Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Green with Envy

The NBA draft lottery produced a couple of upsets last night as the Trailblazers and Super Sonics won the right to draft Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. The Grizzlies and the Celtics, the teams with the two worst records in the league ended up at nos. 4 and 5. Jerry West the outgoing president of the Grizzlies called for the NBA to dump the lottery system and said that it was unfair. It is true that the team with the worst record, which has the highest statistical chance to grab the #1 spot, seldom ends up in that position. Since the league went to the draft lottery system in 1994, only twice has the team with the worst record ended up with the overall #1 pick.

The Celtics feel particularly slighted. 10 years ago they had the worst record in the league along with another lottery pick acquired through a trade. They had every reason to believe that they would end with the top pick. They did not win the lottery that year and instead ended up with the #3 and #6 pick, which they turned into Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer. Billups has developed into and all-star player with Detroit, but he did not display that kind of form during his one season as a member of the Celtics. Mercer was traded after two years in Boston. He did make the all-rookie team in his first season, but was never close to being a great player. The player who went #1 in that draft just happened to be Tim Duncan, who as we speak, is on the verge of leading his team to it's 4th title in 7 years. And who is on the short list for the discussion of greatest power forwards of all time.

If I were the Celtics, I'd be pissed too. They have seen their once proud franchise become a lottery mainstay. Since they scored the greatest coup of all time by drafting Larry Bird a year before the could enter the NBA and then following up two years later with Kevin McHale they have suffered through a series of draft mishaps and misfires. The Len Bias episode was the beginning of the downfall of the Celtics. He was seen as the successor to Bird and McHale, but ended up being a cautionary tale for all who followed. The death of Reggie Lewis was another blow to the team. With the exception of Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, the Celtics have precious little to show from their draft picks of the past twenty years. They have traded away players who would become all-stars (Billups and Joe Johnson) with no return or they have picked absolute duds (Joe Forte, Joe Moiso, Eric Montross). They have just done a very poor job of talent evaluation in most cases and have been very unlucky in a couple of others.

This years draft was going to be their opportunity to set all that right. Everyone agreed that both Durant and Oden are going to franchise type players. The type that push a good team into the upper echelon of the NBA or take a mediocre team and give them instant credibility. The Celtics couldn't go wrong this year. This was going to make up for all their past mistakes. They were getting Bill Russell or Kevin Garnett. Instead they got the #5 pick. The good news for the Celtics is that this is a fairly deep draft, given the fact that along with the usual entries from the college ranks there are a few players who would have been able to enter the draft last year out of high school under the old rules, but were forced to play one year of college ball. There are also the mysterious international players that always show up in the first round. There's a 7 footer from China who may be available at the #5 pick. All of this should bode well for the Celtics. Despite the disappointment of not getting the #1 pick, in theory they should be able to get a very highly skilled player or at least one with a huge upside.

Of course history shows us that undoubtedly, they will make the wrong choice. Perhaps they'll make a better choice than in 2001 when they chose Jospeh Forte with their second pick in the first round instead of Tony Parker or Gilbert Arenas. They also chose Joe Johnson in that draft at #10 (who only managed to average 25 points a game this year), but they decided they didn't need him after he had played only one year in Boston. The Celtics are one of the cornerstones of the NBA. They have won more championships than any other team. They have more hall of famers than any other team. They have more history than any other team. Unfortunately, their recent history of draft blunders is more like the LA Clippers and it is the LA Lakers.

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