The problem is not that the 2013-14 Celtics lost a lot of games (“tanking” is harsh and inaccurate and I’m not using that word; the coaches and players tried). It’s that they didn’t lose enough, especially early in the season, to put themselves in a position to draft a prospect of Jabari Parker’s promise..
Brad Stevens’s energetic, creative coaching — such as playing incurable gunner Crawford at the point to remarkably effective results at times — and an I’ll-show-you attitude from a flawed but experienced group of veterans led the Celtics to greatly overachieve early in the season.
That stretch from November 23 to December 16, when they won eight of 12 and improved to 12-14 for the season, deluded some fans into thinking they might be a playoff team in the feeble east.
It was a mirage, symbolized by the play of Crawford, whom Danny Ainge deftly dealt to Golden State before potential suitors remembered that he was indeed Jordan Crawford, gunner of unorthodox form and zero conscience.
Had the Celtics lost a couple of more games they should have lost — that one-point win over the Heat, as fun as it was, comes to mind — they’d have had better lottery odds and perhaps a higher pick. Heck, three more losses would have meant a 47 percent chance at a top-three pick rather than the 33 percent chance they owned.
Bottom line: The Celtics weren’t a very good basketball team in 2013-14. But they weren’t as adept at losing as they should have been, either. That came back to get them when the ping-pong balls were revealed. Dammit dammit damn.
2. Lousy luck in the lottery (again) made for a lost night for Celtics fans, but hey, at least it meant a moral victory for basketball’s morality police.
The frustration did provide occasion for the vocal if not particularly astute element of the fan base to take a social-media victory lap that basically amounted to this: See, I told you that “tanking” was a bad idea. Of course losing with dignity was not a bad idea, at all, and even hindsight and the disappointment of ending up with the sixth pick doesn’t change that.
I’m still curious what the alternative best-case scenario was to these people. Is it something like this? Keep Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, never steal those three lottery-ticket first-rounders from the Nets, the last two of which look like potential jackpots, win 39 games, get blown off the court by LeBron and Co. in the first round, then pick 15th and begin the cycle of mediocrity again the next year?
The Celtics didn’t disgrace the game. They did exactly what they should have based on how the faulty system works. It just didn’t work out as well as they hoped in terms getting a high pick.
3. As frustrating as it is to end up with the sixth pick, it’s hardly a lost cause. It’s still worth pursuing a Kevin Love blockbuster, though the Celtics are now going to have to give up assets (some of the Nets/Clippers picks, perhaps Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk) that they might have retained had they had better luck in the lottery.
And if a deal for a star-caliber veteran doesn’t present itself, Danny Ainge simply must go into Best Available Player mode, even if it means roster redundancy.
If Julius Randle is the best prospect on the board when they pick, they must pick him, even with Sullinger and Olynyk around at essentially the same position. It’s still about accumulating pure talent rather than building a balanced roster, so if an enticing trade becomes a possibility, there is enough intriguing talent on the roster to make it happen.
4. One more thought about Love: I would absolutely trade for him now even if he’s unwilling at first to sign an immediate extension. The gamble that he’ll want to stay here once he gets here is much easier to take when you’re passing along the sixth pick rather than one of the top two or three.
5. Hey, at least the Lakers didn’t leap ahead of the Celtics. Los Angeles ended up with the seventh pick, a spot down from their projected sixth. A top-three pick might have made them favorites to acquire Love, given the belief that his strong preference is to return to Southern California. For instance, a trade of Pau Gasol and the Lakers’ No. 1 pick for Love and Chase Budinger works according to the Trade Machine. That deal probably isn’t as appealing to the T-Wolves now as it would have been if the Lakers had had some lottery fortune. So, yeah, there’s that. Small victory, right?
6. As for tonight’s Completely Random Basketball Card:
If there’s any message to be found in ending up with the sixth pick, I say it’s this: The Celtics really ought to send No. 6, the greatest winner in team sports history, as their lottery rep if they finally want to win this thing too. Lucky roosters, a certain ref-baiting playing/coaching/broadcasting legend, and M.L. Carr have failed so far. The ping-pong balls would never forsake Bill Russell, I’m sure.