It’s that time of year yet again in the NBA season: March Madness is captivating the world, LeBron James is the overwhelming favorite to win the East for what seems like the fifteenth year in a row, and—most important of all—it’s tanking season. For those of you who don’t know what tanking is, it’s the practice of intentionally losing games to increase your draft odds in the lottery. Most teams practice it; Sam Hinkie’s 76ers made it an art.
The usual suspects are close to the bottom of the standings, as they have been the past 3-4 years. The Lakers shut down their two most veteran and highest paid players, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov (a combined $34 million per year), to “give their young players a chance,” a.k.a. to lose games in order to keep their top-three pick protected. The Sixers are their usual selves, but at least with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric they have shown a pulse for the first time in five years. The Suns have a young talent in Devin Booker, but the rest of the roster is raw and untested. Yet, one team has a better chance to win the lottery than all: our own Boston Celtics, thanks to the lowly Brooklyn Nets.
The debate for us Celtics fans, ever since we traded Pierce and Garnett, is how to obtain the superstar to beat LeBron. Many fans believe we have that guy in Isaiah Thomas, who, averaging 29 points and 6 assists per game, has led the team to the top of the East. Yet the most important piece for the future of the franchise is the unprotected first pick from the Brooklyn Nets (league’s worst record at 15-57). The 2017 draft class is as loaded with guards as any, as Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball are can’t-miss prospects and guys like Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, and Dennis Smith are highly regarded as well. Due to the abysmal record of the Nets, the Celtics are the favorites to land the number one pick—yet as we Celtics fans know, that is far from a guarantee.
In 1997 the Celtics had the league’s worst record (15-67), and ended up with the third pick, missing out on the chance to get future Hall of Famer and five-time NBA Champion Tim Duncan. In 2006 the Celtics had the league’s second worst record (24-48), and ended up with the fifth pick and missed out on Kevin Durant, Al Horford, or Mike Conley Jr. However, they traded that pick for Ray Allen; the rest is history.
As history proves, the Celtics don’t exactly have the luck of the Irish in the NBA lottery, which leads to the debate of trading the pick. Whenever a superstar is seemingly available for a trade, the Celtics come to mind. Trades for Paul George, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, or Jimmy Butler have been debated amongst Celtics fans frequently for the past few months. Yet these all are dependent on the one thing Boston cannot rely on—the lottery itself.
Personally, I believe that if the Celtics end up in the typical Celtics lottery position with the third or fourth pick, then attempting to trade the pick makes sense, but still should not happen. No superstars are truly available, so a trade for any of these guys (George, Butler, Griffin) would deplete the team of the assets that make it so fascinating to begin with. If the Celtics do end up with the first or second pick, and the ability to draft Fultz or Ball, then they should keep the pick. LeBron has played in six NBA finals in a row, and his reign doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, so the premise of building around a nucleus of Fultz or Ball, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, the 2018 Brooklyn Pick, and whoever remains when Isaiah and Bradley hit free agency, doesn’t seem like a bad option, as opposed to trading the team’s future in order to take on the league’s best player at the peak of his powers. Plus, the fun of Lavar Ball in Boston is too great to pass up.
Stats from: http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/BOS/