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Striking it rich with the lottery … or not

04.13.10 at 3:14 pm ET

Tuesday night could be the turning point for the Boston Bruins franchise. Yes, the B’s have gobbled up a playoff spot for the third straight season, but an up-and-down season has left many wondering just how far this team can go in its quest for a Stanley Cup.

But those doubters may be feeling otherwise in the future if the likes of Cam Fowler or Taylor Hall put on the spoked ‘B.’ The Phil Kessel trade netted the Bruins the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ first pick, and, as suspected, that pick will be in the top three of the NHL Draft. We’ll know exactly which pick it is after Tuesday night’s NHL Draft Lottery. The Bruins have an 18.8 percent chance of landing the top pick, with Edmonton (48.2 percent) being the only team with better odds of that happening.

This coveted pick is the reason why GM Peter Chiarielli didn’t make a major move at the deadline for a “rental” player such as Ilya Kovalchuk, and if he lands a player of Hall or Fowler’s potential, then he may end up looking pretty good in the end. Look at what Alex Ovechkin has meant to the Washington Capitals or what Sidney Crosby has mean to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Top picks with that kind of potential can turn around a franchise, especially one that has gone decades without a Stanley Cup celebration.

But the lottery has a funny way of working out. Teams are not awarded for tanking at the end of the season, and it really is a game of luck when going into these situations. For all the success the Boston sports teams have had over the past few years there was a time when throwing everything down on the lottery sometimes didn’t mean instant success.

Here is a look at how some local teams have fared in the game of luck.

1997 Boston Bruins

The 1996 season wasn’t the greatest season in Bruins history. The B’s finished with a dismal 61 points and last in the division. The problems were happening on both sides of the ice for the Bruins that season, as Ted Donato led the team with just 25 goals and Robbie Tallas led the goalies with a 3.33 GAA. So basically you are looking at a team with the offensive woes of the 2010 squad but without anyone that could stop the puck from going into the net.

The Bruins went into the NHL Draft Lottery, which was implemented in 1995, as the favorite to land the No. 1 pick, and the balls bounced their way.

With the pick, the Bruins selected a talented all-around player, an 18-year-old kid named Joe Thornton.

By way of a trade with Carolina, the Bruins also owned the eighth pick and scooped up a gifted scorer in Sergei Samsonov. What did this all mean for the Bruins the next season? Pat Burns was hired to coach, the additions of forward Jason Allison and Byron Dafoe in net added stability to the weaknesses on the team and the Bruins finished with 91 points on the season, up 30 from the year before.

Thornton didn’t make the immediate impact his first year, but Samsonov scored 22 goals in his rookie campaign. Thornton did make strides in his second season and posted a solid career in Boston before being traded to San Jose during the 2005-06 season.

1997 Boston Celtics

That ’97 season was crucial for the Celtics, too, but the lottery balls would not bounce in their favor. Tim Duncan was the franchise-changer that Rick Pitino was banking everything on. A once-in-a-lifetime center who does all the little things and would later be given the nickname “The Big Fundamental.”

Duncan was the key to getting basketball back in the city of Boston, and fans openly rooted for the Celtics to lose games in 1996 so more ping-pong balls with leprechauns on them had a better chance of landing the No. 1 pick.

But Duncan was a pipe dream.

The San Antonio Spurs won the lottery and changed both franchises as we knew them. The Spurs have won four titles with Duncan as the centerpiece and the Celtics were mired in a stalemate for years under Pitino and other unsuccessful front offices before … we’ll get to that later.

The Celtics did take claim to the third and sixth picks in the draft, and Pitino drafted a promising young point guard in Chauncey Billups at No. 3 and Ron Mercer, a familiar face from Kentucky, with the No. 6 pick.

Billups has turned himself into one of the best point guards in the NBA, but he never got a shot with the Celtics, as he was traded for Kenny Anderson after 51 games in a C’s uniform. Way to give up on a No. 3 pick that soon ‘€” although it did take Billups a few years to get it right.

Mercer never took to the NBA game. A fierce mid-range shooter in college, his game never translated to the pros and his Celtics career only lasted two years.

2007 Boston Celtics

A similar situation popped up 10 years later for the Celtics. This time another big man became the object of everyone’s affection. Greg Oden would make up for that decade of misery for the Celtics and finally … finally justice would be restored in Boston for missing out on Duncan.

Even if Danny Ainge didn’t land Oden there was another prime time player in Kevin Durant sitting there at No. 2. So the Celtics were finally going to get lucky in the lottery and put up banners in the next decade … not so much. At least from the lottery standpoint.

The Celtics got the fifth pick in the draft, but this time the Celtics brass actually had a backup plan, something that Pitino and Co., didn’t have in 1997. Ainge traded that pick (Jeff Green) to Seattle for former UConn sharpshooter Ray Allen. OK, Celtics fans probably thought. With Pierce and Allen as your scorers and Al Jefferson as your big man of the future, at least a middle-of-the-pack seed in the playoffs would be a realistic shot and something to build on.

That is until the biggest splash in the last 20 years happened for the Celtics.

With the new “Big Three” of Kevin Garnett, Pierce and Allen the Celtics quickly established themselves as the team to beat in 2007-08, and veterans such as James Posey and Eddie House wanted to come to Boston. The Celtics also got lucky as they acquired the rights to Glen “Big Baby” Davis in the Allen trade. As we all know, the C’s went on to win banner 17 that season and register one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history.

This decision might have have been more difficult had the Celtics held the No. 2 pick instead of the No. 5 pick. Once they dropped out of the Oden and Durant sweepstakes, there was a pressing need to get out of that pick.

Durant has turned himself into an MVP candidate while Oden has been plagued by injuries. It would have been the Celtics’ luck to get the No. 1 pick, select Oden and see him miss all that time with knee injuries. The jury is still out on Oden if he can recover and produce. He hasn’t started more than 39 games in a season yet and will have to make the long trip back after another leg injury.