Working in this business, for better or worse, has changed the way I watch sports as a fan.
Long gone are my superstitions about where to sit or what to wear for a big game. I no longer believe in jinxes and will freely speak my mind without fear of repercussions from our many “Sports Gods.” Losses don’t keep me up at night anymore; it’s simply on to the next game or season.
At first I thought there was something wrong with me. Had I somehow gone from being a die-hard to apathetic?
But, every so often, I’m reminded that’s not the case at all. The bigger moments just manage to feel more substantial now, with those mid-season shots, at-bats, or passes ranking low even on my “don’t sweat the small stuff” totem pole.
At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, it occurred to me I had about one hour to get my son fed, changed, and cleaned up for bed in order to be parked in front of my television for the NBA Draft Lottery. Everything was rushed. I must owe him another song or book tonight, but I couldn’t simply jump on Twitter to learn where the Celtics are slated to draft with their top pick; I had to find out right along with the rest of you.
Maybe it’s because I was a C’s season ticketholder for nearly a decade, but I was nervous. Legitimately, embarrassingly nervous. More nervous than I was for the Red Sox’ latest tilt with the Cardinals in the World Series, or Game 7 of the Bruins’ matchup with the hated Habs.
In those instances, a season was on the line. On Tuesday, it felt like the future of a franchise was at stake.
Then, at 8:20 p.m., those horrific words: “Pick number 6 belongs to…the Boston Celtics.” Boston’s co-owner and on-site representative, Steve Pagliuca, forced a smile while simultaneously looking like he wanted to throw up.
It shouldn’t have come as a shock. Of all the possible outcomes, finishing at No. 6 was the most realistic with a 34.2 percent shot. Still, for months – nearly a full year – we’ve discussed, planned, and pined for a future with Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, or Andrew Wiggins with our friends, in comment sections, or with strangers on the radio.
Forget it. Barring trades, they’ll land in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, in whatever the order.
You’ll hear countless people today say, “See! This is why it’s bad to beat Miami! Those two wins were the difference between having a 33.4 percent chance of landing in the top-three and a 46.9 percent opportunity!” If forced to think that way, as a tanker, I’d rather crucify them for those two meaningless late-season wins over the Bobcats and Cavs.
Wait a minute, did that Cleveland loss assure its 1.7 percent chance of landing the first overall pick, thus handing the Gilberts their third No. 1 selection in four years? Curses!
Yeah, you get the idea. There’s no such thing as winning or losing too much. The lottery, any lottery, is only fair to those who win.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has long said he believes there are no franchise-altering cornerstone players in next month’s draft, and he reiterated that with the media after his “momentary disappointment” of seeing his organization finish with the sixth pick for the first time since Rick Pitino selected Ron Mercer in 1997.
There are starters, Ainge acknowledged, perhaps some future All-Stars. Teams will be drafting with “lots of risk and potential,” he said on Comcast SportsNet’s Lottery Night Live, giving credit to the depth of the group. “It’s a very young group, which means you have to project size and athleticism, not just what they did in college.”
Ainge and the C’s are in no different a position than they were prior to learning their fate in the lottery, aside from knowing the worth of its latest asset. If the team is to attempt to package the pick in a trade with the Timberwolves for star forward Kevin Love, the Celts are now aware they’ll have to sweeten the pot. Possibly with another one of those picks from the Nets. The good news is they’re still operating from a position of strength, as no other club in the NBA could offer a better collection of draft choices, young talent, and expiring contracts to Minnesota – depending on how far Ainge is willing to go for a guy who may only call the Garden home a year.
Beyond that, all the same questions remain.
Should Boston build around Rajon Rondo? If so, what moves are necessary to convince him to stay? Plus, is he really deserving of max-player money?
Is Avery Bradley worth the type of money he’ll be chasing in restricted free agency?
Where will the team find its sorely missed finisher and rim-protector?
The roster is very much in flux. Even winning that first overall pick wouldn’t have answered all of those questions. In reality, it would have answered very few. Maybe none.
While the future looks bright for Parker (if he’s in shape), Embiid (if his back’s healthy), and Wiggins (if he finds consistency as he matures), there’s no way to know. There’s usually a bust in the bunch. Consider everyone’s favorite example, Greg Oden.
In a perfect world, if they didn’t adjust for Love, the Celtics would find another Larry Bird or Antoine Walker at No. 6. Or, more recently elsewhere, a Damian Lillard (Portland, 2012). The C’s didn’t know how lucky they’d be with captains Rondo at No. 21 or Paul Pierce at No. 10 several years ago. By the way, Joe Johnson (10), Al Jefferson (15), Bradley (19), Tony Allen (25), and Kendrick Perkins (27) were all taken well after that sixth spot.
Of course, these are the positive examples. There are plenty of bad ones, too, but what do we have to hang onto right now if not some positivity?
“This is an exciting time of the year,” Ainge told reporters. “It’s an exciting time for our franchise. We can do anything, from taking the two draft picks (the other, courtesy of Brooklyn, at No. 17) and continuing to add to our young talent, or we could make some bigger deals that speed up our process, and everywhere in between. I think everything’s possible and it’s going to be a really interesting next month.”
Hopefully he’ll use that time to blow off some fireworks, while fans feel the need to blow off some steam. Never has having a mascot named “Lucky” felt as ironic as during lottery season.
What’s next? Not even Ainge knows, but he’s been through this before. He turned a No. 5 pick and a boatload of bodies into Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in 2007. Seven years later, most will pray a similar selection will help buy a deal with a familiar city. If history is any indication, that pick is heading somewhere other than Boston. After all, that “sixth pick has serious value.”
With the mystery over the placement of the pick gone, it’s time for the man affectionately known as “Trader Danny” to get to work. Along the way, he’ll mull over his options while hosting potential future Celtics for workouts starting in June.
“Our need right now is quality players,” Ainge said.
That feels especially true today. I’m gonna go read my son that extra book, now that this one is finally closed.
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