The Boston Celtics draft lottery curse is real. There’s really no denying it.
After defeating the Houston Rockets in six games during the 1986 NBA Finals, the Celtics were on top of the world. Finals MVP Larry Bird nearly averaged a triple double in the series (24.0, 9.7, 9.5) and had outgunned a Hakeem Olajuwon led Rockets team to capture the 16th championship in franchise history.
Following their championship season — and a trade that sent Gerald Henderson Sr. to the Seattle SuperSonics — the Celtics held the second pick in the 1986 NBA Draft. That draft, which is now widely regarded as the most troubled draft of all-time, featured a nice crop of talent at the top.
Names like Brad Daugherty (No. 1 overall to Cleveland), Chuck “The Rifleman” Person (No. 4 to Indiana) and John Salley (No. 11 to Detroit), highlighted that draft class. But the most infamous name of the group, to this day, is Len Bias.
Len Bias, a 6-foot-8 perimeter player from the University of Maryland, was pegged to be a superstar, but died from a cocaine overdose just two days later after being drafted second overall by the Celtics.
His death shook the country, and was the first installment of the Celtics’ draft woes.
The second installment came eleven years later in 1997. During the 1996-97 season, the Celtics amassed the second worst record at 15-67, behind only the league’s newest expansion team, the Vancouver Grizzlies.
The ping-pong balls didn’t bounce the Celtics way, once again, and they were saddled with the third pick in the draft. This was normally considered a pretty good position, but not this year…not when Tim Duncan was at the top of every draft board.
Both the Celtics and their fans dreamed of acquiring Duncan, who is now considered the best power forward to ever play the game, during the 1997 draft. But as luck would have it, the Spurs landed the top spot.
After learning of their fate, the Celtics attempted to offer a king’s ransom for the rights to draft Duncan, but it was to no avail. Former Celtics coach M.L. Carr was asked about the trade proposal for Duncan and said, “Popovich wouldn’t give up Time Duncan for those two picks, your next five picks, the revenue for the Mass. Pike for the next 50 years, the John Hancock Building, and half of the city of Boston.”
The Celtics went on to draft Chauncey Billups at no. 3. Billups played just 51 games for the C’s after clashing with Rick Pitino and was quickly traded.
But tonight, there’s hope. There’s hope that the Celtics can reverse the one major blemish on a storied franchise — lottery luck.
Fans are clamoring for the team’s chance to land the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. There’s two players at the top of the big boards — Ben Simmons of LSU and Brandon Ingram of Duke — who could be poised to take the league by storm.
These two fabulous freshman have showed glimpses of star power. Simmons’ passing ability has drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson’s ability to distribute, while Ingram’s lengthy frame and offensive ability has teams dreaming of Kevin Durant 2.0.
There is a debate on which should go No. 1, but the once consensus is that they should go one-two in this year’s draft. Therefore, if the Celtics hope to snag Simmons or Ingram, they’ll need to be at the top of the board.
The Celtics have a 15.6% chance to pick first and a 31.3% chance to pick second. While the C’s made the playoff this season, this year’s picks came courtesy of a 2013 trade with the Brooklyn Nets. That trade, which is absolutely dreadful in retrospect, sent Celtics legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (along with Jason Terry and D.J. White) to Brooklyn, while the C’s received five players, three first round picks (2014, 2016, 2018) and the right to swap picks in 2017.
15.6% and 31.3% — those odds are good. But as history has shown, it’s never a guarantee. Boston has young, up-start roster, a bounty of picks in the future and a rising star of a head coach in Brad Stevens.
Boston is poised for a big offseason, regardless of where the ping-pong balls land tonight. But for Boston’s sake, I’m sure Danny Ainge hopes the luck of the Irish will come out tonight.