With co-owner Steve Pagliuca on the podium and president Rich Gotham in the room where the combinations are popped out of the ping-pong ball machine, the Celtics returned to the lottery for the first time since May 2007.
And Tuesday night, the lottery netted the Celtics the sixth pick in the draft. The Cavaliers earned the first pick, the Milwaukee Bucks got the second slot and the 76ers got the third pick.
The results were so bad back then that Danny Ainge traded away the fifth pick in the draft for Ray Allen and an enormous hook that eventually drew Kevin Garnett from Minnesota.
Now that multiple reports have another Minnesota superstar, Kevin Love, planning to leave via free agency in 2015, Ainge’s knack for the big deal will once again be on display. According to a Yahoo Sports report, the Celtics have become a “sleeper” in the upcoming bidding war for Love thanks not only to their chance at a top-three pick in the June 26 draft, but also for the stockpile of first-rounders Ainge has compiled.
Love naturally wants to play for a contender, and multiple reports have named Golden State and Chicago as his preferred destinations. But like fellow bidders Houston, New York, Phoenix and the Lakers, neither team has assets like those Ainge can offer.
Beyond Tuesday night’s pick placement and the 17th overall pick on June 26, the Celtics have the following stockpile, spread over the next four seasons:
2015: Celtics’ own first-rounder, Clippers’ first-rounder (via Doc Rivers compensation), Philadelphia’s first-rounder (lottery protected), Philadelphia’s second-rounder (if Sixers are in the lottery) and Sacramento’s second-rounder (if between 56 and 60).
2016: Celtics’ own first-rounder, Brooklyn’s first-rounder, Miami’s second-rounder, Philadelphia’s second-rounder (if Sixers aren’t in 2015 lottery).
2017: Celtics’ own first-rounder with option of swapping picks with Brooklyn, Celtics’ own second-rounder (unless first-round swap is made with Brooklyn, and the second-rounder is between 56 and 60).
2018: Celtics’ own first-rounder, Brooklyn’s first-rounder, Celtics’ own second-rounder.
Ainge only has seven players signed to guaranteed contracts next season, and an eighth, Joel Anthony, is expected to pick up his player option. But of this group, only Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green (player option), Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk (team option) have guaranteed deals beyond next season.
Celtics types are obviously hoping for a Clippers implosion next season. And the advanced age and deteriorating health of the Nets considered, those Brooklyn picks should be more valuable than the Celtics’ own by 2016.
Ainge, as a result, has many expiring and non-guaranteed contract combinations available to deal along with his draft picks.
All that would be left is the biggest challenge — convincing Love that the Celtics can win soon if he signs a maximum contract. Any speculation over the trade of Rajon Rondo would probably end there. The point guard’s elite presence would surely be needed to pull Love down the path originally blazed by Garnett.