The Boston Celtics are trying to go from No. 1 seed to No. 1 pick.
The Los Angeles Lakers don’t need to be first, but they sure better not be worse than third.
A night that’s normally for the NBA’s biggest losers has huge consequences this time for its greatest champions as the league holds its annual draft lottery Tuesday night.
There’s plenty at stake for teams such as Philadelphia, New Orleans and Sacramento, whose draft strategies can change enormously if the Ping-Pong balls bounce right in a New York hotel ballroom. But for the Celtics and Lakers, who were busy playing each other in the NBA Finals back when the lottery was instituted in 1985, the swings could help determine how quickly they can get back to their former heights.
A night after the East’s top seed hosts Game 7 of its second-round series, the Celtics will have a 25 percent chance of landing the top pick, thanks to a trade that keeps paying off for them nearly four years after they made it.
When the Celtics decided to break up the remaining core of their 17th NBA championship team, they dealt Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn as part of a draft-night deal in 2013. Boston got back first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018, as well as the right to swap picks this year.
The Nets are in a rebuilding mode and had the NBA’s worst record this season, so the timing worked out perfectly for the Celtics. After falling back for a decade, the team in the pole position has won the lottery the last two seasons.
That’s why team president Danny Ainge refused to make any win-now deals before February’s deadline that would have affected their good chances of winning later.
“It’s a win-win and when you’re the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and you have all these assets, you don’t need to be in a hurry and can just take your time,” said TNT analyst Kevin McHale, a former coach and executive who played with Ainge in Boston.
The lottery sets the top three picks, and the remainder of the 14 teams in the lottery will select in the inverse order of their finish, so the Celtics can do no worse than the No. 4 pick.
The Lakers don’t have that luxury.
They start the night in the No. 3 spot, and if they fall any lower — and there’s about a 53 percent chance they will — their pick goes to Philadelphia. The Lakers originally dealt it to Phoenix in 2012 in the trade for Steve Nash, and the 76ers later acquired it from the SunsThat sets up the 76ers as potentially the biggest winners of the night, a year after they won the lottery and eventually drafted Ben Simmons. They could not only win again if they move up from their current fourth spot, but land another top-five pick if the Lakers fall backward.
And if the Sixers get the Lakers’ pick, that also means Los Angeles must give its first-round pick in 2019 to Orlando under the complicated terms of its 2012 acquisition of Dwight Howard.
The Lakers aren’t the only team that needs lottery luck after mortgaging the future for an All-Star big man. The New Orleans Pelicans will lose their pick to Sacramento unless they move into the top-three, part of the terms of its acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins in February.
After Boston, the remainder of the lottery teams are: Phoenix, the Lakers, Philadelphia, Orlando, Minnesota, New York, Sacramento, Dallas, New Orleans, Charlotte, Detroit, Denver and Miami.
They are hoping to get well-positioned in what’s considered a strong top of the draft, including point guards Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox.
Ball’s father, LaVar, hopes the UCLA star stays in Los Angeles to play for the Lakers, who will be represented on stage by team president Magic Johnson.
On Tuesday, they need more than Magic.
They need luck.