Coming into the 2018 season, the Boston Celtics were probably an average to above average team in terms of likability among NBA fans outside of Boston. After capturing the hearts of Boston as well as most of the NBA, the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas over the offseason, which definitely hurt their likability rating. They also picked up Kyrie Irving, which most likely increased their likability, unless you're a Cavs fan, of course. Outside of Cleveland, most appreciate Kyrie's mindset of wanting to play on a team without LeBron, and few certainly hold that against him. The acquisition of Gordon Hayward also helped the Celtics' reputation with the general NBA fan, as the story of a top-tier NBA player signing a max-contract with his former college coach is an all-around feel-good story. It should also be noted that most people would say Hayward didn't have any sort of ties to the Utah Jazz, or "owe them anything" so to speak, so few outside Utah had a problem with his decision to join Boston.
Then the first quarter of the first game of the season happened, and Gordon Hayward was out for the year:
If you were watching that Cavs Celtics game as neither a Cavs nor Celtics fan, I'll ask you this: Who did you root for the rest of the game? Exactly. The answer was obviously Boston, and now you see how immediately following Hayward's injury, the Celtics' likability shot through the roof. This was a team that was supposed to have a legitimate chance to win a title, and now their second best player has suffered one of the worst sports injuries in recent memory in the first game of the season. Through the basic human emotion of sympathy, Boston gained a ton of new fans.
The Celtics lost the first game of the year, and the second against the Bucks, so everyone was feeling bad for Boston. They had no shot to win a title. Their season was over. What do they do next? They win 16 straight games to take over the best record in the NBA at the time. As Mike Breen would say, "Bang!" Likability shoots way up yet again. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and this is exactly what the Celtics were this year. If they were to make the playoffs and make a deep playoff run after losing Gordon, that would be the most impressive story of the NBA season by far, and everyone was rooting for it.
Then Kyrie goes down. Here we go again. Say goodbye to the season, to any chance at beating LeBron, winning a title, or even making a run in the playoffs. They were too young, had no experience, were banged up, and simply didn't have enough talent to compete. They were seen as underdogs to the Bucks in the first round, and if not, they were expected to be blown out by the Sixers in the Eastern Conference semifinals,a foregone conclusion.
Well, they would pull off more than that, way more than that, and they'd take the Cavs to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals behind breakout playoff performances by virtually every Celtics player that everyone doubted. There may never have been a more likable NBA underdog than the Celtics were this year.
And that is where the Boston Celtics stand. The sympathy factor combined with the extreme overachievement of their young players have put the Celtics in the position as one of the most likable, popular teams in the NBA. But that could all change over the offseason.
The Boston #Celtics “Loved” what they saw from Duke Grayson Allen in his pre draft workout.— Celtics Direct (@CelticsDirect) June 11, 2018
Danny Ainge on Allen: “When you watch him play, you see this fluidity and smoothness that not to many players have. His character is exactly what we want here.” pic.twitter.com/ZgZZZ1VXfP
Uh oh. Grayson Allen. One of the most universally hated college basketball players in recent memory. Once suspended indefinitely (turned out to only be one game) by his own school after being caught trying to intentionally trip opposing players for the third time in the same year. His reputation on the court is so bad that he actually has his own five-minute YouTube compilation of dirty plays throughout his college career:
On top of all that, he also plays for the most historically hated college basketball team there is, Duke. So when Danny Ainge says, "his character is exactly what we want here" he's either trolling the media/fans, or he hasn't watched a Duke basketball game in the last four years, which seems unlikely considering his phenom rookie Jayson Tatum and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving are both Duke alums.
So here's a riddle for you, Danny, how do you take your group of lovable underdogs and All-Star players from the most likable NBA team in the league to one of the most hated? You draft the most hated college player since Laettner from the most hated college basketball team in the NCAA. Pretty simple.
But wait, there's more:
Summer of LeBron: Part 3.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 11, 2018
May the odds be ever in your favor. pic.twitter.com/gfD7hUhepX
After Kyrie supposedly leaves Cleveland to get away from LeBron, there's now talk of Boston trying to pursue LeBron in the offseason. Danny ... the same guy who you took to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, who has been haunting your playoff dreams since 2012, who has probably the most drama surrounding him of any NBA player in history, you want him on this team? This team that was one game away from the NBA Finals against LeBron's very team without Kyrie and Gordon? It's just a recipe for disaster.
But maybe that's not what Ainge cares about. Maybe he cares about winning and only winning. Why else would he trade Paul Pierce, why else would he trade Kevin Garnett, why else would he trade Isaiah Thomas? Celtics fans were absolutely devastated in all of those trades, and rightfully so, but ask them today how that worked out for the Celtics as a franchise. They turned out to be incredibly successful moves by the ingenious Trader Danny, and there's no saying he won't make another insanely unpopular move this offseason if he thinks it will give him a better chance to win.
There's no doubting Lebron is a top-two player in NBA history, and there's no doubting Grayson Allen has the chance to be a great NBA player, and Ainge is very aware of those two facts. But there's also no doubting that if those moves were to be made, the Celtics would become one of the most villainous teams in the NBA. Maybe Danny is aware of that, too. And maybe Danny doesn't care.