The Celtics defeated the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night 126-120, to claim their fourth victory in their past five games, all against Western Conference opponents. With the playoffs looming, the team’s resurgence and apparent cohesiveness have been a sight for sore eyes for fans weary of the team’s maddening inconsistency throughout the year.
However, Thursday’s win was relevant for another reason: the Celtics have now completed their season series against all three Western Conference opponents who could potentially owe them first-round draft picks this summer: the Kings, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies. Let’s take a look at how those three picks look right now, and whether the Celtics’ performance against those teams helped their interests in each case.
The Conditions: Top-one protected
The Outlook: Very good
While the Kings’ pick hasn’t panned out to being the crown jewel of the Celtics’ 2019 of fseason as we all expected, thanks to Sacramento’s unexpected resurgence behind young centerpieces like De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III. It’s still looking like a worthy enough asset, however. It’s all but assured to convey in the late lottery at this stage; the Kings have won just three of their last ten games and now stare down a daunting five-game gap behind the eighth-place Clippers — who also hold the head-to-head tie-breaker — with 15 games to play. Stranger things have happened, but this one is looking better by the day.
If the pick were to somehow win the lottery, it would convey to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Celtics would receive Philadelphia’s first instead. That pick currently sits at 25th, so needless to say, this would be sub-optimal.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Conditions: Lottery protected
The Outlook: Good
Going almost hand-in-hand with the Sacramento pick, the Clippers’ pick is looking more and more certain over time. Despite sending away Tobias Harris at the trade deadline, Los Angeles has won seven of their last ten games and are now sitting pretty as the eight seed in the West, with only the Kings as quasi-realistic challengers. The Clippers have dealt the Celtics a pair of embarrassing defeats, and while they may not have been the most ideal for this year’s Celtics team, they at least served to help the Clippers solidify their own playoff standing.
If the Clippers finish outside of the playoffs, this pick would roll over to next year with the same protections. With the Clippers sitting on a wealth of cap space and expected to be major players in free agency this offseason, this could prove to be problematic, as acquiring a player like Kawhi Leonard would assuredly give them a boost in the standings — and subsequently, lower the value of the pick they would send Boston. This pick could have turned into a 2022 2nd rounder, so with the Clippers at the back end of the playoffs this season, this is the most ideal outcome.
The Conditions: Top-eight protected
The Outlook: Questionable
This is where things get really interesting. The Grizzlies have been a garbage fire for much of the season, falling short of expectations from the get-go and shifting into full-blown tank mode with the trade that sent Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors. And yet... things are getting a little interesting. Memphis is 5-5 in their past ten games, and suddenly, they sit at just seventh in lottery odds with the newly tanking Pelicans and Lakers riding their coattails. The pick conveys to Boston if it falls outside the top-eight.
Good news, right? Well, perhaps not. If the Celtics intend to use this pick as an asset in an off season trade (Anthony Davis, anyone?), there’s a strong case to be made that they don’t want it to convey this year. The protections lighten slightly to top-six protection next season, before becoming fully unprotected the year after that. Factoring in that this is generally viewed to be a weak draft class beyond the top overall pick, and the unknown quantity of a future pick with lightening protections would almost certainly be more valuable in a trade than, say, the tenth overall pick this summer. The Celtics want to see Memphis lose some more games right now, and at least they’ve done their own part, winning both games in the season series.