Exactly nine years ago, all eyes were on Kevin Durant.
Entering the NBA after his freshman year at Texas, he was projected to be drafted either first or second overall. Along with Ohio State’s Greg Oden, they were the prized possessions. A couple can’t-miss kids, if you will.
The Memphis Grizzlies had the best odds to land the top pick in the 2007 draft. The Boston Celtics had the second-best odds, followed by the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Seattle SuperSonics, and Portland Trail Blazers.
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Some way, some how, Portland won the lottery. But they selected Oden with the No. 1 overall pick. We all know how that worked out.
Seattle also got lucky. The Sonics — now the Oklahoma City Thunder — received the second overall pick. They selected Durant. We all know how that worked out.
The Celtics got screwed. Had the ping-pong balls just bounced the way the percentages had called for, Durant would have fallen into their lap at No. 2. Instead, the C’s dropped all the way down to No. 5, where they eventually traded that pick (Jeff Green) along with Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak to Seattle, in exchange for Ray Allen and the Sonics’ 35th overall pick (Glen “Big Baby” Davis).
Durant was the one that got away. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise at the time, because the Celtics used the Allen acquisition to lure Kevin Garnett to Boston. We all know how that worked out.
But here we are, nearly 10 years later, and the Celtics’ offseason hopes and dreams are a near reflection of the 2007 offseason.
Boston owns Brooklyn’s first-round pick, which gives the Celtics the third-best odds to end up with the No. 1 overall pick during Tuesday night’s lottery. Also, Durant will once again be available. This time, in the form of a free agent.
So, it’s not exactly the same situation as 2007. But it’s close enough.
This time, the Celtics hope they’ll end up with the prized possession. That would be Durant. The question is, how do you get him? Perhaps that’s where the lottery pick comes into play.
Assuming Durant decides to leave Oklahoma City — and I truly believe he will — it’s going to take more than an organization’s legacy to convince him to sign. Sure, the championship banners and retired numbers that hang from the TD Garden rafters provide a unique advantage over most franchises. But Durant also cares about his own championships. So the Celtics cannot strictly rely on their history.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge has to get creative. He needs to acquire someone else who Durant would want to play with. And not just play with, but win with.
Now, I have never talked to Durant. I have no idea what he actually wants. I don’t think anybody does, to be honest. But if you could put yourself in his shoes, you most likely wouldn’t want to sign with a team whose only other major offseason transaction was a top-three draft pick.
So, come draft day on June 23, the C’s have a decision to make. Keep whatever pick they receive in the lottery, or package that pick as part of a blockbuster trade to acquire an All-Star. Something’s telling me Durant would prefer the latter.
Even if the Celtics get lucky and receive one of the top-two picks — which means either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram would be available — that’s not enough to convince Durant that Boston is championship-ready.
Ainge needs to either sign another big-name free agent first, or, trade their projected top-three pick in a package that can land them an All-Star caliber player.
Who that player would be remains to be seen. As does the actual value of that draft pick. But on Tuesday night we’ll finally know just what “the Brooklyn pick” is.
If the Celtics are lucky, it could be the first step in eventually landing Durant. But if the ping-pong balls don’t fall their way, perhaps, exactly nine years later, the Celtics will miss out on Durant once again.
This time, I’m not sure that would be a blessing in disguise.