Have the Celtics Weaseled Their Way to Another Championship?

Have the Celtics Weaseled Their Way to Another Championship?

Isaiah Thomas

SourceMaddie Meyer / Getty

Why you should care

Because Markelle vs. Lonzo could be Magic & Bird 2.0.

The Boston businessman looked out of place onstage in New York City, flanked by the NBA’s most recent cult hero and an icon of the game. But on Tuesday night, at the 2017 NBA draft lottery, Wyc Grousbeck bested Joel Embiid, Magic Johnson and 11 other team representatives — in a random drawing of Ping-Pong balls, at least.

The Celtics’ CEO kissed his 2008 championship ring and let out a deep sigh when the Los Angeles Lakers were drawn at No. 2. “It felt just like winning Game 7 last night,” Grousbeck told reporters. “This is a good time to be a Celtics fan.” By winning the top pick in the NBA draft lottery, Boston becomes the first team to finish with the best record in a conference and pick first overall since:

1982,
when the defending champion Lakers drafted James Worthy with the No. 1 pick.

A mere coin flip between the league’s two worst teams used to determine the top picks of the NBA draft. Having received Cleveland’s 1982 first-rounder in exchange for Don Ford in a 1979 trade, the Lakers became the first and only champion to pick first. In hindsight, that trade was one of the most lopsided in NBA history. Worthy found immediate success, winning three titles in 12 seasons with Los Angeles; he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. Meanwhile, Cleveland released Ford in 1982 — he never played again in the NBA.

Boston’s tortured history with the lottery dates to 1997, when, despite overwhelming odds to win the first pick, they slipped to No. 3, missing on Tim Duncan. Now, Boston general manager Danny Ainge has a chance to capitalize on another lopsided NBA trade. In 2013, Ainge sent star veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for three first-round picks and the rights to this year’s first-rounder. Brooklyn, the NBA’s worst team this season, morphed into a doormat almost immediately.

With a 53-29 regular season record and the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, Boston appears one star away from another championship run. The Celtics will likely draft Markelle Fultz, Washington’s consensus super freshman, but don’t hand the C’s a title just yet. LeBron James’ Cavaliers — the second-seeded Eastern Conference team — are unbeaten in the playoffs and lead Boston 1-0 in the conference finals.

No matter how great you are, finding a place that allows you to play to your strengths is most important.

Kenny Smith, NBA analyst, Turner Sports

Boston’s guard-heavy roster would certainly be better complemented if Ainge drafted, say, a dominant power forward, but this year’s deep crop of point guard prospects — Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and France’s Frank Ntilikina, among others — are safer bets. Still, Turner Sports NBA analyst Kenny Smith believes that, sometimes, a player’s organizational fit is more essential. “No matter how great you are, finding a place that allows you to play to your strengths is most important,” Smith tells OZY.

For Fultz to fit, Boston will likely move one of two veteran guards — Avery Bradley or Isaiah Thomas — neither of whom will command much in return since teams are reluctant to send assets to Boston that will only make the Celtics stronger. Ainge is no stranger to draft-day trades. It could benefit Boston to move down in the draft, sending the top pick to Philadelphia, perhaps, for forward Dario Saric and the third pick. After all, since Michael Jordan’s rookie year, No. 3 has been a fruitful commodity, earning 52 percent more All-Star appearances (64 to 42) than No. 2 picks since 1984.

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