NEW YORK — As the Celtics surged to win four of their last five games before the All-Star break, it left the fan base somewhat conflicted.
One camp believes teams should collect as many wins as possible and aim for the playoffs, even if that means entering quietly and exiting quickly. The other camp has a more macro view and thinks the alluring future is more important than the lukewarm present. More wins, in the end, would mean less opportunity.
But there is one way these two factions can find common ground: Losses by the Los Angeles Clippers are, unequivocally, good for the Boston Celtics.
When coach Doc Rivers left Boston to join the Clippers, the Celtics received Los Angeles’s 2015 first-round pick as compensation. So the lower Los Angeles falls in the standings, the higher the Celtics will climb up the draft board.
The Clippers, of course, are a very good team, so this 2015 pick did not figure to be tremendously significant. But an interesting subplot began to develop last week, when it was announced that All-Star forward Blake Griffin would be sidelined 4-6 weeks after elbow surgery.
At 35-19, the Clippers are currently slotted to have the 23d pick of the first round. But that position could be volatile, as picks 19 through 27 are separated by just four games. So the Clippers’ life without Griffin could have a ripple effect on the Celtics’ future.
“There’s no time to really feel bad for ourselves or wallow in self-pity,” Clippers guard J.J. Redick said. “These are the cards we’ve been dealt, and we’ve got to figure out ways to win games.
“Our schedule coming out of the break is very, very difficult. We’re probably going to be without Blake for a lot of those games, if not all of them, and we’ve got to be great.”
The Clippers’ next six games include two against the Grizzlies and one each against the Spurs, Rockets, and Bulls, with a potential respite against the Kings mixed in.
Thus far, the Clippers have persevered despite the loss of Griffin. After losing to the Thunder, they grabbed wins against the Mavericks and Rockets. Still, moving forward without Griffin’s 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game could be difficult.
There is even a chance, albeit an extremely improbable one, that the Clippers could fall out of the playoffs and into the lottery, which could turn into a boon for the Celtics. Los Angeles is currently in sixth place in the Western Conference, 6½ games ahead of the ninth-place Thunder.
“In the West, if one key player gets hurt, you could drop five spots,” said Steve Smith, an analyst for NBA TV. “A player comes back off an injury and you could move up five spots. You can’t have those periods in the Western Conference where you just give away four or five games, because that could be four or five spots, or even falling out of the playoffs.”
Griffin’s absence could actually help the Clippers in the long term, as others step in and develop while filling the void.
“I think it’ll just give everybody a little bit more confidence,” point guard Chris Paul said. “And then Blake comes back and everybody will probably have a little more confidence in themselves, because they had to step up.”
Added Redick, “Hopefully when Blake gets back, the transition is seamless. The reality is we’re right where we want to be. We’re right where we were, for the most part, last year.”
The Celtics also hold the rights to the Philadelphia 76ers’ second-round pick, which is currently slotted at No. 33 overall. Jonathan Givony, publisher of DraftExpress.com, said he would be surprised if the Celtics used all three of their early picks.
“They just have so many young players right now,” Givony said. “You have to think they’re going to look to either package two of them or all three of them and move up in the draft. The Celtics are so active exploring trades, and they’re very, very creative.”
Even if Boston does not take a player with the Clippers’ pick, its value will increase the higher it goes, and that would be an asset for the Celtics.