John Havlicek spent 15 years in Boston Celtics uniform. Over those 15 years, he played in 1270 regular season games, scoring 26,395 points, more than anyone else in team history.
Only two men have been serious challengers to that crown. Larry Bird spent most of the 80’s tearing up that list. In fact, Bird has three of the top five single season scoring averages in Celtics history:
- Larry Bird: 29.9 (1987-88)
- John Havlicek: 28.9 (1970-71)
- Larry Bird: 28.7 (1984-85)
- Larry Bird: 28.1 (1986-87)
- John Havlicek: 27.5 (1971-72)
Unfortunately, injuries robbed us of a few more years of Bird. In 12 seasons, he climbed to second on the list with 21,791. He remains the Celtics leader in career points per game (24.3). Havlicek, in fact, is third on that list at 20.8.
The man in second was just traded to Brooklyn.
I was there when Paul Pierce passed Larry Bird for second on the all-time scoring list. It was rough night for Pierce with history clearly weighing on his mind. He kept adding onto that total for the next season and a half, settling at 24,021 for his Celtics career.
2375 of breaking Havlicek’s record.
For Pierce to have done that, he would have had to average 18 points over his next 132 games. He’d averaged a little more than that in the Kevin Garnett era, so we may have seen him pass Hondo in the 2014-15 season had he stayed in Boston.
But that’s not happening right now. Although the possibility exists of Pierce coming back and resuming his chase, we’re going to have to assume for now that he’s not.
Which means we may never see that record broken.
Let’s face it, this is a new era where guys just don’t play on the same team for their whole career anymore. Tim Duncan is the oldest active number one overall pick in the NBA. He was drafted in 1997. From 1997 to 2007, Duncan and Yao Ming are the only number one overall picks to remain with the team that’s drafted them (Derrick Rose was the first pick in 2008, and every pick since then has either been extended once, or is still on a rookie deal). Only 12 active players in the NBA are still with their original teams (Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dwyane Wade, Danny Granger, Anderson Varejao, Udonis Haslem, Nick Collison, Luol Deng, and Jameer Nelson), and there’s a good chance half of those guys might not retire with those original teams.
So as much as we may fall in love with guys like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Rajon Rondo, or anyone else, the odds of anyone on this team retiring a Celtic are low. And to break this record, a player has to step onto the parquet firing, and he can’t stop for about 15 years.
1200 games at just under 22 points per game will do it (Pierce played 1102, averaging 21.4 ppg). That’s about 14 and a half NBA seasons.
But no one plays every game for almost 15 years. There are injuries, games off, births of children, illnesses, lockouts, and whatever else that force missed game. If a guy managed to play 75 games a year, it would take 16 seasons at 22 ppg to break the record. Pierce, a very durable player by NBA standards, has played in 73.5 games per season. He endured two lockouts and one injury-riddled season in the alleged tank year of 2007. So taking that into account, a player would either have to average more than 22 ppg over 15 to 16 seasons, or he’d have to be the most durable player ever.
People will point to Andrew Wiggins as one of the guys who could come in as a 19 year-old (he’d turn 20 mid-season), average big points, and do it until he’s about 36 years-old. It’s possible he could do it. Obviously, there’s a lot of luck involved to (a) get a guy like him in the draft, (b) have him pan out and become a mega-star, and (c) stay with your team long enough to become an all-time leader in something. If the current CBA continues along its current path, it will make retaining stars in the future more difficult financially.
Today’s luxury tax is so punitive that we’ll very likely see more superstars traded away after a team falls out of contention so a team can acquire cheaper assets and draft picks while getting under the tax line. Guys who are getting the “Derrick Rose Rule” extension (like Rose, or Kevin Durant) take up SO much of the team’s payroll that it really is difficult to justify keeping them later in their careers if the team falls out of contention. And those guys also face the possibility of chasing titles if it works out that they haven’t been able to get one on their original teams.
There are all sorts of factors that didn’t exist 10 years ago that make it much more difficult for a player to stay in one city for his whole career. Unless that changes, the chances of someone coming along and being good enough, and playing long enough, to challenge Hondo’s 26,395 points dwindle. And now that Paul Pierce is gone, the chances are really good that your grand children will still be asking the same question… Will anyone break John Havlicek’s scoring record.