Because of their recent success (winning 5 of the last 9 games) the Celtics are currently 2.5 games out of the 8th playoff spot and have just the 9th worst record in the league.
Many would accurately describe that as the stagnant middle ground of death. Not good enough to compete for a title and not bad enough to have the best shot at getting a game-changing talent at the top of the draft.
Exactly what Mr. Simmons wants: Boston chasing the no. 8 seed and a certain first-round curb-stomping over another dip into the lottery!
We've been over the old Hamlet debate before:
"To tank or not to tank, that is the question. Whether tis' nobler in the mind to suffer the airballs and turnovers of outrageous loss totals, or to take arms against a sea of number 1 or 2 seeds, and by opposing them to die, to sleep, to draft in the middle of the round."
Regardless on what you think the team's direction should be, I like turning the attention to what the league could and should be doing.
The league currently has an image problem which is two-fold. First of all, they have completely unbalanced conferences. (The 48 win Suns missed the playoffs last year) Secondly, there's the perception that non-contenders are losing on purpose or "tanking." The Sixers are perhaps the most blatant about it, but the Celtics and Knicks and other teams are following similar rebuilding strategies.
Regarding the 2nd point, the league actually brought a lottery reform proposal to the owners to vote on before the season. That proposal was shot down for a number of concerns, but the league did indicate that they'd keep looking into it.
"The No. 1 thing with the draft is to help the weaker teams become better so there is more parity in the league, more equality, but at the same time the league now is addressing issues of teams playing for the draft. It’s a tough balance. I don’t envy the commissioner and his office on this issue. They’re studying and they’re communicating; they’re watching and observing what’s’ going on, and I’m confident that they’ll come up with the best plan in time to rectify some of the challenges."
Regarding the first issue, Adam Silver and the league are also looking into making the playoffs more inclusive to the better teams in the league, regardless of conference.
"Ultimately we want to see your best teams in the playoffs. And there is an unbalance and a certain unfairness. There is a proposal (from one of the broadcasters)… where the division winners would all automatically go into the playoffs and then you’d seed the next 10 best teams. I think that’s the kind of proposal we need to look at. There are travel issues of course, but in this day in age every team of course has their own plane, travels charter. I don’t think the discussion should end there. And as I’ve said, my first year I was studying a lot of these issues and year two is time to take action. It’s something I’m going to look at closely with the competition committee. I do think it’s an area where we need to make a change."
So what does all of this mean to the Celtics? It doesn't really have any impact to this year's team because the changes won't take place until this summer at the earliest. But the impact could be felt by teams that are in this situation in the future.
If the playoff structure was as Adam Silver envisions, there would be no threat of the Celtics backing into the playoffs with a losing record. In addition, if the league flattened out the lottery odds, there would be less incentive to jockey for the worst record. Teams that are not good enough to compete but have some developing talent (like the Celtics do this year) would be incentivised to keep making progress forward.
Granted, there are some details that the reforms will have to work through before they can convince the owners to pass them. There are concerns that the advantages between small and large market teams would widen with these reforms. Then there's the new TV money coming and nobody really knows yet how that will impact things.
There is a sense among teams from all market sizes that too many things are changing too quickly. The new national TV deal, worth nearly triple the current version on a per-year basis, is going to change the NBA in ways we don’t yet understand.
So everything is still pretty much up in the air right now. But I think it is good that the league is at least looking into the problems (real or perceived) and actually being pro-active about them.
Another comforting thought: The Celtics, by having a stockade of draft picks, plenty of cap room, a developing nucleus of talent, a rising star of a coach, and a solid ownership group, are about as well positioned as any team in the league for whatever changes are coming down the line.
Maybe we won't be title contenders this year. Maybe we'll miss out on one of the top 5 picks. However, with good scouting, savvy dealing, and continued development, the Celtics can (and should) be headed in the right direction towards banner number 18.