I can’t say I’m a big fan of the NBA Draft Lottery. I don’t know how any Celtics fan could be. A frightening pattern that started in 1997 and can’t be viewing as anything less than an ominous dark cloud hanging over the Celts and theGreen Teamers is set to potentially continue tonight.
Twenty years ago, the Celtics had the second worst record in the league and the best chance (36 percent) to win the lottery, but couldn’t get the balls to bounce their way and lost out on Tim Duncan. The Spurs had the third worst record that year and a 21 percent chance to earn the top pick. The Gods were wearing cowboy boots and leather chaps that night, and for the next four years the C’s didn’t win more than 36 games.
Ten years ago — May 22, 2007 to be exact — the bars around the Garden were mobbed with Celtics fans who started partying at lunch that day awaiting the lottery. The Celtics had a 19.9 percent chance of garnering the top pick, second only to Memphis, which a 25 percent chance to earn the top spot, and a 55 percent chance to wind up in the Top 3. The prize? Either Ohio State’s Greg Oden, the 7-foot big man who, by almost all experts, was projected to be the top pick or Kevin Durant, the silky smooth forward from Texas who was another can’t miss prospect. Privately Danny Ainge had told people that if the Celtics won the lottery that night they were taking Durant. Ainge didn’t trust Oden’s injury prone knees, even though he had tremendous ability and skill. Sadly, the balls eluded the C’s that night again, and if not for Ainge, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat by trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the air of mediocrity would have most likely followed the Green for several more years.
You can even go back to 1986, when the Celts had the fifth worst record in the league, but found some luck in a trade with Seattle. The Supersonics finished second in the lottery that year and the pick they traded to Boston turned out to be Len Bias, who would have been an absolute superstar in this league if not for his tragic demise. If Bias had played a full NBA career in Boston, the Celtics would’ve had a run of championships that paralleled their success of the 60’s with Russell, Hondo and Cousy. But we all know what happened.
Tonight, your Boston Celtics, once again have the chance to re-write history and give themselves the opportunity to add a player to their roster who could be the glue that brings it all together. But I’m not holding my breath.
The Draft Lottery has been a bigger tease to Celtics fans than my 40th birthday trip to Vegas when we met… ah forget it, that’s another story altogether. More often than not, the team with the best odds does, in fact, hit the jackpot, but it’s not always a slam dunk. And if this one clangs off the rim, there might be rioting on Causeway Street. Almost 30 years ago, the Celtics had, and lost, Bias. Twenty years ago it was Duncan. Ten years ago Durant. Can you imagine the kind of history we’d be discussing if those three players were a part of this organization? And now, here we are after another 10 years hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. Yes, the C’s will wind up in the Top 4 no matter how the balls bounce tonight, and they will select a stand out player in June, but anything short of the top pick will feel like another kick in the gut.
It’s hard to complain too much as a Celtics fan. This is a team that has been the league’s richest winner when it comes to championships. Other than the Lakers, no other team is even close. So while the C’s are among the league’s poorest losers when it comes to the Draft Lottery, raising gold trophies is what it’s all about, and if the air pushes the ping pong balls in the right direction, that 18th championship banner may not be too far away. Let’s just hope that Adam Silver doesn’t pull a Beatty/Dunaway when he announces that the Celtics have won the lottery. Congratulations La-La Land! …But this time it should stick.