If you aren't a contender in the NBA, it can be a very strange place. There are a multitude of philosophies on how to become one, and none of them are foolproof. Luck matters for each and every team. Not everyone can draft Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Nor can they all swing trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. One way or the other, you must get lucky.

Putting yourself in the position to get lucky is really the name of the game. It can take years to put a team in the position to get lucky, and just like that the window can open or close (or open again, what's up DeAndre?).

Being in the position to get lucky is no accident. There are many ways to get there. There is an interesting dichotomy going on in the Eastern Conference as we speak. It has been going on for a couple of years, and will continue to go on for at least a couple more. Two teams that found themselves on the outside looking in.

One had the ultimate success in 2008, and found overall success into 2012. The other was on the brink of the ultimate success in 2001, and hadn't gone beyond the first round of the playoffs since 2003.
The two franchises are two of the NBA's most historic, our Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. The difference in approach between the two teams is seismic, but their goal is the same. It will be very interesting to watch their development over the next half-decade.

Philadelphia reached their fork in the road in 2013. They had a new GM, Sam Hinkie, who decided that it would be better to not care at all about their present roster or record, and rather maximize their chances in the lottery of getting a star or superstar to anchor their team.

It began with trading Jrue Holiday in 2013, their lone All-Star, for Nerlens Noel, who would be missing the season due to an injury suffered in college. That same draft they selected Michael Carter-Williams, the Rookie of the Year, who would be cast off only a season later in exchange for future draft picks.

The following year, in 2014, they were in the lottery again and selected injured Joel Embiid who also missed the entire season, and may miss time this year due to unforeseen setbacks in his recovery (if Willie Cauley-Stein's agent, rather than assure teams of his health, had stressed the complications of his college injury, perhaps Philadelphia would have taken him at number 3 in the draft. If I was him I would have shown up on crutches in hopes of moving onto Philadelphia's radar).

With last year's lottery pick out of the lineup all year, Philly AGAIN had a lottery pick which they used on Jahlil Okafor, who most draft experts were predicting would go number 2 to Los Angeles.

As you can see overall Philadelphia has trashed their last two seasons, and potentially more, in hopes of securing top level talent through the draft. Tough to sit through as a fan, but at least you have the hopes of future success. Honestly though, watching Philadelphia as a fan must be like watching summer league. That is TORTURE.

It looks like they are starting to accumulate some assets thought, they have 3 lottery pick big men in Noel, Embiid, and Okafor. They have the Lakers pick next year which is looking very good, and like everyone else next season, they will have cap space.

Tanking and focusing on acquiring draft picks is one way to do it, but it's not without it's risks as Boston (and certainly Rick Pitino.....puke) can attest.

The Celtics have gone the other route. They moved on from the Big 3 era (technically they let Ray Allen walk a year earlier) by trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets, and trading coach Doc Rivers to the L.A. Clippers. The rewards were future draft picks, assets Danny Ainge viewed as valuable chips.

Brad Stevens replaced Doc Rivers as coach (who would have thought that would have been such an easy transition?), but did not quite inherit Doc Rivers' team. The Celtics finished 25-57 under Stevens in his first season, and it appeared the tank might be on.

During last season, Rajon Rondo was traded, the biggest signal that the tank was on the way, and Jeff Green was traded as well. Each time the Celtics took what they got in return, and somehow improved.

Though Ainge has never really confirmed it to my knowledge, the thought process was most likely to tank. But nobody told the team and the coach that, and they finished the year 40-42, way ahead of what anyone had them marked for, and made the playoffs as the 7 seed. Also Ainge did not behave like the owner of the Cleveland Indians in "Major League", he seemed happy the team was winning games.

Since the Celtics played themselves out of the lottery last year, the process has changed. They are now in a different phase of the rebuild. Ainge has improved the roster each year, and if that is the case again the Celtics own draft pick will most likely not be in the lottery, and if it is it will be in the high range of the lotto.

While improving the roster Ainge has not hamstrung the team with lengthy or pricey contracts. He has maintained future flexibility, while keeping the team competitive.

The same appears to be on schedule for this season. Again the roster is improved, yet in the offseason the team will have enough flexibility to potentially chase two max-contract stars, and we have one of the best coaches in the game in Brad Stevens.

Which situation would look better to you as a fan? Or better yet, as a potential free agent? It is going to be very interesting to see how these two polar opposite approaches play out over the next few years, and honestly neither is right or wrong. I like to think the basketball God's will reward the hard, honest work and not the intentional losing, but who knows?

If Brooklyn buys out Deron Williams and he goes to Dallas, as Mark wrote about this morning, the Celtics could be getting some of that sweet, tasty luck we talked about. Make the playoffs, stay competitive, have the cap space to sign a max (or two!) player, and still get two lottery picks? That's the type of season that can turn a franchise around, and even though some impatient fans want a star every offseason, Trader Danny has us in that position to get lucky.

Top Photo Credit: USATSI

Middle Photo Credit: Tornoe/Philly.com

Bottom Photo Credit: Yong Kim/Philly.com

Follow Chris on Twitter @Thomp_26

Chris Thompson 7/10/2015 08:05:00 AM Edit
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