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Rather Be Lucky Than Good....

... and, no, I don't mean be a leprechaun. Right now your Boston Celtics are neither lucky nor good. This year in basketball has become the Season of the Witch, or for all the lottery fans, the Season of the Which, as in which potential franchise player is going to be brought back to Boston from Secaucus. While what remains of the Celtics’ fan base debates the relative merits of Greg Oden vs. Kevin Durant, many disenfranchised supporters are shouting, “Bring me the head of Doc Rivers!”

The same people are following the link in the chain of command to the office of the Head of Basketball Operations and saying Danny Ainge should also pay with the loss of his job for steering the Good Ship Celtics into an iceberg. Ainge has made a few trades since assuming his position four years ago with mixed results.

I happen to think each of his trades had merit, but it is not hard to find those who take issue with them. He has made some very nice draft selections, all of which have at least become and continue to be NBA players. His detractors say he lucked into Al Jefferson at #15 and Gerald Green at #18. The fact is he picked those players instead of letting them slide even further. I don’t believe anyone can argue the fact that late first-rounders Delonte West, Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins were inspired choices, and his record with second-round picks is very good (Ryan Gomes, Justin Reed, Leon Powe). The bottom line is that he’s gotten very good value for where he has selected.

In order to be a great GM, however, you need to be lucky as well as good. The history of the NBA draft tells us that you don’t get superstar or franchise changing players picking outside the top ten. And without players of that type, you don’t become a championship caliber team. Let’s suppose the law of averages held true and the Celtics won the chance to draft Tim Duncan back in 1997. Well, the Spurs would not have won three titles, and you might not even know that R.C. Buford is the San Antonio GM. Buford is good, make that very good. He’s selected two all-stars in Tony Parker (late first round) and Manu Ginobili (second round). But if he did not have the good fortune to take Duncan, his resume would not look so gaudy.

The Mavericks are seen as a model NBA organization from top to bottom. Well, okay, maybe Marc Cuban is not on David Stern’s list of favorite owners. Despite all the good moves they’ve made to bring in talented players â€" and Josh Howard at the end of the first round was a terrific choice â€" they would not be the contending team they are today without Dirk Nowitzki. It was Don Nelson who snookered the Bucks into taking Tractor Traylor on draft day while giving Dallas the option to take Nowitzki. It was a combination of luck and genius that transformed the Mavericks.

Much of the success of the Phoenix Suns has been attributed to the wonderful point guard Steve Nash, a league MVP. Those people are absolutely right. The Suns, however, would not be true championship contenders without Amare Stoudemire, who they were lucky enough to find with the ninth selection in the 2002 draft. Only the first overall pick that year, Yao Ming, could be said to have talent comparable to Stoudemire’s among the first ten picks. You could revisit the fateful draft when Stu Inman of the Trailblazers passed on Michael Jordan to select Kentucky 7-footer Sam Bowie because his team had plenty of wing players. The Bulls take Jordan and Jerry Krause becomes the smartest GM in the NBA. Smart? Yes. Lucky? You bet.

Celtics fans need look no further than the draft day transaction that netted them Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish for allowing the Warriors the opportunity to take Joe Barry Carroll. No reasonable person would suggest the Celtics could have accomplished anywhere near as much as they did without the two great big men joining Larry Bird on arguably the best front line in NBA history. This was a signature move from Red, but he had to be in position to make the trade by having the pick to offer.

Which brings us to our current team, built around our putative superstar Paul Pierce. This squad needs help, and the kind of help it needs is likely to only come from the draft. Kevin Garnett, and to a lesser extent Jermaine O’Neal or Pau Gasol are not walking through that door anytime soon. To get help in the draft, real help and not the nice player kind of help, you have to be picking pretty high, preferably top two in the next sweepstakes. For that to happen you have to be not good and lucky. Even with the worst record in the league, that abysmal outfit only takes around a 50/50 chance at getting a top two pick to Secaucus. With two certified franchise players on the vine, though, I’d propose that having that 50/50 chance is more important than anything the team could possibly accomplish this season. Of course, you never know what lies ahead. That’s why they play the games. That’s why we live our lives without the benefit of jumping to the last chapter in the book. Len Bias died. Kwame Brown has never lived up to his promise. But I like the idea of Greg Oden or Kevin Durant playing for the Boston Celtics better than any other scenario out there. I’m willing to believe Danny Ainge gets lucky in the next draft because that is the only way the Celtics are going to get really good.

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