other in recent memory. Simultaneously, all four major Boston teams seem like legitimate threats for a championship.
Anyone else feel a draft?
Professional executives say it all the time, of course. You build from within. Boston is now living proof. From the Red Sox to the Patriots to the Celtics to the Bruins, the last five to 10 years has produced an influx of talent. Boston’s draft strategy has produced everyone from Tom Brady and Jon Lester to Phil Kessel and Kevin Garnett, the last acquired with the “chips” Celtics GM Danny Ainge so dutifully collected through the draft.
Let’s start with the Red Sox. Though general manager Theo Epstein did not take over until the fall of 2002, the current Sox administration assumed control before that season. While Mike Port served as interim general manager, David Chadd was the director of scouting, and Epstein was a front-office assistant. That summer, with the very first selection of the John Henry Era, the Red Sox grabbed Lester with their first selection, albeit in the second round.
A year later, Epstein plucked a group of players in the first five rounds that included David Murphy (now with the Texas Rangers) and Jonathan Papelbon. In the first four years of Henry’s ownership, the Red Sox’ initial selections in each draft were Lester, Murphy, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, each of whom already has made a mark in the major leagues.
And in 2005, entirely with compensatory selections for the departures of free agents Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera following the 2004 season, the Red Sox’ first five selections in the draft were Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, and Michael Bowden.
Now let’s move to football, in which good drafts are more critical than in perhaps any other sport. Turnover in the game demands it, particularly in the salary cap era. Unlike the current Sox administration’s, Bill Belichick’s first pick — the dreaded Adrian Klemm — was entirely forgettable, though the same draft produced Tom Brady (jackpot) in the sixth round. Over the next five years, Pats drafts produced Richard Seymour, Daniel Graham, Deion Branch, Jarvis Green, Ty Warren, Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and Matt Cassel. Branch won a Super Bowl MVP award. Most of the others have been to the Pro Bowl.
Which brings us to the here and now.
If you’re looking for perhaps the biggest reason the Pats haven’t won a Super Bowl in four years — oh, the horror — here it is: They have come up relatively dry in the draft. Though the 2007 class effectively produced Randy Moss and Wes Welker — drafts can be used for the benefit of trading, too — the last three New England drafts have been lame in comparison to their immediate predecessors. Belichick’s only surefire hits during that span are Stephen Gostkowski and Jerod Mayo, which means there have been an awful lot of misses.
Which brings us to Danny Ainge.
The NBA being the NBA, rebuilding in the short term is virtually impossible without the benefit of a franchise selection in the top three picks of the draft. Ainge took the patient approach. After orchestrating a draft-day swap to acquire Marcus Banks (ugh) just a month into his tenure, Ainge got hot. His next three drafts produced, in varying capacities, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Delonte West, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Rajon Rondo, and Sebastian Telfair (through trade). When the Celtics then ended up with the No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft, Ainge effectively dealt all of those players (excluding Allen) and the No. 5 pick (Jeff Green) for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Celtics history was forever altered.
All of this ultimately brings us to the Bruins, who had some astonishingly unproductive drafts from 1998 through 2002. Unsurprisingly, the product on the ice suffered. Then-general manager Mike O’Connell’s decision to trade away center Joe Thornton, the B’s first selection (No. 1 overall) in the 1997 draft, only magnified the team’s ineptitude in drafts. What many neglected to realize at the time was that the move was born out of desperation, because the Bruins had drafted so poorly in the five years immediately after Thornton’s selection.
Not long after, O’Connell was out and Peter Chiarelli was in, bringing a familiar philosophy with him:
In the immediate aftermath of the historic NHL work stoppage, the Bruins did start rebuilding with two major free-agent signings, Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard, and the team struggled badly in that tandem’s first season. Nonetheless, very early on in his tenure with the team, Chiarelli made an impact in the draft — anyone detecting a pattern here? — when he selected Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic. His subsequent drafts are too recent to rate. Nonetheless, the Bruins now appear headed in the right direction again, if for no other reason than that they learned to follow the crowd.
“There’s nothing magic about this,” Chiarelli told the Globe in December. “You’ve got to go out and beat the bushes for the players, make sure people are on the same page internally and on the ice and grind it out. It’s hard to do that Celtics-type trade [that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007 and revitalized the franchise]. You can’t do that in hockey.”
Actually, as the San Jose Sharks proved when they acquired Thornton, you can.
But as is the case in any season, you need a steady flow of players to do it.
Tony Massarotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti