On Thursday night, the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics 88-80 in a divisional game that appears crucial for both teams. Yet Thursday’s game wasn’t as important for either franchise’s future as two seemingly unrelated games out west. Doesn’t make sense? Well, it does to Celtics general manager Danny Ainge and Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo.
On Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 114-90. Friday night, the Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers 99-86. The Sixers and Celtics both have a good chance at receiving the Lakers’ first-round draft pick this coming June. If the pick falls from 2-5, it goes to the Celtics as a result of the Markelle Fultz trade. Any other draft slot will make the pick go to the Sixers.
Los Angeles Lakers’ Record Will Impact Futures of Celtics, 76ers
The arrow is pointing up for both the Celtics and the 76ers, so it’s odd to say that the team’s current games don’t matter as much as a draft choice. After all, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons are already good – but who knows about a draft pick? The pick might be another Jayson Tatum or Joel Embiid, but it might also be another Jahlil Okafor.
Boston and Philadelphia are still on the come-up
Here’s the thing, though: With a little luck, neither the Celtics nor Sixers are even close to their peaks. Both franchises figure to be in better shape in two or three years than they are now. At the same time, neither team is likely to beat LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs this year. Remember last year, when the Celtics won Game 7 against the Washington Wizards on May 15 and won the NBA draft lottery on May 16? They were feeling as good about themselves as a franchise can possibly feel on the morning of May 17. The Celtics even had homecourt in Game 1 against Cleveland that night. Yeah…well, the Cavs strolled into Boston and led by 22 points at halftime. It didn’t matter that Cleveland had given away homecourt advantage in the season’s final week. This year, regardless of the Cavs’ current struggles, they are still the team to beat in the East. The Celtics and Sixers are unlikely to get those franchise-altering championship rings this coming June.
A cornerstone player, though? Now THAT changes a franchise. This year’s NBA draft looks to be loaded at the top, especially in the first five or six picks. Coincidentally, the Celtics’ and Sixers’ line of demarcation comes after the fifth pick. Boston might get a superstar in the two to five range, or Philadelphia could get its man in the six to seven range. Or, if the NBA gods really wanted to have fun, Philly could draft first overall for the third consecutive year.
Lottery reform is coming
If you’re still not sold, here are two final words: lottery reform. In 2019, the NBA draft lottery percentages will change dramatically, throwing another wrench into this situation. Whoever doesn’t get the Lakers’ pick this year will get the Sacramento Kings’ pick in 2019. Sacramento should slightly improve next year with its young talent – let’s say the Kings are the eighth worst team in 2019. Those eighth-best odds could more easily land the Celtics or Sixers the first pick, but it could also land them the 10th pick in a supposedly weaker draft. Given that Boston and Philadelphia are both already young playoff teams, they’d much rather draft their next young stud this summer instead of the following one.
Neither team would admit it publicly, but the scores in other NBA games around the league matter more to the Celtics’ and 76ers’ future championship prospects. One team will benefit from getting the Los Angeles Lakers’ ping-pong balls this June. One of those ping-pong balls might include the missing puzzle piece for these divisional rivals.