The Celtics endured a 24–58 season in 2006-07 – the NBA’s second-worst record. That gave them a 19.9% chance of the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
But Trail Blazers, with a 5.3% chance, (and SuperSonics and Hawks) jumped Boston in the lottery.
It worked out fine for the Celtics, who traded the No. 5 pick to Seattle for Ray Allen. They used Allen’s presence to convince Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause, and Boston won the 2008 title.
But what if the Celtics – instead of Portland, which selected Greg Oden – landed the No. 1 pick?
Those who know Ainge best swear that he would have picked Durant No. 1 in the 2007 draft over Greg Oden had the pingpong balls bounced Boston’s way. Ainge’s son Austin, currently Boston’s director of player personnel, wasn’t a team employee in 2007, but he noted in June 2014 that, “I was in the draft room, and they would have taken Durant. I did have some inside information there.” His story has been vetted by Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck.
The clear implication: Durant should sign with the Celtics this summer, because they believed in him all along and know what they’re doing. Players want to play for organizations that have faith in them and are wise enough to build a winner.
Will that work here?
I doubt it, though Boston will certainly try to land Durant. The Celtics can also pitch Durant on their stockpile of assets – including multiple Nets picking – and Danny Ainge can credibly say he has turned assets into a winner. See 2007-08, when Boston missed its chance at Durant. And at least Durant is speaking positively about Boston and the Celtics.
But, if any team tries to sell Durant on their savvy by naming the mythical draft picks they would’ve gotten right (involving him or otherwise), he should challenge them on their full draft boards over the years. Nobody leaks info about the pick they would’ve gotten wrong.