Danny Ainge

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A disaster's unfolding for future Celtics draft picks we assumed would be in lottery

John Tomase
November 13, 2018 - 10:51 am

There’s a disaster scenario unfolding for the Celtics, and it has nothing to do with their 1-4 West Coast road trip or slide towards .500.

It’s their future draft picks.

Remember those fever dreams about replenishing a loaded roster with top-three picks from Sacramento this year and Memphis in 2021? Well the Kings and Grizzlies are most definitely not playing along.

In fact, of the four potential first-round picks the Celtics possess in this June’s draft, the highest at the moment is their own.

It’s stunning, but true. The 7-6 C’s will receive the higher of Philadelphia or Sacramento’s first-rounder, unless it’s No. 1 overall. The Sixers (9-6) are playing well, as expected, and just acquired Jimmy Butler.

The Kings, however, are the real shocker. They’re 8-6 after Monday’s victory over the Spurs and might be the most unexpectedly entertaining team in the league. They’re young and insanely athletic, led by second-year guard De’Aaron Fox, bomber Buddy Hield, and big man Willie Cauley-Stein. Their X-factor might be Serbian sharpshooter Nemanja Bjelica, however. The former Euro League MVP is shooting over 50 percent on 3-pointers and seems to be good for one jaw-dropping pass a night. After three forgettable years in Minnesota, the 6-foot-10 forward has found a home in Sacramento as a floor-spacer.

With eight regulars under age 25 and three under 21, the Kings could easily fade in the loaded Western Conference. But for now they’re holding their own while playing a wide-open style, tied for the No. 5 seed, with wins over the Thunder and Spurs. They also just allowed 144 points to the Bucks, so defense ain’t their thing. But they’re averaging nearly 115 points on top-three 3-point shooting team.

That’s not how this season was supposed to play out from a Celtics perspective.

Another of Sacramento’s quality victories? Memphis. The Grizzlies looked cooked last season after going 22-60 with an aging roster and no clear vision at the top; rather than get something for resurgent swingman Tyreke Evans at the trade deadline, for instance, they watched him walk in free agency.

This year’s Grizzlies welcomed back guard Mike Conley, however, and have raced to a 7-5 start, thanks to the league’s No. 1 defense, which is allowing barely 100 points a game. The Grizzlies have already beaten the Jazz twice, as well as the Nuggets and Sixers.

They’re led by old reliables like Marc Gasol and Conley, with surprising contributions from 19-year-old rookie Jaren Jackson (11.5 ppg), a 6-11 shot blocker drafted fourth overall. In a league built around offense, the Grizzlies are the throwback outfit trying to win at a grinding pace.

Then there are the Clippers. The Celtics receive their first-round pick if it falls outside the top 14. Doc Rivers’ gang missed the playoffs last year after trading away franchise forward Blake Griffin. They’ve retooled around one of the league’s most potent offenses featuring gunners Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari, as well as Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams.

The Clippers are 8-5, averaging over 116 points a game, and just beat the Warriors. We know Doc can coach, though in this case conveying a pick wouldn’t be the worst thing, since eventually the Celtics will otherwise receive a second-rounder.

So what does it all mean? If the season ended today (obviously it doesn’t), the Celtics would pick 17th (their own), followed by the Sacramento pick at No. 20, Memphis at No. 21, and the Clippers at No. 25.

There’s certainly value in that kind of volume, but this isn’t the NFL. Teams aren’t clamoring to trade out of the top-five to accumulate picks in the teens and 20s. It’s also a far cry from the dream scenario, where the C’s space out lottery picks in 2019 and 2021 to keep this train rolling.

In any event, there’s no way they make four first-round picks, so Danny Ainge would have no choice but to wheel and deal, not that he needs much provocation in that regard. But until then, we must ponder a future in which the Celtics possess no future draft picks except their own.