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Thursday, 06 March 2014 18:11

Can the Boston Celtics Win the Lottery By Losing It?

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Not having the option of a high draft pick benefited the Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics in 2007.  Could that be the case once again?


Throughout this excruciating season for the Boston Celtics, there has been an ongoing bitchfest between two sides of Celtics fans.

“The tankers” want the team to lose as many games as possible.  They want to play the young guys under any circumstances, banishing veteran players to the end of the bench or to free agency in hopes that the young players would gain experience while the team would continue to lose games.

The anti-tankers (I’m sorry, I can’t think of a creative name for this group) do not want Boston to cheat the system.  Even if the team were to lose (and lose the Celtics have this year), maintaining a culture of competitiveness and seriousness is far too important.  Whoever gets to see the floor to play has to earn it through hard work in practice and a dedication to winning and teamwork on the court.

Like much of American society, there’s no in-between.  You have two choices.  Paper-plastic.  Pepsi-Coke.  Burger King-McDonalds.  Democrat-Republican.  Tank-Don’t tank.

But here’s one thing every Celtics fan, the Boston media, and possibly even some members of the front office staff have been rooting for in unison – the calendar.

Can the season end soon enough?

Once it does, New York City, the draft lottery, and the disgusting pollen in May arrive in no time.  And anyone with any kind of emotional or professional connection to the Celtics will be rooting for those ping-pong balls.

Because according to a large portion of Celtics fans – if those ping-pong balls don’t fall Boston’s way – then the Celts are absolutely screwed.  An absolute waste of a season, while other teams will have the opportunity to load up on superstars.

Just like 2007.

Oh wait …

After a season in which the goal for many Celtics fans (even more so than this year) was to lose as many games as possible in efforts to land a franchise-altering talent that were supposedly only available with the top two picks in the draft – all seemed for naught.  The Celts did not land the first pick.  They did not land the second pick.

Or the third.  Or even the fourth.

They got the fifth – the worst they could have done, and there was seemingly no way out of the abyss they had been in for over 15 years to that point.

They had an opportunity, and they were robbed of it.

And thank God they were.

We know how the rest of the story went.  Danny Ainge and ownership said screw it, we’re all in.  Enter Ray Allen.  Enter Kevin Garnett.  #17, two Conference Championships, three Eastern Conference Finals appearances, five Atlantic Division titles, and six great seasons.

Most importantly, the darkest and blackest of clouds that was suffocating the once legendary Celtics kingdom had finally been lifted.  Boston was, and still is, back on the NBA map after years of decaying that eventually turned the city into the NBA’s version of Carthage.

People can play the hypothetical all they want.  But let’s be clear: not winning that lottery was and still is the best-case scenario.  The Celtics desperately needed a championship in the immediate future, and more importantly, a return to relevancy.  And they got it.

And before we move on any further: for all the fantasies of having Kevin Durant in a Celtics jersey, much of the Celtics organization were Greg Oden guys.  While Danny Ainge came out then and now to fawn over Kevin Durant, he was the likely the only member of the organization who’d have even considered Durant over Oden.  It’s doubtful he would’ve overruled the rest of his staff (especially considering he was a fan of Oden’s game himself) because he respects them so much.  Had Boston picked Oden, it would have been an unmitigated disaster.  The franchise would’ve continued its plunge, there’s a chance Ainge might not have survived, and the organization would’ve painfully had to hit the reset button…again.  What was left of Celtics fans then – this writer is doubtful even they could’ve handled that.

Fact is: Unless you’re as dumb as the New York Knicks, and you shove all of your poker chips to the table with a pair of fours and invest in the wrong guys (:cough: Amare Stoudemire) – it’s better to get good.  And get good fast.

Having the respect of players throughout the league is just as important as having the quality of talent on your team.  Once you have that, being able to attract established players to your team becomes easier.  Certainly a lot easier than the process of: 1.) Wishing for as many losses as possible.  2.) Crossing your fingers for the ping-pong balls.  3.) Crossing your fingers again and hoping said player is a legitimate talent.  And 4.) Crossing your fingers AGAIN and hoping said player can alter a downtrodden culture and mesh with the team.

The Oklahoma City model is not the norm.  It’s the exception.  Slow, deliberate, and methodical rebuilds have blown up before many general managers and fans’ eyes.  The Bulls of the mid-2000s being the prime example.  Remember how much young talent that team was seemingly stacked with at one time? The Baby Bulls of Chandler, Curry, Williams, Hinrich, Gordon, Deng, et all? Laugh at those names now.  But many people back then were already sizing up the United Center’s rafters for more championship flags in Chicago.

So would the Celtics be better off getting say, the sixth pick in the draft this year?

Would it take a possible tempting option off the table? To draft a prime, young 19 year old and accept that the losing could continue in the immediate future but with the possibility of the pot of gold down the line?

Would it force Ainge’s hand as it did back in the summer of ’07?

The answer is not definite.  After all, this summer would have to produce the right players to reach the trade (and/or free agent) market the same way the summer of 2007 yielded two all-time greats in Allen and Garnett.

And certainly, Ainge deserves the benefit of the doubt at being able to make the right decisions.  No one in their right mind should expect Ainge to pass up on a trade for Kevin Love to select the next LaRue Martin.

But one thing is clear: Winning the lottery (or landing a top three selection) will not be the saving grace for the Boston Celtics organization that “The Tankers” seem to believe it will be.  Merely, just another option on the table for one Danny Ainge.

And the main question is: Will it be an option worth having?


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Larry H. Russell

Larry H. Russell is the Executive Producer of CLNS Radio.  Most noted as the Voice of Celtics Beat and Celtics Pre-Game, LHR has served many roles within CLNS since joining the network in 2011. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed Fall of the Boston Celtics: How Bad Luck, Bad Decisions Brought the Mighty Celtics Empire to Its Knees and Ushered in the Dark Ages which was released in 2014 as well as the director of the film Paul Pierce: The Best Pure Scorer in Celtics History.

LHR is a graduate of Emerson College and currently resides in Brookline.  He can be reached by e-mail at LHRussell@clnsradio.com or on Twitter @CLNS_LHR