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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Bill Russell posts touching tribute to late, former NBA commissioner David Stern

Bill Russell posts touching tribute to late, former NBA commissioner David Stern

Former NBA commissioner David Stern passed away earlier this month after dealing with complications following a mid-December brain hemorrhage. On Tuesday, a memorial service was held one of the NBA's biggest off-the-court legends.

Many former stars honored Stern's life and legacy on Tuesday. And among them was 11-time NBA champion Celtics center Bill Russell.

Russell posted a touching tribute to Stern on his Twitter account late Tuesday night: 

It's clear that Stern meant a lot to the Celtics legend. His legacy will surely be carried by former and current players alike.

Stern is widely credited with the globalization of the NBA and is responsible for the construction of the league today. The Basketball Hall of Famer helped found the WNBA, the NBA G League, expanded the NBA's digital presence and established NBA Cares, an NBA social responsibility initiative in his 30 years in charge of the NBA.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Grizzlies-Celtics, which begins Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

As Grizzlies arrive on rise, the value of their pick for Celtics falls

As Grizzlies arrive on rise, the value of their pick for Celtics falls

The Memphis Grizzlies, improbably in playoff position at the midpoint of the 2019-20 season, make their lone visit to Boston on Wednesday night. Every flashy Ja Morant crossover or loud Jaren Jackson slam will be a painful reminder of how Memphis’ unexpected rise has diminished the value of the future first-round pick they still owe the Celtics.

The Grizzlies' pick, obtained by Boston in January 2015, once seemed destined to become a glitzy unprotected 2021 selection. At various times, it’s seemed untouchable or, at very worst, the prize gem in any big-splash move the Celtics might make to enhance their roster.

Instead, the Grizzlies jumped on the rebuilding accelerator and, suddenly, the value of that Memphis pick is very much in flux. Winners of seven of their past eight, the Grizzlies currently sit eighth in the West and are more likely to convey a pick in the teens this season, barring a lottery-night vault.

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The Memphis pick is top-six protected this year, meaning it conveys to Boston if it lands at No. 7 or worse in this year’s draft. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the pick currently has only an 11.3 percent chance of slotting in spots 1-6. If the Grizzlies make the postseason, the pick would be no better than 15th overall but even a second-half slide might not push it below double digits. A pick can vault into the top four spots under the new lottery format and teams are slotted by order of finish after that.

This is less than ideal for the Celtics, if only because of the value the pick would have otherwise held this summer if it had rolled over to 2021 and become unprotected. Even if the Grizzlies projected as a legitimate playoff contender, the unpredictability of an NBA season would have kept the value high.

What’s more, the tepid outlook on the 2020 draft class could further diminish the overall value of a conveyed pick. Don’t misconstrue, it’s still a luxury for the Celtics to have another potential lottery selection in their possession and the opportunity to add more cost-controlled talent to a top-heavy cap sheet could aid the team’s quest to be a long-term contender.

Still, these Celtics are already trying to figure out where 2019 first-round picks Romeo Langford (14th) and Grant Williams (22nd) fit with this team. And what will become of 2018 first-rounder Robert Williams once healthy? All of this year’s rookies have had encouraging moments but, as the lopsided win over the Lakers on Monday night showed, the rookies probably don’t project for big roles in Boston’s playoff rotation.

So, the lingering question with the Grizzlies pick is whether Boston would be better served to use it as a trade asset — whether that’s in-season this year to pursue additional veteran help, or over the summer when they might have more glaring needs to fill.  Remember, too, the Celtics already have two other first-round picks in the 2020 draft — their own, currently projected at No. 23, and the Bucks’ pick, currently projected at No. 30.

The Celtics learned the hard way how fast draft picks can shift in value. In between all the Nets picks — which Boston hit home runs by drafting Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but whiffed on mid-round pick James Young — and Griz pick there was the much-ballyhooed Kings pick. Much like the Grizzlies this year, Sacramento made an unexpected charge at the playoffs last season and Boston settled for the No. 14 pick in the 2019 draft that they used to select Langford.

Could the Celtics have sold higher? Maybe. It certainly had more value in the summer before it conveyed when the Kings tied for the sixth-worst NBA record at 27-55. Adding insult to injury, the Kings have reverted to a pumpkin this year, and now sit tied for the second-worst record in the West.

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If nothing else, the Kings pick should encourage Boston to at least consider the idea of moving the Grizzlies pick should an intriguing deal emerge — or at least one in which Boston's two late first-round picks wouldn’t be enough to make it happen. Ultimately, the Celtics played the long game with the Grizzlies pick and will be rewarded one way or another — maybe just not as handsomely as they once hoped.

A roster-churning Celtics squad originally landed the pick in 2015 after dealing Jeff Green to Memphis as part of a three-team swap that also brought back Tayshaun Prince and Austin Rivers. The pick, dealt when the Grizzlies were in the midst of a 55-win season, had enough protections to make it a very low-risk maneuver for Memphis. But then the team’s Grit-and-Grind era ended sooner than anticipated and an uncertain rebuild arrived. It looked like the pick could very well convey as unprotected in 2021.

Instead, Morant has muscled his way into being the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award and morphed Memphis from a 20-win projection to a team pushing the Spurs for the final spot in the West.

This is the first of two matchups between the Celtics and Grizzlies this season. Boston can help its own draft cause with a win. That Memphis pick might never be as sexy as it once was but it’s still a key asset for the Celtics in shaping their roster moving forward.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Grizzlies-Celtics, which begins Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.