Boston Celtics Tank Report: What’s At Stake?

All right, Hardwood Houdini readers: the truth has come out.

Feb 21, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green (8) kneels on the court beside Boston Celtics guard Gerald Wallace (45) after being hit in the face against the Los Angeles Lakers during the third quarter at Staples Center. The Lakers won 101-92. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Despite player, coaches, and front office assertions to the contrary, the Boston Celtics are a team that is tanking as hard as any bottom-dwelling team in the NBA right now.  Whether the team always planned on sinking to the bottom of the standings is debatable – I like to think there was a shred of Celtic pride on hand when the season opened, if only to give the front office a chance to see how well the current roster really could play – but by now there can be no doubt that the front office has done what it needed to do in order to guarantee that this team will not even be sniffing the playoffs once April rolls around.

I’m not necessarily okay with this – deliberately losing doesn’t exactly jive with the integrity of the game, nor does it make me want to spend my hard-earned dollars on the product that Boston is selling – but at the same time I understand that the only reason this roster exists in the first place is because the Celtics needed to clear out some players and salaries in order to get the rebuilding process under way.  Now that we’re nearly 3/4 of the way through the season, with no chance of making the playoffs (even in the dreadful East), it’s time to embrace the tank and see how it benefits the Cs.

Following last night’s downright embarrassing loss to the Utah Jazz, the Boston Celtics own a 19-39, good for the fourth-worst record in all of the NBA.  (The Celtics currently are tied with the hated Los Angeles Lakers at 19 wins, but the Lakers have played, and lost, less games than Boston, giving them a better win percentage right now.)  If the Celtics keep losing, they could conceivably end up with the third- or even second-worst record in the league, but they will be hard-pressed to catch the abysmal Milwaukee Bucks, who have still only won 11 games this season.

Based on how the NBA draft lottery works, it is Boston’s “best” interest to remain among the league’s worst four teams, as only those four teams hold a double-digit percent chance of landing the first pick in the draft.  Here are the percentages for the bottom four teams in the NBA:

  • Fourth-worst 11.9% chance of picking first
  • Third-worst, 15.6%
  • Second-worst, 19.9%
  • Worst, 25%

With this current pool of prospects, even the idea of picking fourth is tantalizing, as that means the Celtics will be assured of being able to draft either Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins, or Joel Embiid, the four players considered by most people with triple-digit basketball IQs to be the top-four players in college basketball today.  So, as much as it pains a longtime Boston Celtics fan to say this, I have to admit that I am hoping Boston’s losing ways will continue.  Ack – I feel so dirty saying that!  Help me – am I a bad Celtics fan for saying that, or is that the only course of action any of us should be pursuing?  Leave your comments below, or @theamazingMrS / @HoudiniCeltics on Twitter!

Topics: Boston Celtics

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  • California Dreamer

    The Celtics didn’t become great until they picked Bill Russell with a number 2 pick that involved a trade with the St. Louis Hawks and ice show concessions to the Rochester Royals. The rest is history. Territorial pick Tommy Heinsohn. The Junior eligible Larry Bird. The machinations of draft picks for Robert Parrish and the third pick for Kevin Mc Hale. Maybe Red Auerbach is channeling through Danny Ainge. Do what is necessary.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      From what I have read, heard, and seen of Ainge, I have confidence in him. He definitely appears to have studied how teams have successfully rebuilt. As a Boston fan I have been spoiled by many years of greatness, so it feels un-Celtics like to watch a team play this poorly, but you’re right: the Cs have been bad before, and have been able to rise from the ashes with some great teams. Thanks for the perspective!

  • Alex

    As a lifelong Celtics fan, I can confirm that you are NOT a bad Celtics fan for hoping their losing ways continue… In fact, that in itself not only makes you a good fan, it makes you a smart one.

    As i read through various C’s articles on the web, it’s AMAZING to me how many fans don’t share the same sentiment. Those who are rooting for this team to win, and look down upon those of us who aren’t, are completely ignorant (or extremely naive) to how the NBA works.

    Having “superstars” is the ony way to win championships in the NBA. Aside from maybe a handful of seasons, every championship has been won by a team that’s had a top 20 player(s) on its roster. And all due respect to Rajon Rondo supporters, but the Celtics don’t currently have anyone of that caliber.

    And it doesn’t really matter if you think that caliber of player exists in this draft or not… Getting a higher pick (and a perceived better player) is an ASSET, and the better the pick, the better that asset will be, whether its the player selected or the pick itself.

    While I’m not a fan of how this works in the NBA, until they change the way the draft works (rewarding teams who are terrible), it is what it is, and its what the Celtics have to work with. Bottoming out (and avoiding the middle of the pack where you have no chance at a championship AND no chance at a stud player in the draft) is the best (and quickest) way to go about making a once great team competitive again. And thank god we have a GM in Danny Ainge who absolutely gets it.

    While i’m at it, i’ve crunched some numbers and included some stats/projections for the remainder of the season below:

    -17 of their 24 remaining games come against current playoff teams.

    (Home vs ATL, IND, GSW, BKN, PHO, MIA, TOR, CHI, CHA, WAS)
    (Away vs IND, DAL, BKN, TOR, CHI, WAS, ATL)

    -For the season they have a 5-23 (win 17.9%) record gainst current playoff teams.
    -over their last 29 games(1/2 of games played), they are 2-13 (win 13.3%) against current playoff teams
    -in those 2 wins, they went into OT vs Washington and Toronto had a shot to tie with seconds left in the 4th quarter.
    -based on the 17.9 win%, they are projected to win 3 of those 17 games.
    -based on the 29 game 13.3 win%, they are projected to win 2 of those 17 games.

    7 of their 24 remaining games come against non-playoff teams:

    (Home vs DET, NYK, PHI)
    (Away vs NOR, DET, CLE, PHI)

    -For the season they have a 14-16 (win 46.7%) record against current non-playoff teams
    -over their last 29 games(1/2 of games played), they are 5-9 (win 35.7%) against current playoff teams
    -based on the 46.7 win%, they are projected to win 3 of those 7 games.
    -based on the 29 game 35.7 win%, they’re projected to win exactly 2.5 (2-3) of those 7 games.

    A deeper look at these critical 7 games against non-playoff teams(projection in parenthesis):

    @NOR
    -The C’s are 0-13 in western conference road games and lost at home against NOR. (@NOR projected loss)

    vsDET/@DET
    -The C’s are already 0-2 vs DET, who are currently 9th in the East (3 games out) and are trying to make the playoffs (vsDET/@DET = 2 projected losses)

    vsNYK
    - the NYK do not have their 1st round pick and are making an effort to win each game,
    -Although the Celtics are 2-1 against NYK this season, their wins came in games 22 and 25, and as I’ve pointed out, the Celtics have played worse (and probably came to the realization that their season was over and needed to tank) over the 2nd half of their games played. The C’s lost their 47th game (1/28) vs NYK 114-88. (vs NYK projected loss)

    @CLE
    -The Celtics are 2-0 vs CLE (game 18 and game 30)
    -while they haven’t played for 2 months and anyone could win this game, I see the C’s taking this one (@CLE projected win)

    vsPHI, @PHI
    - will be important in determining where the C’s finish in the standings.
    -Celtics are in direct competition with PHI for a higher pick. PHI is currently 2nd worst team, 3.5 games ahead of Celtics. 2 Celtics losses would gain 2 full games, meaning the C’s could enter April back 3 or even 4 games and have a chance at making a move.
    -the games vsPHI and @PHI are their 76th and 81st games respectively. and at that point it will be more clear how a win or loss will effect the standings.
    -Unless the standings are already locked up, everyone should expect that 81st game @PHI to be the ugliest NBA game ever, with both teams doing their best to lose. With a seasons worth of tanking practice, I expect them to battle to a 1-1 split. (1 win/1 loss projection)

    A few quick notes on PHI, ORL, LAL:

    -ORL is currently 2.5 games ahead of BOS, and still have 8 non-playoff teams remaining on their schedule(23 total games)
    -PHI is currently 3.5 games ahead of BOS, and still have 11 non-playoff teams remaining on their schedule(25 total games)
    -LAL is currently 0.5 games behind of BOS, and still have 11 non-playoff teams remaining on their schedule (25 total games)
    -ORL and PHI play each other 2 more times. At a time where every win is significant, if one of them were to sweep those 2 games it would be a great help to the Celtics chances at catching one.
    -ORL and LAL play each other 1 more time.

    If I were going to guess a range of total wins over their last 24 games, figuring likely best case/worst case scenarios, I’d say the Celtics will win between 4-7 games, which would put them between 23-26 wins on the season. My guess is that they finish in a tie for the 3rd worst record, leaving them with 138/137 combinations (depending on coin flip) and roughly a 13.75% chance at the 1st pick.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Well-thought out response! I don’t object to your assertion that Rondo is not a top-20 player, although I would at least argue that he is an All-Star point guard who, when teamed with such a player, can carry his team to a whole new level. No offense to Russell Westbrook, but Kevin Durant MIGHT have a ring by now if he played with Rondo, IMO. But you are right – the best thing Celtics fans can hope for right now is drafting Wiggins, Parker, Randle or Embiid and hoping that Danny Ainge can also bring in a solid free agent over the summer. Embrace the tank, Boston fans!

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  • Glenroy Joseph

    The Celtics seems to have mastered the fine art of tanking without appearing to tank .
    They even had me fooled .
    For a while.
    All those close losses of winnable games ……

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Ha ha, yes!