POSTED: May 17, 2016 11:42 AM ET
How the ping pong balls bounce tonight will shape the future of the Sixers, Lakers and Celtics.
In the 1980s, perhaps the Golden Age of the modern NBA, they were the gold standard -- the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
These three traditional franchises accounted for most of the must-see games. During that decade, the Celtics, Lakers and Sixers won nine titles, accounted for eight of the league's MVPs and sent scores of players to the All-Star Game. Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Robert Parish, Bill Walton, Moses Malone and James Worthy made the list of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History announced in 1997. No force (other than Michael Jordan) was perhaps responsible for the league's enormous popularity rise than these three teams.
The Starters: 2016 NBA Draft Lottery Prediction
In an annual tradition, The Starters predict which team will win the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday, May 17th.
Fast-forward to today and guess which teams fighting for the right to draft No. 1?
Yes, times have changed. When the Draft Lottery is staged tonight (8 ET, ESPN), these three former kingpins will have prime seats. The Sixers have a 25 percent chance of landing the top pick, the best odds in the bunch. But the Lakers (19.9 percent) and Celtics (15.6 percent) aren't far behind.
The Sixers arrived here after yet another roster purge resulted in a predictable bottom-feeding finish and their 10 wins is one of the all-time worst regular-season records. The Lakers devoted their season to Kobe Bryant's farewell and young players and delivered just 17 wins. But, had they won more games and finished higher in the standings, they would've run the risk of losing their pick to the Sixers. The Celtics are in the lottery courtesy of the Nets, who traded this pick back in 2013 for an old Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, never imagining that deal would flip on them just three years later.
GameTime: Free Agents And 2016 Draft Lottery
NBA TV recaps the notable free agents around the Association and the Draft lottery.
Celtics, Lakers and Sixers. There's so much history between them, and now, so much at stake for the future.
Sure, the team that selects second overall might be better off. Such is the unpredictable nature of the draft and weighing the merits of teenagers. But all things considered, which team's situation would you choose if they get the No. 1 pick?
If you forced them to drink some truth serum, the Lakers would admit that they couldn't wait to move beyond the Kobe Era. As long as he was around, they couldn't rebuild in earnest, but that's history now, and it's full speed ahead.
They hired current Golden State Warriors assistant coach and former Lakers reserve Luke Walton to oversee the launch. There is some risk as Walton has never been a full-time coach. Plus, you wonder if the Lakers would be so anxious to give him a shot had Warriors coach Steve Kerr not fell ill and put him in charge of the defending-champion Warriors for a few months. Anyway, Walton appears to have the temperament and savvy, and besides, expectations will be low in Lakerland at the start.
Top 10 Plays: Lakers In 2015-16
Check out the Los Angeles Lakers top 10 plays of the 2015-16 regular season.
The young core (D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle), this incoming No. 1 pick are the assets. Do the Lakers allow them to grow together? Or do they deal at least one of them, and use their salary cap space to expedite the process? Laker fans will be patient if they can sense progress, so GM Mitch Kupchak and owner Jim Buss would be wise to play this card and buy some time.
They should also keep in mind that California native and ex-UCLA star Russell Westbrook will be a free agent in 2017. And maybe Kevin Durant sticks around in OKC for one more season and becomes a '17 free agent as well. Can you say "package deal?"
The Lakers will always be a destination for players either through free agency or trades, so they should stockpile young players now, keep the cap lean and pounce in '17 and/or 2018.
From the ashes of a basketball wasteland rises ... what, exactly? That's what Philly wants to know. Was it truly worth wasting three seasons to arrive at this point?
The good news is the people in charge -- the father/son combo of Jerry and Bryan Colangelo -- are smart, connected and proven. After that, it gets tricky.
Top 10 Plays: Sixers In 2015-16
Check out the Philadelphia 76ers top 10 plays of the 2015-16 regular season.
With the exception of Jahlil Okafor -- and even he comes with questions -- there isn't a definitive building block here. The other assets -- Joel Embiid and his health, Nerlens Noel and his raw skills, the mystery of Dario Saric -- are iffy.
At least the Sixers aren't suffering from a bloated roster, nor do they lack for upcoming Draft picks. The slate for the Colangelos is clean and prime for rebuilding. If they play their cards right, and hit bullseye in the Draft, keep the cap manageable to allow the Sixers to turn this around in 2-3 seasons. There's plenty of work ahead, but the right decisions can move the Sixers in the right direction.
Not sure if GM Danny Ainge is lucky or smart. Maybe a bit of both. But Ainge admitted he didn't think the Pierce/KG trade would be potentially franchise-changing, as it turned out. Essentially, the Celtics own the Nets' future, with a pair of No. 1 picks (this year and '18) and the chance to swap picks next season. There's a good chance all three will be in the lottery. Meanwhile, the Celtics can focus on winning and rising in the East.
Top 10 Plays: Isaiah Thomas
Watch the top 10 plays of the season from Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas.
Rarely can a team make the playoffs and add prime assets. That said, Ainge is positioned to transform the storied franchise and perhaps put Boston on the cusp of greatness again.
Still, Ainge must not to squander this opportunity. His legacy is on the line -- does he max out this chance, or add pieces that only mildly help Boston? Of the three teams here, Boston is most likely to trade the No. 1 pick -- provided of course Ainge can get a quality, help-now asset in return (DeMarcus Cousins?).
The Celtics have a solid coach in Brad Stevens. He just needs more to work with, namely a superstar, and the best way to get one is through the Draft. Maybe that's the route Ainge can take this year, and use the future Brooklyn picks and/or an existing player to land an All-Star-caliber player.
It's an embarrassment of riches for a team that won 45 games. The Celtics have a bevy of decent players (Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, etc.), but no franchise rock. With the right touch, Ainge can put Boston on the fast track in the East.
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