...but the Celtics HAVE to do it....
By: Scott LaCascia
Say it with me... T - A - N - K. TANK.
I don't want to, but I have to. You should all be on board with it too. It almost feels like rooting for your teenage son to get busted on a DUI, but this has to happen. The Boston Celtics need to lose as many games as possible to put themselves in the best position to land a future franchise player next June. It's not just necessary, it's mandatory. The Celtics have no shot to land said future franchise player if they win 30-35 games and make the playoffs as a eighth seed. Which would you rather have? A- the Celtics win 15 games and get rewarded with a lottery pick in the most talent-loaded draft in almost 20 years, or B- finish 39-43, make the playoffs, and get swept by Miami four straight in the first round? The choice seems pretty clear.
The Celtics cleaned house this summer, trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for some spare parts, expiring contracts, and future first round draft picks. It was sad to see the Truth and KG leave the basketball city that they helped revive six years ago, but I think Celtic fans were all in agreement that Danny Ainge needed to look away and pull the trigger. Rajon Rondo is still recovering from knee surgery, and as of right now there is no clear timetable for his return. The Celtics are off to their first 0-4 start since the 1969-1970 season, which was only months after Bill Russell's retirement left a gaping hole at center. The Celtics finished that season with a 34-48 record, which at the time was their first losing season in 20 years and the first sub-.500 campaign under Red Auerbach's watch. That finish gave the Celtics the 4th overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, and Red selected Dave Cowens from Florida State. See what I'm getting at? We need history to repeat itself.
The Celtics have gone this route before, with little success. Every Celtic fan still cringes when they think about what might have been had the ping pong balls fallen their way in 1997. The Green went 15-67 that season. M.L. Carr was at the helm. Tim Duncan was the prize back then, and the Celtics had the best statistical chance to land the Wake Forest star. We all know what happened- San Antonio won Duncan, and the Celtics were left with Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer. Rick Pitino gave up on Billups mid way through his rookie season, and Billups went on to become a star and won a Finals MVP award. Losing out on Duncan and trading Billups away is why Pitino is coaching in Louisville today and not Boston.
The deja vu torture continued ten years later. The Celtics were going to be lousy anyway, but caught a break when Paul Pierce suffered a stress reaction in his foot and missed 35 games. The Celtics finished 24-58, the second worst record in the league. This time, there were TWO future stars available- Ohio State center Greg Oden and Texas forward Kevin Durant (I know Oden was a flop but at the time he looked like a franchise player). The Celtics ended up with the 5th pick, and we were all doomed to another decade of irrelevance (or so we thought). Danny drafted Jeff Green with that pick (ironic, no?) and then shipped him to Seattle along with Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to land Ray Allen, and a month later he coaxed old friend Kevin McHale to trade Garnett to us. The Celtics won their first championship in 22 years in 2008, but how would Kevin Durant look in a Celtics uniform right about now?
The NBA Draft lottery is a crap shoot. A couple of years ago the Charlotte Bobcats finished 7-59, and DIDN'T get the first pick in the draft. I have never been a fan of the lottery, for the simple reason that it's whole purpose is to prevent teams from tanking the season. Newsflash- teams do that ANYWAY. If the Celtics finish with the worst record in the league, they will have a 25% chance to win the lottery, which means there is still a 75% chance that they won't. Given the odds I think any rational fan would take a 25% chance over a 10% chance, or a 5% chance. The third time is a charm, and the Celtics have the (lack of) talent to get this done. This is the best draft in years. Andrew Wiggins, the 6'8" freshman from Kansas, remains at the top of everyone's mock draft. Some of the other kids to top this list are Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart and Julius Randle. The Celtics also have the luxury of having multiple draft picks for the next several years. If they get a top-3 pick and want to trade up in June, they have the pieces and the flexibility to make it happen.
You don't have to actively root against them, but you can't root for them conventionally. Winning 35 games and making the postseason is a fruitless endeavor and it accomplishes nothing. The only problem with the last era of Celtics basketball is that Garnett, Allen and Pierce were all in their early 30s when they came together. As a result, their bodies began to decline after their first and only championship and we never saw a sustained era of championship basketball. Danny Ainge wants to build a young core that can have a decade-long run of excellence. He doesn't want another three or four year window, he wants to have at least two young players in place to build around, and he is taking the right approach. It all starts here. This could end up being one of the most critical seasons in the history of the franchise. In the NBA, you have to be really bad before you can be really good (unless you're the Lakers who just go out and buy championships). We have to grit our teeth and tough it out this year. If they win Banner #18 in four or five years, won't it be worth it? I think so. Send Rondo to the Bahamas, Danny. We still have 78 games to go.