Mike Zarren Rumors
When Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren came on the Tampering podcast with Denver general manager Tim Connelly in early September, the two executives discussed the unavoidable reality that front office executives will always miss the mark on some prospects. And the Celtics, Zarren explained, were still stinging from that choice to take Johnson over Butler. One is a five-time All-Star who has transformed this Heat team after signing with Miami in free agency in the summer of 2019, and the other played 36 games as a rookie (2011-12) before eventually heading overseas (he currently plays for Bayern Munich in the EuroLeague).
As Butler himself pointed out, though, there was sound reasoning for this choice. Johnson had the superior college career in his four seasons at Purdue, while Butler took the community college route before spending his final three seasons at Marquette.
“JaJuan Johnson had a tremendous college career,” Butler, who was taken by Chicago at No. 30 in that 2011 draft, told me when I asked if he was aware of the Celtics’ regret. “He probably did more in college than I ever dreamt of doing, and I hope he’s having a healthy career, wherever he is. But I don’t look at it like that, man. You don’t know. I got lucky. I fell into Chicago and turned into a player, and maybe if I’m (with the Celtics) I don’t pan out to be the player that I am. It’s funny how things work together to make something happen like that. I’m grateful for where I am, and I’m grateful for who did take me in the draft.”
Mike Zarren has been in the NBA long enough to realize that you’re not going to hit a home run with every draft pick. But he readily admits the 2011 draft is one that the Celtics whiffed on by not taking Butler. “The one that we talk about the most internally is Jimmy Butler and JaJuan Johnson,” Zarren said. “Every team has tons of these stories. We had it narrowed down to those two guys and picked the wrong one.” Zarren added, “We should have picked Jimmy and we didn’t.”
Folks often want to talk with Zarren about the 2013 NBA Draft when the Celtics traded up to select Kelly Olynyk and not Giannis Antetokounmpo, who went Milwaukee at No. 15 — two spots behind Boston taking Olynyk at No. 13. But as Zarren and several NBA executives pointed out then and afterwards, Antetokounmpo’s play in Greece gave very little insight into how he eventually grew into being a league MVP. “Look, I defy anyone to look at his statistics or his performance in Greece and learn that he was going to grow a bunch of inches and become the MVP of the league,” Zarren said. “I don’t think Milwaukee knew that either.” Zarren added, “I feel worse about the Jimmy one because we had it narrowed down to two guys.”
“The crazy thing about Kemba is that he might be the most normal person superstar in the NBA,” Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren said on the latest episode of the ‘Tampering’ podcast. “Kemba is just a regular guy who hoops at a level that the rest of us could never dream of, and it’s neat to see. “To get to be an elite, elite player in any sport, but particularly ours, you have to be dedicated to your craft in a way that really lends itself to extreme personalities. If you’re not so, so dedicated and so, so focused on something, you’re sort of a more normal person. You’re not likely to be successful at this level. (But) Kemba is just a regular guy who loves what he does.