Are the Boston Celtics Set to Become the Lean Startup of the NBA?

July 1, 2013

For those of you not from the Boston area, last week was not the best time to be a local sports fan — and that is being generous.

On Monday, we endured a heartbreaking, last minute loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, and in the process handed over the Stanley Cup finals to the opposition. Strike one.
Mid-week we saw one of the most beloved head coaches in Celtics history opt out of his contract, jump ship, and sign on to coach the Los Angeles Clippers. Strike two.
Thursday night the final stroke of the hammer fell. Paul Pierce, the face of the Celtics franchise going on 12+ years, and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets after waving their no-trade clauses. What this means is that the Celtics will be in a rebuilding phase for the next few years and the playoffs will be an afterthought to say the least.
But as I sat thinking over all of these moves, searching for a light at the end of the tunnel it hit me — what all this activity really amounts to is the Celtics going into “startup mode” and positioning themselves to take on the sleepy incumbents of the NBA marketplace. This may just be wishful thinking on my end (and a way to cope with depression), but it does sort of make sense, and while it may take a few years to come to fruition, the pieces are already falling into place.

The New Lean Startup of the NBA

Basically the Celtics were at a crossroads. The way they were approaching their business and solving their on-court issues was not working, so they needed to find a way to be agile, pivot, and reposition themselves for long-term success. The entrenched, successful incumbents in San Antonio, Miami, Oklahoma were proving to be insurmountable given Boston’s current business model, so it was time for change. That started by asking what they could do differently to better leverage what advantages were to be had in the market.
For the Celts, that meant sacrificing short term wins in favor of accumulating young talent. They received numerous first round picks in the aforementioned trades, shed some salary, took on some expiring contracts and put a plan in place that, if executed well, should set them up nicely in the years to come.
Like I said, maybe this is wishful thinking on the part of an expansion-stage VC guy, but that’s all I can hang my hat on for now.

What do you think? Do the Celtics’ moves signal a chance to shift into lean, disruptive startup mode?


Brian is a Partner at OpenView where he is responsible for identifying and evaluating investment opportunities for the firm. He particularly enjoys assessing new markets/technologies and connecting with passionate founders.