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).
NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS!
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…
Our NBA Draft Lottery simulator is back, presented by Your New England Chevy Dealers.— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) May 10, 2019
Give it a shot & see if the Celtics could jump up to the #2 pick... https://t.co/x7iR8Tuw7A pic.twitter.com/AEtwy8Dk0B
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 …
Think I finally got the Celtics’ “Ultimate Jackpot Scenario” on our Lottery Simulator (https://t.co/BpZ7oC5zyu)— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) May 13, 2019
Celtics vault to 2, Grizzlies vault and keep pick, Pelicans vault and have even more incentive to build young team, Knicks drop to 5. Slight downside: Zion in East. pic.twitter.com/fdfB0BuWJk
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 …
I’d like to report a bug. pic.twitter.com/1rjtjvj7h2— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) May 10, 2019
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.
WHAT ELSE TO WATCH
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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