The Celtics’ focus undeniably will be on this season when basketball returns.
But the 22-team format approved Thursday by the NBA’s board of governors theoretically could impact Boston next season and beyond.
How so? Well, consider the much-discussed draft pick the Celtics still own from the Grizzlies.
The pick, which Memphis sent to Boston as part of the Jeff Green trade in January 2015, was top-eight protected in 2019. Since the Grizzlies landed the No. 2 overall selection, used to select Rookie of the Year candidate Ja Morant, the pick conveyed to 2020, where it’s top-six protected.
This initially looked like a boon for the Celtics. The Grizzlies were among the worst teams in the NBA, so there seemed like a real chance Memphis would land a top-six pick in 2020, in which case the pick would convey to 2021 — its final stop, no matter what — and become unprotected. The mere possibility of the pick becoming the No. 1 overall selection in 2021 was enough to make it one of the NBA’s most valuable assets.
Things have changed, though, as the Grizzlies currently occupy the eighth seed in the Western Conference with a 32-33 record. Boston’s dreams of Memphis landing a top-six pick in 2020 and the selection conveying to 2021 have all but vanished. It’s now likely a matter of where the pick will fall in the middle of the first round come Oct. 15, the date on which the 2020 NBA Draft is scheduled to take place as part of the plan approved Thursday.
Still, there’s some intrigue left.
Here’s what the NBA announced with regards to the draft lottery, now scheduled for Aug. 25:
The 14 NBA Lottery teams would be the eight teams that do not participate in the restart and the six teams that participate in the restart but do not qualify for the playoffs. These teams would be seeded in the lottery and assigned odds based on their records through games of March 11. The 16 playoff teams would draft in inverse order of their combined records across regular-season games and seeding games.
Basically, the Grizzlies would have made the playoffs if the NBA opted for a return format that went directly to the postseason. That means they wouldn’t have been eligible for the lottery, squashing any chance whatsoever of the aforementioned draft pick improving.
Now, however, it’s at least possible Memphis falls out of the playoffs, in which case the draft pick would become a lottery pick. Even then, the pick ultimately might not improve much, depending on how the pingpong balls bounce. But this scenario still marks a positive development for a Celtics team looking to salvage a once-coveted asset that’s seen its value depreciate in recent months.
I.e., if Memphis misses the playoffs, their first-round pick — owed to Boston with top-6 protection this season, unprotected next season — becomes a lottery pick. https://t.co/KLy6ZZsiY1
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) June 4, 2020
NBA spells out lottery scenarios in restart release. If Grizzlies fall out of playoffs, they will have the worst lottery odds (only 2.4% chance to vault to top 4) and would likely convey 14th pick to BOS. If Grizzlies make playoffs, pick 17 if they stay in front of ORL and BKN. pic.twitter.com/HfP7xpVnDd
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) June 4, 2020
The Grizzlies hold a 3 1/2-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers (29-37), New Orleans Pelicans (28-36) and Sacramento Kings (28-36). They sit seven games behind the Dallas Mavericks (40-27) for the seventh seed in the West. If anything, Memphis will fall in the standings — not rise — and that could benefit Boston.
Under the approved plan, if the team with the eighth-best record in its conference (Team A) is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference (Team B), then Teams A and B will compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed. Team A would need to defeat Team B once to earn the No. 8 playoff seed, while Team B would need to defeat Team A twice in a row.