Dreams of DeAndre Ayton or Luka Doncic went up in smoke for Celtics fans just before the tip of Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals. The NBA draft lottery was held in Chicago and the < 3% chance of receiving the Lakers’ pick from the Sixers did not pan out for the Celtics, as the Suns, Kings, and Hawks won the top three picks respectively. This means the Celtics will now receive the more favorable of the 2019 Sacramento Kings’ or Philadelphia 76ers’ 1st round pick with both top-1 protected.
This will almost certainly be the Kings pick given where the two franchises are, but it is at least worth mentioning. The Lakers half of the pick not conveying means that Celtics will only be left with their own pick in the 2018 draft, something that hasn’t happened to the Celtics since they traded up to draft Kelly Olynyk in 2013. Most Celtics fans will see that as a bad thing. Some Celtics fans will see it as a good thing. Where the truth is lies somewhere in between.
Getting a #2 or #3 pick in this 2018 draft was never very likely for the Celtics, but it certainly might have helped them, given how deep and need specific this draft is. Al Horford is one year away from the chance to opt out of his current deal, which leaves the Celtics in a tricky situation.
Al is the soul of the Celtics #1 defense, and has been elite in the playoffs, but he’s also in his 30’s and the Celtics stand to have substantial tax issues in the future. Even if the Celtics never had a shot at Luka Doncic, there was always a chance that they could acquire a talented young big to hedge against disaster should Al leave. The Celtics would not have been forced into any selection, and could have picked from a wide variety of talented bigs like Ayton, Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr. Wendell Carter, etc. Instead, the Celtics are left kicking the can down the road to what will likely be a weaker draft and much more stressful draft lottery next year.
The Kings now find themselves in a situation similar to where the Nets and Lakers found themselves last year. They have no incentive to tank, having lost their pick to the Sixers and now Celtics. As we saw with the Lakers and Nets, not having incentive to directly tank can often buoy the floating corpse of a team to middle of the lottery. This all neglects to mention that the Kings leapt to the #2 spot and have a significant chance of having a talented young player on their squad next year.
Sacramento is flush with interesting young talent, headlined by speedy point guard De’Aaron Fox, who should make strides in his sophmore campaign. Another key piece of the Kings will be the impressive Serbian national Bogdan Bogdanvic who turned heads with an impressive 39.2% shooting percentage in his rookie year. 2017 first round pick Justin Jackson was disappointing in limited minutes, but fellow draft classmate Harry Giles is a high upside player who will be returning after injury. Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere are two 2016 first round selections who have shown flashes of promise offensively. Anchoring it all is the “elder statesman” of the Kings young core in athletic center Willie Cauley-Stein, who will be entering the final year of his deal.
That’s a lot of young talent for a Kings roster that has struggled in the past. It may be comforting to cite the Kings persistent failure to make the playoffs, but as Celtics fans know all too well, things can change quickly for maturing young players. Even only one or two of the Kings young core developing into starting caliber players would do much for their competence, especially for a team with no incentive to be bad. While the bloodbath of the West may suppress the Kings record a bit (not to mention the chances of the Kings falling out of the lottery are incredibly slim), there is still a solid chance that the Kings are “bad, not putrid” next year and have a similar season to the Knicks or Lakers.
On the other side of the coin, if the Kings ARE that bad, things become even more stressful because the Kings winning the #1 overall pick is the worst case scenario for the Celtics. In that case, the Sixers would keep the pick and the Celtics would get Philly’s pick, which will likely be near the end of the first round next year. Lottery reform will kick in next year, which will spread out the odds more, but this actually makes things more dangerous for the Celtics if the Kings aren’t that horrendous. (That said, it also increases their shot at jumping to #2 or #3.)
If the Kings finish anywhere from 30th to 25th, I imagine most Celtics fans will be quite pleased. That said, it will make for a tense lottery viewing where it’s possible for the Celtics to lose a lot. That’s the concern. However…
Not getting the Lakers’ pick might have worked out for fans of Marcus Smart and the grit he brought to the Celtics win in Game 2 last night. The Celtics will be entering the final year of Kyrie Irving’s budget deal from before the cap hike. With an outrageously good young core, the Celtics project to spend well on their team, and will almost certainly be in the tax from the summer of 2019 onward. Yesterday, Wyc Grousbeck said:
#Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck on @985TheSportsHub said he's hoping to "pay for performance" and "we are prepared to do whatever it takes to win again" when asked if the team will pay deep into the luxury tax to keep this team together in the future.— Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman) May 15, 2018
The question is whether or not the Celtics try to buy themselves an extra year by staying out of the tax next year. Doing so would delay the stiff repeater penalties an extra year, and could end up saving the Celtics north of $20 million dollars on a bill that will likely be much bigger than that in 2020-21. The Celtics biggest free agent is Marcus Smart, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason. Had the Celtics won the Lakers pick, it would have added either $7.2M or $6.5M to their books in that first round pick’s salary; by comparison, Boston’s own first rounder slotted at #27 will cost around $1.6M in Year One. Without that lottery pick, the Celtics are better able to match offer sheets other teams may offer Smart, and gives them better options to stay under that tax for at least one more year while retaining Smart.
Perhaps I’m reading that situation incorrectly, but this Cavs series has reflected what I think Marcus Smart’s real value to be, and I think it would be a silver lining to be better able to hold on to winning glue player like Smart. It also won’t matter if the Celtics always planned on matching most offers for Smart or if team offers him something crazy like the max. Oh well, it’s nice to have options.
I guess it’s..fine?
Getting Doncic would have been rad, but the Celtics have a team with a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals so I guess it’s hard to complain too much about. The Celtics have a contender to hone, so I suppose the days of prioritizing pick value over roster players is long behind us. That said, the 2019 draft lottery is going to be a stressful affair. Let’s just hope that, by that time, we are heading for Celtics-Warriors II.