Don’t weep for the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving or no Kyrie Irving, they’re still loaded with talent and have three picks — No.’s 14, 20 and 22 — in the 2019 NBA Draft. Hell, they just might end up with one of the best players on the planet in a couple months.
That said, Tuesday night was not a good night for the C’s.
To be clear: Disaster didn’t strike for Danny Ainge and Co. at the NBA Draft Lottery. Again, the Celtics own three picks after finishing with the ninth best record in the NBA. But Tuesday was less about where the Celtics landed and more about what could have been, what has yet to happen and, of course, Anthony Davis.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s break this up into four categories:
THE KINGS PICK
Boston traded the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 pick and and a first-rounder in either 2018 or 2019. The Sixers drafted Markelle Fultz, who since has been traded, and the Celtics took Tatum who, despite a disappointing sophomore season, looks like a franchise cornerstone. The gravy was that Boston landed a conditional pick that many felt could become a major asset.
The pick eventually turned into the Sacramento Kings’ 2019 conditional first-rounder. As long as the pick didn’t land at No. 1 overall, the Celtics would get it. A year ago, it was hard to envision Boston not landing a top-five selection — you know, because the Kings were awful.
But then something unforeseen (by some) happened: The Kings got better. Sacramento finished tied for the best record of any non-playoff team this season, and the Celtics entered Tuesday night with the No. 14 pick as their most likely landing spot.
Well, the pingpong balls came ridiculously close to bouncing Boston’s way, but the Celtics settled for the No. 14 pick. That Sixers trade still is a win for the Celtics, because of Tatum, but the deal ultimately failed to deliver on its initial promise.
THE GRIZZLIES PICK
This whole thing is the result of a 2015 trade that sent Jeff freaking Green to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Here’s the deal: The pick is top-eight protected in 2019, top-six protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2021. If the Grizzlies land inside those protected ranges, they draft at that spot and the pick conveys to the next year. So, it’s in the Celtics’ best interest for Memphis to be horrible, as it could result in Boston landing the top pick in the 2021 draft.
The Celtics really entered Tuesday night wanting the Grizzlies to fall inside the top eight, as it would increase the chances of Boston landing a superior pick in either of the next to years. And that’s exactly what happened, but with a catch.
The Grizzlies jumped all the way to No. 2, where many expect they’ll draft Murray State star Ja Morant. While that could lead to Memphis trading franchise guard Mike Conley and undergoing a full-on rebuild (great for the Celtics), there’s also another, more worrisome scenario for Boston.
What if Morant is the next Russell Westbrook, as some believe? What if the Grizzlies enjoy a Kings-like turnaround and fight for a playoff spot, thus increasing the chances of the pick landing at the bottom of the lottery?
Time will tell, but this wasn’t the best possible outcome.
All roads lead to The Brow.
For the sake of everyone’s sanity, let’s limit this discussion to the three teams generally considered the most likely to swing a trade for Davis: the Celtics, the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Let’s also include the New Orleans Pelicans, who won the lottery and likely are headed for a marriage with phenom Zion Williamson. Let’s also assume that all four of these teams still want Davis.
The Lakers were unable to trade for Davis before the deadline, as the Pelicans reportedly weren’t high on L.A.’s assets. But the Lakers, who entered the lottery at No. 11, jumped all the way to No. 4. Whether that tips the scales in their favor is anyone’s guess, but they’re certainly in a better position today than they were in February.
The Knicks reportedly were hoping to land the No. 1 pick and trade it for Davis before signing Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant. Instead, New York fell to No. 3, where Duke star R.J. Barrett likely will be waiting. That’s probably not enough to woo New Orleans, but the No. 3 pick in the draft is a legitimate asset. (There’s also a potential Barrett-Irving-Durant team-up to worry about if you’re a C’s fan.)
The Celtics still feel like the leader in the clubhouse, despite an ugly season and Irving’s looming free agency. At the end of the day, if Ainge really is willing to part with both Tatum and Jaylen Brown, no other team can match him. Still, the Kings pick isn’t nearly as attractive as it once was, and the Grizzlies pick now carries some unanticipated risk, if you ask us.
And then there’s New Orleans.
Davis reportedly still wants out, despite the impending arrival of Williamson. However, the NBA is a total crapshoot, and would it really surprise you if Davis changes his mind? What if New Orleans stubbornly refuses to trade him in hopes that a season with Williamson will make him come around?
Again, this is the NBA. Expect the unexpected.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
Honestly, it’s tough to say.
If the Celtics’ goal is to stay the course and keep drafting and developing talent, they’re still in great shape. If they were hitching their wagons to maximizing the Kings and Grizzlies picks, then they took a hit. If Davis still is the endgame, Tuesday night was more bad (Lakers jumped, Pelicans won lottery, Kings and Grizzlies picks lost value) than good (Knicks lost) — though the gap there is slim.
As for how Irving feels about all of this, good luck getting inside that guy’s head. And if he really is set on leaving Boston, then all of this talk is for nothing.
At the end of the day, if you already felt sick about the Celtics, the lottery shouldn’t make you feel any better. It wasn’t a knockout blow, but it nevertheless was another loss in a season chock-full of them.
Thumbnail photo via Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports Images