Celtics play it perfect, by tanking discreetly
There is no tanking template in the NBA, but here’s what we do know after 28 years of the pro basketball draft lottery – it’s good to be lucky, it’s good to pick your spots and it’s good to have karma on your side.
The Celtics haven’t been lucky the last couple of times they went tanking, losing out on Tim Duncan in 1997 and losing out on Kevin Durant in 2007. Though Greg Oden was an epic bust, the Celtics were still smart to have lost a ton in the 2006-07 season. Heading into that draft, Oden and Durant were both considered “can’t-miss” superstars. It was a top-heavy draft, yes, but the ultimate prizes were thought to be franchise-altering players and were certainly worth a lottery gamble. Those stuck-in-the-middle Celtics teams of the mid-2000s could have easily gone in the tank whenever Danny Ainge chose to. But it wouldn’t have been worth it in the two years prior to the ’07 draft. In 2006, Andrea Bargnani was the top prize. The year prior, Andrew Bogut went No. 1 overall. Those players are fine, but neither were ever considered “can’t miss.”
If you missed the memo, there are several “can’t miss” guys that will be available in the 2014 NBA Draft, a draft considered to be the deepest since the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Carmelo Anthony class of 2003 and possibly the best draft since the Michael Jordan-Charles Barkley-Hakeem Olajuwon-John Stockton class of 1984. In other words, the 2014 draft has the potential to be the best EVER.
Where we stand now, the jury is still out as to whether or not the 2013-14 Celtics will tank. If you’re into the “sucking-on-purpose” theory, there was major cause for alarm when the C’s went into Miami and beat the defending champion Heat on that Saturday night 10 days ago. In the Celtics’ “best” non-Paul Pierce-era win since Rick Pitino’s Celtics beat the Michael Jordan-led Bulls on opening night of the 1997-98 season, it showed that new C’s head coach Brad Stevens isn’t the roll-over type. This is good and bad news.
The good news is that bad lottery teams with good karma get, [cough, cough] “rewarded” by the powers that be in the NBA. You don’t have to have the worst record in the league to get the No. 1 overall pick and in this particular draft, you just simply want to have a top five pick. Consider that the Cavaliers, a year after losing LeBron in free agency, “won” the top pick in the 2011 NBA Draft (they had the second worst record that previous season). The New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, just weeks after Tom Benson bought the franchise and more or less promised the NBA to keep it in New Orleans, “won” the top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. The basketball gods (David Stern and Adam Silver) have recently smiled upon those who A. Have been screwed over by the most famous athlete in the world, or B. Have recently shown to have the best interests of the league.
By competing, night-in and night-out, and by upsetting the defending World Champs, Stevens has already shown to have the best interests of the league in mind. The 4-7 Celtics certainly look as though they have a good 13-game losing streak in them this season, but, maybe more importantly, they have also already shown the ability to pull off losing in a discreet manner.
The odds of the Celtics winning the NBA title within the next five years without having gone through one tankalicious season is somewhere around 3.4 percent. The odds of them winning the NBA title within the next five years having tanked this particular season (in a classy way, of course), increase exponentially.
So far, so good.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS