The Celtics' season has been over for -- let's see, a month and four days -- and only now does it begin to get interesting. The path to the next contending Celtics team will begin to be determined tonight. A victory in the NBA Draft Lottery would have infinitesimally more value to the franchise that all of their 25 regular season wins multiplied together.
This is what we've been waiting for. This is what they were lousy for.
With Steve Pagliuca and his trusty rubber chicken (or whatever the trinket of supposed luck is that he's bringing with him) on hand at the Great Ping-Pong Ball Crapshoot of 2014, the Celtics have a roughly 36-percent chance of landing the Ron Mercer Memorial sixth pick, a 33-percent chance of landing in the top-3, and a 10.3-percent chance of landing the top overall choice.
If there's any justice this time around, the Celtics will finally have some lottery luck. The leprechaun has famously forsaken them in two previous forays to the top of the lottery, in 1997 (there's an interesting throwback column to be written on how Celtics history would be different had they landed Tim Duncan; of course you wish he'd ended up here, but it would also mean missing out on the fulfilling Paul Pierce era) and 2007 (the Kevin Durant/Greg Oden choice, which I believe Danny Ainge would have gotten right against conventional take-the-big-fella wisdom).
If the Celtics land the top pick, I'm convinced Ainge would be thrilled to make Duke forward Jabari Parker the centerpiece of the rebuilding project, one aided by nine increasingly interesting first-round picks over the next five seasons. If they land the second pick, I suspect he'd prefer Parker and be fine with Kansas's Andrew Wiggins, who has the talent to be a much different player at 23 than he was as an 18-year-old freshman.
But no matter where the Celtics end up picking, they have very real and appealing options, and the most appealing one wouldn't require the crafty machinations required in 2007 to bring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston.
No matter how it goes tonight, the Celtics should have enough resources to get Kevin Love if they want him. There's a trade to the Timberwolves liking to be found in the stack of first-round picks plus young players Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, a trade that few if any teams around the league can match without sending a bad contract Minnesota's way.
Danny Ainge can make this happen if he wants to -- and even if they Celtics land the top pick, he should make the deal provided that it doesn't gut their assets to the point that there's little room for improvement in future drafts.
Oh, there will be a Minnesota tax on this deal. Boston has treated that city as its personal superstar farm system over the last decade or so, and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is going to want a blockbuster return after getting little in return for the Kevin Garnett deal seven years ago.
Whether Love, who at 25 is one of the dozen best players in the league despite only a sporadic commitment to defense, wants them is another matter entirely. It's long believed the former UCLA star and nephew of Beach Boy Mike Love has longed to return to Los Angeles, Perhaps with free agency a year away, that is his game plan, and he doesn't have any intention of switching to Plan B.
But this is a scenario in which you're happy Danny Ainge is the Celtics' basketball boss. Not only is he adept at identifying talent, but he's also a salesman and a gambler. He may bet on making a deal for Love without having him locked up long-term -- hey, Pedro Martinez was a year from free agency when the Red Sox acquired him after the 1997.
Which is where the salesmanship comes in. Pedro fell in love with Boston. So did Garnett, who very reluctant to come here initially. Perhaps Love, who does know his basketball history, even if it is West Coast-specific, will fall for this place the way fans would surely fall for him.
We may soon find out. I kind of hope we do -- Love is so fun to watch, on offense and on the boards at least. But first, we must find out where the ping-pong balls fall. All of those losses during the season? They were for the purpose of setting up a lottery victory tonight.
Should the lottery mock them for a third time, it will be frustrating, but not the disaster it was in '97. The balls are in motion to vastly improve the Celtics one way or another. Can't wait to see how Danny Ainge juggles them.