On the day of the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery, we take a look back at the night six years ago when the ping pong balls didn't land as predicted and how it all worked out in the end for the Boston Celtics.
The odds were in the Boston Celtics favor, one of the few aspects of the season that seemed to looking up for the team that hit an 18-game losing skid and finished with the third-worst record in the league.
The 2007 NBA Draft Lottery was a light at the end of the tunnel following a 24-58 campaign hampered by injuries, struggles, and a youth movement that showed its age and inexperience on the court.
May 22, 2007 was supposed to be the day that changed the future of the Celtics. It did in the long run, but not the way many had predicted.
Heading into the evening the Celtics had a 19.9 percent chance of landing the number one overall pick, 18.8 percent chance for the second pick, and 17.1 percent chance for the third choice based on the mathematical odds. Only the Memphis Grizzlies, who held the league-worst record, had better chances of the top pick (25.0 percent). With 38.7 percent odds of getting one of the top two picks, speculation in Celtics nation was not when the C's would make their selection, but whether they would choose Greg Oden or Kevin Durant.
Celtics Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn represented the team at the lottery in Secaucus, N.J., fans organized parties around Boston to watch the ping pong balls, and media members gathered at the Celtics practice facility in Waltham to await reaction from front office personnel. The buildup was intense.
The teams left in contention for the top pick began winding down. The seventh overall pick went to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the sixth to the Milwaukee Bucks. With the Portland Trail Blazers (32-50), Seattle SuperSonics (31-51), Atlanta Hawks (30-52), Celtics (24-58), and Grizzlies (22-60) still on the board, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver unsealed the envelope and announced the words few were expecting to hear: "Pick number five goes to the Boston Celtics."
Five? Pick number five? That wasn't supposed to happen, not with the second-worst record in the league, right? Odds and probabilities are just that -- chances of something happening -- and with a 5.3 percent chance of scoring the number one pick, the Trail Blazers emerged as the owner of one of the most anticipated first picks in recent years.
So where did that leave the Celtics? President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge and head coach Doc Rivers reacted to a draft order that seemed unlikely just hours earlier.
"I was disappointed, like everyone was," Rivers said that night. "It didn't work out the way we hoped it would. I think we were all surprised. That was not where you wanted to see the Celtics name."
Thoughts of Oden or Durant wearing green and white were dashed. Suddenly names like Yi Jianlian, Jeff Green, Corey Brewer, and Brandan Wright became the Celtics new reality. Ainge remained optimistic, as both he and Rivers eyed potential talent available at their pick.
"We've been saying all along that we think this is a good draft, and it's more than a two-player draft," Ainge said at the time. "I still believe that we're going to get a player who has a chance to be an All-Star caliber player."
Rivers was also confident the members of the Celtics would not be discouraged, either.
"They still know we are going to add a very good player to our basketball team and that we're going to improve," he said.
One player who was particularly interested in the results of the lottery was Paul Pierce. The team captain had been the veteran glue on a young squad and questioned his future on the Celtics should they have the opportunity to draft a top prospect.
"To be honest, I think a lot of things hinged on that draft," Pierce reflected in 2011. "My loyalty or no loyalty, if Kevin Durant gets picked, I probably wouldn't be here. Even though as much as Danny said he wanted to see that combination -- because we talked about it, we even talked about the scenarios and he was like, 'I want to see you guys play together' -- I thought that would have been a perfect chip for them to move forward without me because then you'd have Al Jefferson, (Kendrick) Perkins, and then you would've had Kevin Durant. And so things kind of just fell into place when that didn't happen, when we didn't get that pick. I knew when we didn't get that pick I probably would be here for the long run because the people that we got, I knew we would trade it for something better."
As the night closed on the night of the 2007 Draft Lottery, the Celtics seemed to have little luck of the Irish on their side. But with they did have was a front office that would take that fifth pick and use it to begin building their 17th championship run.
On June 28, the Celtics selected Jeff Green and traded him to the Seattle SuperSonics in a multi-player deal to acquire Ray Allen. The arrival of Allen meant Pierce wouldn't have to endure another rebuilding season, ending talks of the Celtics captain's desires to be traded. With Pierce and Allen on the same team, the veteran duo was enough to entice a very loyal Kevin Garnett to be traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Celtics on July 31.
Within two months, the Celtics were transformed from a down-on-their-luck team at the Draft Lottery to a monster contender heading into training camp. The 2007-08 season played out better for the Celtics than any ping pong balls could have helped.
Oden, the first overall pick, underwent micro fracture surgery on his knee and didn't make his NBA debut until October of 2008. Durant, drafted by the SuperSonics, won Rookie of the Year but his success that season did not compare to that of the Celtics. With the "New Big Three" and a stacked bench, the Celtics went 66-16 and captured the championship in a dramatic NBA Finals series against the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving the outcome of the Draft Lottery as a distant memory.
The Celtics hold the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft this season. For those teams that will wait through the suspense of the lottery Tuesday night, the end result of the C's 2007-08 season should serve as an example of how ping pong balls don't have to determine the future of an organization. They still can be used to help a team bounce back even if they don't land a top pick.