Every active No. 1 pick, with the exception of Tim Duncan, who has been in the NBA at least six seasons – Greg Oden, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kwame Brown, Kenyon Martin and Elton Brand – has changed teams by age 28.
It’s an era where teams must kowtow to top talent or risk losing it.
Danny Ainge apparently doesn’t subscribe to that model, though. Ainge, via Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated:
As I walk around town, more than anything else there are those that say, ‘Hey, don’t win too many games,”‘ said Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. “There are so many fans that want us to play for the draft.”
Ainge’s measured response is that they should be more careful what they wish for.
Without ever mentioning the name of the consensus No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, Ainge made it clear that he does not believe the Kansas freshman carries the value of Kevin Durant, with whom he is often compared.
“If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out there to change your franchise forever, or Tim Duncan was going to change your franchise for 15 years? That might be a different story,” said Ainge. “I don’t see that player out there.”
Ainge, even beyond his implicit insult of Wiggins, misses the point on multiple levels.
If the Celtics don’t tank, what’s the alternative? Winning 35 games? That’s still a miserable season, and it ends with minimal chance of landing a top player in the draft. Quite possibly, it means drafting a player who is exactly good enough to keep Boston in the 35-win range.
No team with a reasonable chance of advancing in the playoffs has ever tanked. Teams that know they’ll be bad regardless tank. They figure the difference between being run-of-the-mill bad and truly awful is offset by a higher draft choice, and usually, they’re right.
And tanking isn’t – at least, shouldn’t – be about going after a single player. The team with the worst record has only a 25 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, but it is guaranteed a top-four pick, and that’s a major part of the reward. Tanking appears to be more beneficial this season than usual, because there are several high-end prospects who will likely enter this draft: Wiggins, Julius Randle Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker, Andrew Harrison and more. Teams at the top of the draft, even if not holding the top pick, are in line to select a good player.
Obviously, if the Celtics land the No. 1 pick, Ainge would have several years to repair his relationship with Wiggins – if Wiggins even takes offense, which I doubt he would.
Ainge is a competitor who wants to win. Wiggins is a competitor who wants to win. If they’re ever working for the same organization, they can bond over that rather than the circumstances that brought them together.