Kevin Durant was in the house last night and it was hard not to wonder what would have happened if Celtics fans had gotten their wish when Wyc Grousbeck and Tommy Heinsohn went to Secaucus, N.J., last May 22.
Remember that night? The Celtics had played their way (24-58) into a great shot at the first or second pick in the draft and Green fans were frothing when the ping-pong balls tumbled. And then we learned the buzzard luck was still alive on Causeway Street. After all their hard-earned losses, the Celtics came away with the fifth pick in the draft - a draft that had two franchise players.
"No one was more devastated than I was," Grousbeck said last night at halftime of the Celtics' 111-82 pummeling of the still-Seattle SuperSonics. "I had worn my lucky suit and everything. I was miserable."
So there was no Kevin Durant in Boston. No Greg Oden, either. And then Danny Ainge made the curious decision to trade the disappointing pick for an aging All-Star guard who was coming off double-ankle surgery.
Here we are almost 10 months later and the Celtics are an NBA-best 51-12 with a 10-game winning streak (the team's first since 1986) and a legitimate shot at Flag No. 17. It's Boston's best team since Larry Bird retired and it's all because the Celtics didn't get Kevin Durant last spring.
If the Celtics and their fans had gotten their wish in Secaucus that night, last night's starting lineup against Seattle probably would have been Durant, Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, and Rajon Rondo. And the Celtics probably would have 30-35 wins. There would be a lot of talk about the future, but no real hopes for a long playoff run in the spring of 2008.
"We probably wouldn't have 50 wins by now, I can tell you that," said Boston coach Doc Rivers. "But we would have a pretty good future."
We heard much too much about future in the two-decade drought that plagued this storied franchise after the last crown was won in 1986. Fans were ready for a switch to the George Allen "future is now" mind-set and that's what happened when Ainge went after Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics have since added fossils James Posey, P.J. Brown, and Sam Cassell.
No country for old men? Tell that to the folks who are planning on a memory lane trip to the Finals against the Lakers in June.
Durant was predictably unimpressed by all of the above. The (soon-to-be-named) NBA Rookie of the Year is all of 19 years old and it's not his job to empathize with a New England fan constituency that was banking on his services for the next 10 or 15 years. He knew Boston was a possibility when he watched the lottery, but that dream died May 22 and Durant quickly adjusted to life in the coffee capital of the USA.
"Anywhere I went, I was gonna be happy," said Durant before scoring 16 points in the Garden beatdown. "I'm happy in Seattle. [Boston] is a great team, Finals-type of team. But I can't worry about that . . . A lot of people talked to me about the draft process, but it's like, wherever I end up, I end up."
Durant wears No. 35. He is listed at 6 feet 9 inches but appears taller, and was assigned the task of guarding Pierce and Allen for portions of last night's game. Playing out of position much of the time, he's averaging more than 19 points a game for the 16-49 Sonics, whose owners want to play in Oklahoma City next season. He has been thrown into the fire and has responded nicely - not an easy assignment for a great rookie on a bad team.
"We put him in a situation that's very difficult," said Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo. "It's hard for people to understand how difficult his rookie year has been. It's a big adjustment. I think he's been much better than he gets credit for."
What if he were playing for the Celtics?
"If he were here, I think he'd be in the same position he is now," said Cedric Maxwell. "He'd be a work in progress and the Celtics would be a work in progress. They sure wouldn't be where they are now."
"We wouldn't have had the turnaround we have now," said Heinsohn. "We'd be struggling, bringing up baby."
They are not struggling. They are bringing up Big Baby. While the coveted Durant is en route to the Rookie of the Year award, playing for a moribund franchise that may be relocated, the Celtics are banging on the door of a long run in the playoffs. So the 2007 draft lottery wasn't such a disaster after all.
This is really going to be fun.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.