Celtics hope for change in fortune

It seems undue to suggest that a team with 17 championship banners hanging from its rafters is unlucky. Sure, the Boston Celtics haven't had much good fortune when it comes to the NBA's draft lottery, but the franchise is far from snakebit.

And yet a fan base already longing for the sweet taste of competitiveness after just one rebuilding season will clutch its collective rabbit's feet, shamrocks and any other green-tinged good-luck charms it can find when the NBA finalizes the 2014 draft order on Tuesday night in New York City.

When the pingpong balls are drawn to determine the draft positions, the Celtics will own a 10.3 percent chance at the No. 1 selection and a 33.4 percent shot at a top-three pick. The odds lean heavier toward Boston's walking away with the fifth or sixth pick in this year's draft.

The lottery draw will occur before tipoff of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, a series that ought to make Boston wistful after three visits to that round since its last lottery appearance seven years ago.

And it's somewhat ironic that this year's Western Conference final features the Spurs' Tim Duncan and Thunder's Kevin Durant, the two players whom Boston missed out on when the pingpong balls defied them during the 1997 and 2007 lotteries.

This time around, it's fair to suggest that those in the Celtics organization are cautiously optimistic about their chances. Since the odds are not as heavily in the team's favor this time around, vaulting to a top spot would be a sweet victory, but defeat would not pack quite the same stomach punch as previous lottery failings.

Oh, it'll still hurt. Vaulting in the draft is a rare chance to jump on the rebuilding accelerator.

But the Celtics take pride in the fact that they are not at the mercy of the draft lottery. And maybe that's why Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge snickers when asked if he'll have any lucky charms in hand when the envelopes are opened.

"No. I believe what's going to happen will happen," Ainge said. "And we're prepared for whatever happens."

The Celtics weren't nearly as prepared for a disaster scenario back in 1997 after M.L. Carr's squad endured a 15-67 campaign and entered the lottery with a league-best 27.5 percent chance at the top pick. What's more, Boston had a second lottery ticket, the sixth position via a trade with Dallas, that gave it an additional 8.8 percent chance at the top spot.

But visions of Tim Duncan and Rick Pitino leading the team into a new era were dashed when San Antonio vaulted over Boston, with Spurs owner Peter Holt delivering an emphatic fist pump in celebration. The Celtics walked away with picks No. 3 (Chauncey Billups) and 6 (Ron Mercer), and the "backcourt of the future" lasted a mere 51 games before Billups was dealt to Toronto. It would be five more years before Boston returned to the playoffs, and Pitino already had departed after posting a 102-146 record over three-plus seasons.

A decade after the Duncan disaster, following a 58-loss season that included a franchise-record 18-game losing streak, the Celtics arrived at the 2007 lottery with a 19.9 percent chance at a top pick (only Memphis had better odds). Greg Oden and Durant were the prize and consolation, but the worst-case scenario played out for the Celtics, with three teams vaulting past them and pushing Boston to No. 5

The image of a bemused Tommy Heinsohn has become the lasting one for Boston's lottery fortunes. Team co-owner Wyc Grousbeck had worn his lucky suit to watch the pingpong draw behind the scenes but could only shake his head as his team's draft fate was sealed an hour before the public unveil.

Everything worked out just fine, of course. The Celtics traded the No. 5 pick to Seattle as part of a deal for Ray Allen, and that paved the way for acquiring Kevin Garnett. Boston went on to raise Banner 17 in the season that followed, something that almost certainly wouldn't have happened that quickly with a lottery pick, even one with MVP-to-be talent such as Durant.

Of course, as Durant emerges as MVP this season, you can't help but wonder what could have been. And Duncan's four championship rings don't make those draft night woes any easier to stomach.

The Celtics will send some fresh faces this season hoping to reverse their lottery fortunes. Co-owner Steve Pagliuca will be the face of the franchise on the television broadcast, while team president Rich Gotham will be behind the scenes watching the pingpong draw.

The team's brain trust, including Ainge and his staff, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens, will watch from afar. We know by now that Stevens will be unemotional regardless of how the pingpong balls tumble down, but the entire organization is confident in the event of another worst-case scenario.

"We have a huge amount faith in Danny," Pagliuca said. "The winning of an NBA championship is a process, one that includes trades, draft picks, free agents, the right mix of players. Danny's proven he can find the right guys.

"And look at where he finds them: Al Jefferson at No. 15; Tony Allen at No. 25; Kendrick Perkins at No. 27; Delonte West at No. 24. Look at where he's typically picked and how well those players have turned out. We have a lot of faith he'll bring us the right guys wherever we pick."

Yes, in the NBA, it helps to be lucky. But even a team with a leprechaun for a mascot knows that sometimes you make your own luck.