What does NBA draft lottery reform mean for the Boston Celtics' picks?

What does NBA draft lottery reform mean for the Boston Celtics' picks?

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What does NBA draft lottery reform mean for the Boston Celtics' picks?

The NBA has taken a small but vital step toward addressing one of its biggest tanking issues by passing lottery reform by a 28-1-1 margin at the Board of Governors vote on Thursday.

Under the new rules that take effect for the 2019 draft, the teams with the three worst records in the league will each receive a 14 percent chance of winning the first overall pick, while the fourth-worst team will receive a 12.5 chance at No. 1. The lottery drawing will now cover the first four picks, increasing from the three-pick drawing system that was first implemented 30 years ago.

The distribution of odds has significantly flattened, with the odds for the number one-seed dropping 11 percent, the two-seed’s odds decreasing 4.9 percent, and the three-seed’s odds dipping by 1.6 percent. While the three worst teams now have a notably lesser chance at a top pick, the middle-of-the-pack lottery teams have seen a significant bump in their chances, discouraging the race-to-the-bottom tanking strategy that has been employed annually by a few teams each year.

“I felt lottery reform was important because there was a perception in many of our communities that the best path to rebuilding their teams was to race to the bottom,” Commissioner Adam Silver said at the Board of Governors press conference on Thursday. “I don’t necessarily agree that that’s the optimal strategy to create a great team, but it became currency in this league. So much so that there were situations in many of our team communities where the team felt under pressure to engage in that strategy, even when they didn’t think that was the best strategy to build their team.”

Ryan Bernadoni of Celtics Hub provided some valuable data on Twitter, illustrating the flattening effect of the new lottery policy.

What finally got this reform past the finish line was Sam Hinkie’s “Trust the Process” era with the Philadelphia 76ers, which infuriated many teams and the league office. Hinkie’s program was embraced by owner Josh Harris until the league eventually intervened and essentially ousted him for Bryan Colangelo in April 2016.

“There is no question that the analytics were suggesting that a plausible strategy was to be bad,” Silver said. “Not to suggest they were intentionally losing games, but to be bad. To trade away otherwise very serviceable players and embark on a strategy that requires them to, in essence, field poor teams, which they believed would give them the best chance to improve over the long term. I felt it was corrosive to this league.

“What we did was a compromise, in effect. I think what we’ve put in place is far from perfect. I think what it does is it flattens the odds among the worst-performing teams going into the lottery. So there is no longer an incentive to try to calibrate between the worst record and the second-worst record, and the second-worst record and the third-worst record. But at the same time, it recognizes that poor-performing teams do need to get high draft picks as a legitimate way to rebuild their team.”

As indicated from a report by ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst earlier this month, the Sixers have not been contributing to the league’s revenue system during the Process, despite having one of the largest media markets in the country. This has been the backbone of much of the resentment targeted their way, as their blatant strategy to not compete appeared to limit their revenue. This meant bigger clubs had to pay out more to teams in small markets that were losing money.

However, Silver did specifically, albeit somewhat indirectly, address this report as painting just a corner of the picture. Asked if he was comfortable with the financial health of the NBA’s 30 franchises and their current locations — with specific reference to Lowe and Windhorst’s report — Silver gave the state of the union a vote of confidence.

“Yes, we’re comfortable with every team and its market right now,” Silver said. “I think I should say those financials that got leaked are just a snapshot at a moment in time. I believe those numbers that were leaked relate directly to revenue sharing, and I think mischaracterize, I would say, sort of the financial situation of some of our teams.

“I would say from the league standpoint, revenue sharing, for example, looking at the financial health of a team pre-revenue sharing to me makes no more sense than looking at the health of a team pre their national television payment. We have one holistic system in place. It’s something, by the way, we spent a lot of time talking about yesterday, in terms of how revenue sharing should work and what the incentives are. But I believe under the current system – and that includes both the salary cap and revenue sharing – that every team has an opportunity to compete at a high level [and], if managed appropriately, to at least break even or make a little bit of money.”

The first attempt at a similar reform measure failed in 2014 because it couldn’t reach the 23 vote threshold, but support increased shortly after. The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to oppose it, especially after losing Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors, although GM Sam Presti has continued to prove that good management can overcome market size or draft position. The only other team that didn’t support the reform was the Dallas Mavericks, who abstained from the vote.

Although the Boston Celtics enter the season with championship aspirations, anyone who follows the NBA is well aware that they have a major stake in this reform with two potential high lottery picks in their near future. Here’s how the changes could impact Boston’s assets.

The Lakers/Kings Pick

The protections are simple… to a litigator maybe? You didn’t forget how they got here obviously. But just in case you just suffered some sort of basketball-focused amnesia this week, let’s run it back.

The Celtics traded the first overall pick in the 2017 draft – AKA the rights to guard Markelle Fultz – for the third pick in the draft (now known by his birth name, Jayson Tatum) and one of the following picks:

The Celtics will receive the Lakers’ pick in the 2018 draft if it falls between picks 2-5. They negotiated to have their draft rights roll over another year if the pick falls below five, while the Sixers managed to persuade the Celtics to let them keep the pick if they win the lottery.

If the pick rolls over another year, the Celtics will receive whichever pick is higher: the 2019 Kings selection or 2019 Sixers pick. But this will again be protected for number one. So, if the Sixers keep striking gold, the Celtics will fall to the potentially outside-the-lottery Sixers 2019 pick. It’s unlikely, but it’s mathematically quite possible.

Projecting the Lakers this season is just as murky as the Kings next season. Los Angeles has the talent and coaching staff to make a leap from their 26-56 record last season. They improved by nine wins last season, but the economy of scale on win increases becomes flatter as a team climbs further out of the basement. It’s easier for a team to improve their win total from the teens to the 20s as opposed to going from the 20s to 30s. But another year under coach Luke Walton, an eventually healthy Brook Lopez, growth from Brandon Ingram, newcomer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the already titillating potential of Lonzo Ball give the Lakers a higher ceiling for the season with a vast range of possibilities.

Vegas sets the Lakers’ over/under at 32.5 wins this year, which falls within range of win projections for several prominent statisticians. Based on last year’s standings, the Lakers would have been tied with the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth seed in the lottery. So if the Lakers meet expectations, there is a good chance this pick will roll over to 2019.

If the pick conveys in 2019, the Celtics will reap the benefits of the new system. The Kings have stalled out in the middle of the top-10 for a few years now, but are in for even more of a drop off this season. George Hill was the only starting-caliber player they added this offseason to a team already devoid of pretty much any starting-level players. They could see the top three of this draft quite easily, especially with some motivation to tank before they (most likely) have to give up their pick to Boston in 2019.

But after they receive a likely top pick this year and continue to develop their roster under well-respected coach Dave Joerger, they may be quickly rising next season. That is where the lottery reform plays into the Celtics’ hands, as the odds are staggered so that it is difficult to race out of the pits of the league quickly enough to lose a chance at a top-four pick.

Even if the Kings’ pick may have a better chance at hitting the lottery than the Lakers’, the 2018 draft has some incredible big man offerings and provides more immediacy. The Celtics could essentially complete their roster-building plan if they could snag a player like Mo Bamba, Michael Porter Jr., DeAndre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. Even if they ended up with Luka Doncic, his ceiling appears to be so historically high that it would be worth dealing with whatever roster fallout may follow.

The Memphis Grizzlies’ complicated protected pick

If you thought the Sixers’ trade protections were a blur, the Memphis pick is here to knock you off your feet. It’s protected for top-8 in 2019, 1-6 in 2020, and then unprotected in 2021. It was originally more complicated, because the Stepien rule meant the pick couldn’t convey until two years after the Grizzlies conveyed their first-rounder to the Denver Nuggets for a previous trade, but that finally occurred in 2017.

So, cut to 2019, and the Celtics could see a late lottery pick come their way from a Memphis team led by a 34-year-old Marc Gasol and 31-year-old Mike Conley. While both of these players should still be in their prime at this point (Gasol’s playing style should allow him to maintain his level of play into his mid-30s), it’s already going to be hard enough for them to make the playoffs this year. It’s fairly plausible to see them coming up short of the playoffs two years from now, especially since Gasol could be on a contract year if he declines his 2019-20 player option and winds up going the Paul George/Kyrie Irving route out of town.

With the new odds in place, the Grizzlies could fall into the back end of the lottery, with a slightly greater chance to leap into the top four and roll over the pick to 2020. The more the pick rolls over, the more likely it is the Grizzlies continue to decline. While there is plenty of opportunity for Memphis to bring in more players and improve as they start to open up cap space in 2019, no recent draft picks point to as future foundations for the franchise.

If the pick eventually rolls over to 2021, Boston could yet again have a chance at a top pick while still competing for a title. That could be the fourth time in six years they pull off the historic feat.

This lottery reform lines up perfectly with the potential decline in Memphis, playing right into Boston’s hands. And to think this is all a result of Boston unloading Jeff Green on Memphis in 2015. Boston gave up a player that was going nowhere in green (wordplay!) and could turn it into a high lottery pick while they are competing for a title. It’s not hard to see why so many GMs fear dealing with Danny Ainge.

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