Ping pong balls in NBA Draft Lottery could dictate Celtics' summer

Ping pong balls in NBA Draft Lottery could dictate Celtics' summer

The Boston Celtics are no longer solely reliant on ping pong balls to dictate their future, but Tuesday night’s draft lottery could go a long way towards determining exactly how their summer will play out and how their roster might look next season.

There is potential for an unexpected boon, or a stunning stomach punch. The Celtics are in such a unique position that they are actively rooting against immediately acquiring a fourth first-round pick, one that would almost certainly be a top-10 selection.

Beyond their own selections, where the No. 1 pick lands could dictate, in part, whether Kyrie Irving comes back, or if another team can launch into the Anthony Davis sweepstakes.

The Celtics already know they will have picks Nos. 20 (via the Clippers) and 22 (their own). A look at how Tuesday night’s lottery impacts the other two picks in play:


Current slot: 14 … Chance at top 4: 4.8% … Chance at No. 1: 1.0%

The Celtics landed this pick from Philadelphia as part of the 2017 swap in which Boston dealt the No. 1 overall pick (later used on Markelle Fultz) for the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and the Kings’ 2019 first-round pick (top-1 protected).

Given the Kings’ seemingly perpetual rebuilding process, this seemed like a boon for Boston. Just look at Sacramento’s initial first-round draft location over the past decade (starting in 2009): 4, 5, 7, 5, 7, 8, 6, 8, 5, 2.

But then a (not-so?) funny thing happened. The Kings were good this season. They were young and entertaining. They almost snagged a playoff spot. They were, essentially, the best of the worst and slotted with the lowest lottery odds.

This is good and bad. Sacramento’s pick has just a one percent chance of vaulting to No. 1, in which case Philadelphia would retain it and instead deliver to Boston the Sixers’ own first-round pick (No. 24 overall).

Boston is hoping, though, to catch a little lottery luck with the 3.8 percent chance that Sacramento’s pick jumps to spots Nos. 2, 3, or 4.

What you’re watching for: When they start opening envelopes on Tuesday night, if the Kings (or Celtics, if they go that route) aren’t the first logo revealed, then the next 15 minutes or so will be filled with incredible anxiety as Celtics fans wonder where exactly that pick will slot in the Top 4.


Current slot: 8 … Chance at top 8: 57.4% … Chance at 9+: 42.6%

The Celtics landed this pick from Memphis as part of a three-team swap in 2015 involving Jeff Green. It might be Green’s only chance of being remembered fondly by Celtics fans (if only because he had the misfortune of being part of the deal that sent out the much-beloved Kendrick Perkins).

While a top-10 pick is nothing to sneeze at, the Celtics would much prefer this pick stick with Memphis this season. Not only do the Celtics already have three-first-round picks in hand — albeit, none as glitzy as the top-10 that Memphis could deliver — the Memphis pick’s protections loosen moving forward and could be an even glitzier asset moving forward.

There is some risk in that, however (see also: 2019 Kings pick). Still, with Memphis likely to be in rebuild mode for a bit, the pick might be more valuable to Boston in 2020 (top 6 protected) or 2021 (unprotected). 

What you’re watching for: If any of the six teams currently slotted behind Memphis vault into the top 4, then Boston will collect that pick as the Grizzlies will slip to 9 (or worse). Of course, if Kings vault to spots 2, 3, or 4, Boston fans can live with the early arrival of the Memphis pick as collateral damage.

Why would it help Boston if the Grizzlies pick didn't convey this season? That Memphis pick might be Boston’s glitziest non-player trade asset and could be a key piece in pursuing a known commodity (Davis or otherwise). The biggest fear would be that, should Boston collect the pick, and not find a way to move it before draft night, the team would have to draft another young player and that makes it slightly more difficult to complete a deal this summer (when the receiving team might not be as high on that player).


So how exactly will Tuesday’s lottery play out? You can get an idea of the possibilities by trying our 2019 NBA Draft lottery simulator… 

The Jackpot Scenario for the Celtics would involve vaulting to No. 2 with the Kings pick and having the Memphis pick leap somewhere in the top 4 as well. The odds of this happening are incredibly low, but, hey, it came up on one of our handful of spins on the simulator …

In this scenario, the Celtics would vault to No. 2, but the Grizzlies would vault as well, keeping their pick. New Orleans is the third team to vault, putting them in position to select a quality young player and maybe even more motivated to move Davis and go young. Even better, the Knicks slide to No. 5 and can’t add the sort of impact draft talent or make the big-splash move that might further entice Irving to consider them in free agency.

On the flip side, there is a Doomsday Scenario … 

Philadelphia, with just that 1 percent chance to vault to No. 1, connects on the Hail Mary and is able to add Zion Williamson to the core of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, making the Sixers a potential Eastern Conference wrecking ball for the foreseeable future.

What’s more, that Philly vault would force the Grizzlies’ pick to convey. Boston would be left with four first-round picks, but three of which are in spots Nos. 20-24.


Given the hype surrounding Williamson, the No. 1 pick is particularly valuable this season, either with the ability to build around him or trade that pick for more surefire talent. 

The Knicks, Cavaliers, and Suns have the best odds (14%) of landing in that spot. New York might be the worst possible option for Boston. That would leave the Knicks with a glitzy asset that could either be kept and used to entice someone like Irving to play alongside Williamson, or dealt as the centerpiece of a deal to acquire someone like Davis. Phoenix, too, with its recent collection of lottery talent and a high pick could potentially inject itself into the Davis conversation.

Even a Hawks vault makes things a bit more interesting in the East, particularly since Atlanta stands to collect a top-10 pick if Dallas doesn’t vault into the top 5. The Hawks would have a Williamson/Trae Young/Top-10 pick to build upon and could be a force down the road.

The new lottery odds and ability for teams to vault to Spots 1-4 instead of top 3 adds a new layer of intrigue to this year’s event, as do all the pick protections this year.

And the Celtics and their uncertain summer will be at the center of it all.

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Celtics hit encouraging injury report milestone entering Heat matchup

Celtics hit encouraging injury report milestone entering Heat matchup

The "hospital" Boston Celtics are no more.

The Celtics dealt with a steady stream of injuries throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, from Jaylen Brown's sprained ankle to Marcus Smart's various bumps and bruises to Kemba Walker's balky knee.

And while Walker's knee still keeps some C's fans up at night, the NBA's four-month layoff did wonders for the overall health of the squad.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Heat, which begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Want proof? The Celtics reported no injuries ahead of Tuesday's seeding-round matchup with the Miami Heat in Orlando. That's their third consecutive contest with a clean injury sheet -- their longest no-injury streak of the season, per 98.5 The Sports Hub's Brian Robb.

Walker was on a minutes limit for Boston's first two games in the bubble (19 minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks and 22 minutes versus the Portland Trail Blazers) so the Celtics still aren't at peak operation.

But key contributors Jayson Tatum, Brown, Smart and Gordon Hayward -- in addition to big men Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams -- are all available for head coach Brad Stevens, which was rarely the case during the pre-pandemic regular season.

If Walker can return to full strength by the end of the seeding round, we could see a fully-healthy C's squad in the postseason. (Yes, we just knocked on wood.) Considering they went 43-21 while battling a stream of injuries, it's no wonder why some believe the Celtics can make a deep playoff run in Orlando.

Celtics' challenging playoff path emerging with 3-seed all but ensured

Celtics' challenging playoff path emerging with 3-seed all but ensured

As the Eastern Conference playoff picture starts to come into focus, the Boston Celtics are staring at a daunting postseason path that reaffirms that the East is anything but the kid brother to the big, bad West.

The Celtics will soon be locked into the No. 3 spot in the East. Entering Tuesday’s game against a Miami Heat team on their tail, Boston owns a 92.6 percent chance of being the third seed, based on ESPN’s Basketball Power Index projections. A win against Miami would basically ensure the Celtics will not be caught by any of the teams behind them.

A head-to-head matchup with Toronto Friday could keep in play the quest for the No. 2 seed in play, but it’s an incredibly long shot with only a 5.6 percent chance entering Tuesday’s play.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Heat, which begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The question quickly becomes who will emerge as the No. 6 seed and pair with Boston in a first-round matchup. BPI projections have the Philadelphia 76ers as the strong favorite to land that spot (63.7 percent) with the Pacers (28.8 percent) and Heat (7.4 percent ) in the mix.

All of which means that Boston is staring at a possible Finals path of Philadelphia, Toronto, and Milwaukee — arguably the three other most talented teams in the conference.

Boston can feel relatively confident about their chances against the Bucks after Friday’s tilt in which the Celtics rallied out of a monster early hole and were one (or two?) overturned Giannis Antetokounmpo foul out(s) from escaping with a victory. What’s more, All-Star point guard Kemba Walker played only half his typical playoff minutes while on a minutes restriction (though the Bucks, it should be noted, were also without Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton).

The earlier rounds could be equally as daunting, however. The defending champion Raptors have opened seeding-game play by thumping the Los Angeles Lakers and holding off the Heat. Toronto could be the most disrespected defending league champ in league history the way most view their chances without Kawhi Leonard and yet the Raptors have a blend of talent, coaching, and experience that ought to make them a very undesirable playoff foe.

And then there’s Philadelphia. Maybe the most confounding team in the NBA. As talented as any of the top title contenders but lacking the consistency and chemistry of an elite squad, the 76ers forecast vacillates daily between early exit and title dark horse.

For the second time in as many games, Philadelphia nearly fumbled away another win on Monday night against the Spurs. In a meltdown against Indiana, Joel Embiid and Shake Milton got into a sideline shouting match but Milton responded Monday with a 16-point night that included hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds against San Antonio.

The helter-skelter nature of the 76ers makes it hard to gauge their true playoff potential. Will their misfit ways make them an easy first-round foe, or could they finally harness their talent and upset a top seed?

One thing is for sure, Philadelphia’s size really bothered Boston during the regular season. Walker and his teammates struggle to finish near the basket and simply getting clean perimeter looks was tough with Philadelphia’s overall length. The Sixers took the first three head-to-head matchups of the year against Boston before the Celtics emerged with a February win at TD Garden.

BPI projects Boston with a 67 percent chance to win a first-round series but remember that’s based on season results. The 76ers are far more talented than their performance to this point suggests.

Celtics Talk Podcast: How much does a healthy Kemba Walker raise the Celtics’ ceiling? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

There's a whole bunch of scoreboard watching coming for Celtics fans, a lot of whom would much prefer to see a dinged-up Indiana team slide to No. 6 than see what becomes of the Sixers.

So who ultimately emerges with that No. 6 seed?

Philadelphia’s schedule gives it a chance to climb. The Sixers play the Wizards, Magic, Blazers, and Suns in their next four games — three of those teams might not be making it out of seeding play and the other could be out of the playoffs real fast. The Sixers finish up against a Toronto team that should already have the No. 2 seed locked up before playing the Rockets.

Indiana opened seeding games with consecutive wins and, despite losing Domantas Sabonis to a foot injury and treading cautiously with Victor Oladipo’s knee, the Pacers have Malcolm Brogdon back now. Like Philadelphia, the Pacers' schedule remains agreeable with Orlando and Phoenix, then a showdown with a Lakers team that has already clinched the top spot in the West.

What’s interesting is two head-to-head matchups with Miami, including in the seeding-games finale, which could have big ramifications on how the 4-5-6 spots shake out in the East.

The bottom line is that, despite being one of the top squads in the East, nothing will come easy for Boston. While Milwaukee and Toronto should have first-round layups, the Celtics could have to grind. And the challenges will only grow with each round.

The Celtics need to get healthy — and stay healthy — then harness their own potential in order to thrive given the challenges ahead.