In recent years, Celtics fans have almost always had multiple rooting interests. They cheer for the Celtics, and they root against teams whose draft-pick rights could be owned by them. There was a chance that next year would be the first since 2013 in which Boston was not connected to another team’s first-round pick. But now that appears unlikely.
In Tuesday night’s draft lottery, the Grizzlies secured the No. 2 overall pick. Boston would have received Memphis’s choice had it fallen outside the top eight. Now, that pick will officially roll over to next season, when it is top six-protected before becoming unprotected in 2021.
This was a positive result for the Celtics for several reasons. In addition to the decreased protections, Memphis appears to be in the midst of a rebuild. Also, the Celtics already have three first-round picks in this draft, and would rather spread out their assets. And perhaps most importantly, they now have one more shiny piece to dangle in Anthony Davis trade talks in the coming weeks.
If the Celtics trade the Grizzlies pick in a deal for Davis, of course, they will no longer care about the future makeup of the Memphis roster. But for now, they do care. So here is how Tuesday’s result could affect the value of the Grizzlies pick moving forward.
Murray State point guard Ja Morant is widely viewed as the second-best prospect in this draft behind Duke’s Zion Williamson. If the Grizzlies select Morant, it would make it even more likely Memphis would trade its best player, veteran point guard Mike Conley.
Conley, who will turn 32 before next season, was nearly dealt prior to last February’s deadline, and the Grizzlies probably would like to shed his $32.5 million salary at this point. Considering the fact that it is entering a rebuild, Memphis would most likely seek some collection of draft picks, young players, and expiring contracts in return for Conley, which would be ideal for the Celtics given their current timeline.
Beyond Conley, much of the Grizzlies’ roster is in flux. Their second-best player is probably second-year forward Jaren Jackson Jr., who missed the last two months of the season with a quadriceps injury. The Grizzlies have just five other players who have guaranteed deals for next season, and none of them should really concern Celtics fans.
The group includes oft-injured forward Chandler Parsons, whose $25.1 million salary will limit the Grizzlies’ flexibility this summer. Kyle Anderson, C.J. Miles, Ivan Rabb, and Bruno Caboclo also have guaranteed deals.
The Grizzlies’ third-best player might be center Jonas Valanciunas, who was the main piece Memphis received in the deal that sent Marc Gasol to the Raptors in February. Valanciunas, 27, averaged 19.9 points and 10.7 rebounds and made 54.5 percent of his shots after being acquired. He has a $17.6 million player option.
Delon Wright, another piece from the Gasol deal, is a restricted free agent. He had a limited role in Toronto, but showed promise in Memphis by registering three triple-doubles over a one-week span in April.
The Grizzlies also hold team options on former Celtics guard Avery Bradley ($13 million) and guard Dillon Brooks ($1.6 million). Bradley had struggled ever since being traded to Detroit by Boston in the Marcus Morris deal in the summer of 2017. But he seemed reinvigorated during his short stint with the Grizzlies, averaging 16.1 points on 46.3 percent shooting in 14 games after being acquired from the Clippers in February.
While the likely addition of Morant would give the Grizzlies a boost, the team, as currently constructed, will not be close to challenging for a playoff berth in the powerful West. If the Celtics do not trade the Memphis pick this summer, their preference would be for it to roll over one more season, when it would become fully unprotected in 2021.
There is a chance that Memphis could assemble a talented young roster by then, much like the Kings did this year as they surged to the brink of the playoffs, much to the Celtics’ dismay. But the new, flattened lottery odds create possibility throughout the lottery, as Tuesday showed when the Lakers, Grizzlies, and Pelicans all jumped into the top four after starting the night outside the top six.