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Tanking teams are costing the Celtics the Lakers pick

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Long live the Kings’ pick watch.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers’ pick is dead. Long live the Kings’ pick.

It is still hard to believe that the Celtics won the NBA Draft Lottery, got the first overall pick, decided to trade down, and still seem to have won the deal. So far at least.

It is probably a bit presumptuous to call it one way or the other just 8 months after the draft. Still, Jayson Tatum looks like a franchise cornerstone while Markelle Fultz remains a puzzling enigma. Only time will bear out the final verdict, but thus far it seems Boston made out rather well.

On top of that disparity is the matter of the pick compensation that Philadelphia provided to Boston for the right to move up 2 spots. While Celtics fans had dreams of landing a top 5 pick in this year’s draft, when and how that pick will convey is still very much up in the air.

As a refresher, here’s how the restrictions read on RealGM:

L.A. Lakers’ 2018 1st round pick to Philadelphia (via Phoenix) or to Boston (via Phoenix to Philadelphia) protected for selections 1 and 6-30; if this pick falls on any of its protected selections and is therefore retained by Philadelphia, then Boston will instead receive the more favorable of Philadelphia’s 2019 1st round pick protected for selection 1 and Sacramento’s 2019 1st round pick protected for selection 1 (via Philadelphia) and Philadelphia will receive the less favorable or the protected of these two picks [L.A. Lakers-Phoenix, 7/11/2012; Milwaukee-Philadelphia-Phoenix, 2/19/2015; Philadelphia-Sacramento, 7/9/2015; Boston-Philadelphia, 6/19/2017]; the 2019 pick conveyance is included in “2019 first round draft pick from Philadelphia or Sacramento” on Boston Incoming

Bottom Line: The Lakers pick needs to land between 2 and 5 for the Celtics to get a selection in this year’s draft. The Lakers have won 4 games in a row and currently own the 10th worst record and if the season ended today and the lottery were held tomorrow, the Celtics would have a 2.9% chance of getting the pick (the Lakers would have to win the lottery but not get the top overall pick). So while that’s a greater than zero chance of happening, it is a mathematical long shot at best.

Assuming the Lakers pick doesn’t convey this year, the Celtics will get whichever pick is better between the Kings and Sixers (provided it isn’t number 1 overall).

Before we get into that, however, the question begs to be asked. How in the world did we get here? How is it that the rebuilding Lakers have just 26 wins and yet have 9 other teams behind them in the standings?

In a word: Tanking.

Per Tom Ziller of SBNation

We currently have eight teams on pace to win fewer than 30 games. That has never happened in an 82-game NBA season. (Eight teams did win below 35.3 percent of their games — the equivalent of 29 wins — in lockout-shortened 2011-12, but that’s an asterisk of a season.) In most regular seasons, four or five teams will lose 53 games or more. Occasionally, the NBA will have six or (rarely) seven teams in that club. The odds are strong that we’ll get eight.

Why are so many teams tanking? Well, there are a whole host of reasons being attributed and there’s a long, interesting conversation being discussed across the league about it. Just click the links in this article and you’ll find plenty.

One interesting driver for our discussion is the issue of supply and demand. This year’s draft seems to be very strong at the top (high demand). Also, the lottery odds are changing next year, so the opportunity to tank with the same potential results is diminishing.

Per ESPN

NBA scouts project June’s draft to feature five to seven elite talents, depending on individual opinion. Also, this is the final year before changes to the lottery system are implemented, leveling out the odds. In the future, the teams with the three worst records will each have 14 percent odds of winning the lottery. The odds for the teams with the three worst records this season: 25, 19.9 and 15.6 percent, in descending order.

Those flattened odds could play a major part in determining where our future pick will land. If the Kings are still the Kings, then they’ll be somewhere in the lottery. It is unlikely (though not completely out of the question) that the Sixers would still find themselves out of the playoffs in 2019.

Regardless, Celtics fans’ dreams of snagging a DeAndre Ayton or Luka Doncic in this year’s draft are diminishing by the day. Perhaps the 2019 draft will produce a Bol Bol or Zion Williamson for the Celtics. Or maybe that pick will be long gone in some blockbuster trade by then.

On the other hand, if you are still holding on to hope for this year’s lottery, there are still 20 games left for the Lakers to go on a losing streak and improve their odds ever so slightly. I mean, it isn’t hard to root against the Lakers now is it?