The Boston Celtics remain in first place in the Eastern Conference, having conceded the slot for 24 hours recently. Kyrie Irving is a surefire All-Star and dark horse MVP candidate. Jayson Tatum is a top-three Rookie of the Year candidate, which is absolutely wild for a 19-year-old who joined a really good team. Despite the catastrophic injury to star free agent pickup Gordon Hayward in Game 1, Boston actually looks capable of challenging LeBron James and the Cavaliers for a trip to the NBA Finals.
By the way, the Celtics are in line to have another top-five pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Boston traded the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick in the deal that brought Kyrie Irving to New England. But the other major trade the C’s made last summer — sending the No. 1 overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 pick and a future choice — means Boston could pick in the top five for the third straight season despite making the playoffs each year.
The pick’s origin story traces to the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2012, the Lakers traded two future first-round picks and two future second-round picks to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade for Steve Nash. L.A. paid Nash $27 million over three years for 65 games of work. Welp.
One of those future firsts that went to Phoenix was protected in the top five in 2015, protected in the top three in 2016 and 2017, and unprotected in 2018. As it turns out, the Lakers have been dreadful over the past four years. So the Lakers kept that pick in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
But the Suns didn’t wait on it to transfer. At the 2015 trade deadline, Phoenix sent the pick to the Sixers in a three-team trade to land Brandon Knight, who was months away from being a restricted free agent. The Suns signed Knight to a five-year, $70 million contract that summer. Knight’s in the third year of that deal. He started just five games last year and hasn’t played a single second this season due to a torn ACL.
This tortured future Lakers pick now became booty captured in Sam Hinkie’s asset net. After Hinkie was exiled from Philadelphia, the new Sixers front office decided to leverage the pick to move up in the 2017 draft. Last June, Philly traded the No. 3 pick in 2017 and a conditional future pick to Boston for the No. 1 overall pick. The Sixers took Markelle Fultz, who as a rookie has played four games (poorly) and happens to be currently trapped in the panic room that is the Sixers’ medical rehabilitation program.
It’s not certain that the pick the Celtics receive in the Fultz trade will be the Lakers’ unprotected 2018 selection, because the Sixers stuck new conditions on it. If the Lakers win the No. 1 overall pick, the Sixers keep it and Boston instead gets either the Sixers or Kings pick in 2019. If the Lakers’ pick falls below No. 5, the same condition applies: the Celtics get a pick next year.
Right now, the Lakers are the second-worst team in the NBA. Under current NBA draft lottery rules — which will change going into 2018-19 — the Lakers pick has an 80.1 percent probability of landing between No. 2 and 5.
As of now, based on current standings, there is an 80.1 percent probability that the Boston Celtics — first place in the East — will have another top-five pick in what looks to be a very nice draft. If the Lakers end up as the third-worst team, the odds of Boston getting the pick this year are virtually unchanged (in fact, a little better at 80.4 percent). Should L.A. become the fourth-worst team in the league, Boston’s odds of grabbing the pick this year would drop to 70.9 percent.
Danny Ainge is a wizard.