If you went into the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday night clinging to the tiny hope that the Celtics would vault to spots No. 2, 3, or 4, with the Sacramento Kings’ pick, your lottery night soured almost immediately when Boston came up in the first envelope revealed, locking them into that No. 14 selection delivered from the Kings.
But here’s the thing: Draft night could have gone a lot worse for the Celtics.
The Memphis Grizzlies vaulted into the top 4, meaning the pick they owe the Celtics will roll into future drafts where it might be even glitzier than the No. 9 selection the team would have otherwise delivered this season.
And, more importantly, both the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, maybe Boston’s primary competition in the Anthony Davis pursuit, both missed out on the No. 1 pick despite landing top spots, keeping Boston alive in a sweepstakes that’s gotten a bit more competitive.
The New Orleans Pelicans — Davis’ current squad — vaulted from the seventh-best odds to secure the No. 1 overall selection. They will be able to select Zion Williamson and usher in an exciting youth movement that might make it even easier to move on from Davis following his trade request last season.
The Athletic reported Tuesday night that Davis’ stance on desiring a trade has not changed, which suggests the Pelicans will have to reassess potential offers and the Celtics still have maybe the deepest treasure chest of assets if they are willing to pay a ransom to make a deal.
Without question, the Knicks and Lakers added shiny new pieces that could help their own quests, but Boston has maybe the best blend of proven young talent and picks. Alas, it only matters what new Pelicans GM David Griffin thinks of the respective stashes.
Even with Memphis vaulting, the short-term outlook on that pick seems encouraging. The Grizzlies can draft Ja Morant and go full rebuild mode if they move Mike Conley’s bloated contract. It would still take some time for them to turn things around. That pick remains top-6 protected in 2020 before becoming unprotected in 2021.
The big bullet dodged by the Celtics is with the Knicks.
If New York had won the lottery, it would have been an absolute disaster for Boston. New York would have possessed the golden Zion ticket to extract Davis from New Orleans, all while still being able to recruit both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for a full-fledged super team. The Knicks are still a threat to lure Irving away but, if New York had positioned itself for both Durant and Davis, it would have made the pull that much stronger for Irving.
The Knicks might still have the assets to make New Orleans think but Boston will at least have a chance to be in the bidding, something that wouldn’t have happened if New York landed Williamson.
The Lakers have the No. 4 pick but in a draft where the focus, at least coming out of lotto night, is on the top 3 players (Williamson, Morant, RJ Barrett). It would seem Boston would still be ahead of Los Angeles if they were willing to offer some combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and that Grizzlies pick.
The big thing is that Boston is simply in that conversation. In those three awkward minutes before envelopes Nos. 1-4 were unveiled, there was the chance that one of Boston’s offseason paths would be completely closed off.
There are still boxes to check before Boston even navigates that path. Much of how Boston proceeds hinges on Irving’s desire to return. And, if he does, how much pressure can he put on the organization to go all in on a Davis pursuit?
The first domino has fallen now with lottery night in the rear-view mirror. Could it have gone better? Sure. But it could have been a lot worse for Boston.
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