When it comes to bad weeks, the Celtics should count their blessings - literally. They are in a position to get right back up, dust themselves off, and continue apace at doing what they've been doing since the third game in the season (winning, for those of you who have been in another dimension since October). For other teams - specifically, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers - the wheels are coming off only a quarter-way through the season, and it doesn't look good at all for their futures.
For Boston, however, these team's big stumbles could reap huge payoffs.
The Clippers have had a reputation of being both built for the playoffs and injury-prone, meaning most of their talent is concentrated in star veterans who garner the bulk of their playing time - and that said veterans have missed a lot of time over recent years, especially Blake Griffin. After opening the season on fire with four straight wins, injuries began to accrue, claiming point guard Milos Teodosic, wing Danilo Gallinari, then starting one Patrick Beverley. Noting the irony that the team's most injury-prone player was one of the only good players they had left, Mark Allison and I joked about it on our most recent podcast.
And then even Blake got hurt.
No official word yet on the severity of Blake Griffin’s knee injury, but - um - the video does not look good. pic.twitter.com/sUTHGml3do
Having sprained his MCL ligament, Griffin will likely miss many weeks if not months, meaning this team has no point guard or floor general worth speaking of (no offense, Jawun Evans, you're still young) with matchups with the Minnesota Timberwolves (twice), the Golden State Warriors (twice), Houston Rockets (twice) and San Antonio Spurs amidst many other solid teams before Griffin is likely to return (with Beverley and Teodosic out much if not all season), the scene looks grim in Clipperland.
If there's ever a moment to blow it up out there, it's probably now; injured or no, Blake, Patrick, and Danilo should fetch at least a first round pick, as could DeAndre Jordan. And they will need them, as Doc Rivers has had a continuing tendency to trade them away chasing rings.
One of them, in fact, belongs to the Celtics (more on that shortly).
Similarly, the Grizzlies are having a really bad week after a really hot start. They began the year 8-3, and had more than a few NBA analysts confused after seeming to defy both conventional wisdom and time as their core produced for yet another year beyond when most assumed it would take steps back.
Then, it did.
Marc Gasol is 33 in January. Mike Conley is plagued with chronic Achilles issues in Year 2 of 5-yr, $150M deal. Fizdale takes the fall.
Mike Conley's Achilles tendon started getting angry mid-November, and losses began to pile up. Chandler Parson's knee joined the chorus, as did Brandan Wright's legs, as both are wont to do. Even young Wayne Selden got in on the injury bug, and the losses rolled in, with Memphis only winning one of their last ten games. So, of course, the Griz' front office fired one of the more interesting young coaches in the league, because he was the one who signed a bunch of aging and injury-prone players, after all.
Whatever, it's their money. David Fizdale did indeed get rooked, but Boston may make out in the end here, too, as they control a Grizzlies' pick also. Let's change the focus a little to something less depressing - like those picks, for example.
As a reminder, the Celtics own the Grizzlies first round pick in 2019, if the pick falls between 9 and 30.
Boston gets it in 2020 if the pick falls between 7 and 30, if not already settled.
The Celtics own the 2019 first round pick from the Clippers, protected 1-14 in 2019 and 2020; if the Clips have not conveyed a first by 2020, then they will instead send their 2022 second rounder. Additionally, Boston controls the 2019 first from Memphis, protected 1-8 in 2019 and 1-6 in 2020, unprotected in 2021. While nothing's certain, Boston is at least much more likely to get a late first than they were two weeks ago.
Memphis' woes suggest a goodchance of getting a valuable first, as they are almost certain to miss the playoffs this year and quite possibly next, with little incentive to tank given Boston's protections, unless they tank hard. Given how small of a market Memphis is and how lottery odds have been smoothed to make the range of picks a team can land in broader, a full tank job is unlikely, but let's cross our fingers just in case.
What recent events mean for Boston relative to these picks is the following: The Clippers will probably not make the playoffs this year. They probably won't next, either, if they blow it up, but the Clippers might if they decide being OK is more important than winning rings. Even if they do, with the salary they have on the books, neither team may not be good again until well after 2021, meaning the scenario where Boston gets all the protected picks just got a little more plausible.
When pondering whether the Grizzlies might trade Marc Gasol and fully embrace a rebuild/tank - important to note that the Celtics owns Memphis' 2019 first round pick (protected for selections 1-8 in 2019 and 1-6 in 2020 and unprotected in 2021).
Did I mention the Los Angeles Lakers are also sucking quite nicely?
That last sentence deserved its own paragraph, but I bring it up because as most of you are aware, the Cs also have this oddly-protected pick swap with the Philadelphia 76ers from the trade we made with them this summer - the one that put Jayson Tatum in a green jersey (thanks, Danny!).
Celtics still don’t have enough offensive firepower. Jaylen Brown much improved, Tatum is coming quick. But need that No. 2 guy (Hayward). Key for Celtics championship future may be whether Lakers pick is 2-5 next June. https://t.co/AsQYi3H2rf
To refresh your memory, the pick is a 2018 first from the Lakers or 76ers this year, whichever is better so long as not the top pick or lower than sixth, where it then becomes the Sacramento Kings' pick next season, again so long as it's not the top pick, in which case Boston gets squat. If that's confusing, let's just say if what we have seen so far is about where the standings pan out at the end of the season, there's a good chance the Lakers end up falling in the required 2-5 range with the eighth-worst record in the league.
Trading away salary to make space for free agents next season may make them even crappier, and it's not out of the question the 76ers may slide significantly if their injury-prone roster trends the way it has in recent years. The Kings are looking as bad as ever, too, so Boston has decent odds on picking up that pick should this year's Lakers/76ers swap not pan out.
The Kings lost to the Hawks by 46 last night. If the Lakers pick doesn’t fall between 2-5 this the Celtics will own the rights to the SAC pick next year. That’s a great fallback option. They suck and will for a few more years in all likelihood.
I should emphasize here that the chances of not receiving any of these picks is high enough you should not be making bets you can't afford to lose over whether we get them, but the chances of nabbing all three got quite a lot better this week even still. It's not at all out of the question that in addition to the bevy of young talent currently on Boston's roster could see a top-five draft pick in addition to their own in the 2018 draft, and not one, not two, but three first-round picks in the 2019 at just the time Al Horford and Kyrie Irving's current deals will be winding down.
Again, a lot would have to go Boston's way for these picks to all convey, but as cruddy as this week has been for the immediate future of the Celtics, some crappy news from around the league might just make it look a lot better in the future.