Since May 16, when the Boston Celtics won the NBA Draft Lottery and the right to the number one overall selection in a loaded draft, most fans have been dreaming of one player: Markelle Fultz. Now, two days before the draft, the Fultz era is over in Boston before it even began.
When Danny Ainge agreed to move this year’s number one overall pick to Philadelphia in exchange for their number three pick and a future first rounder in either 2018 (courtesy of the Lakers) or 2019 (courtesy of Sacramento) depending on how protections shake out, the move was meant with outrage.
However, put aside your feelings on what type of prospect you may think Markelle Fultz is and see that this is a smart trade from Ainge & Co. The trade provides three major benefits right away: more future assets, trade bait, and cap room.
Ever since Ainge decided to end the Pierce and Garnett era in Boston and ship them out to Brooklyn he has acquired an embarrassment of riches in the form of draft picks. Think about this for a moment: Ainge clearly views one top prospect in this draft, most likely Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum as just as good if not better than Fultz. So, if he sees another player on the same level as Fultz and he can drop down two spots while gaining an additional lottery pick next summer or the summer after that is a no brainer move that any GM would make.
Keep in mind that the Celtics also own the Brooklyn Nets pick for next season which is likely going to be a top 5 once again. So, should the pick acquired from Philadelphia fall in that 2-through-5 range and get conveyed to Boston they are looking at two top 5 or 10 picks next season in another exceptional draft. Even if the pick does not fall in the 2 to 5 range and it becomes the Sacramento first rounder in 2019 there is a good chance that is a high pick as well.
Also, by passing on No. 1 the Celtics avoided building a log jam at point guard. Isaiah Thomas just put together the best season of his career and he should have more to come. Number three gives the Celtics the opportunity for wing help, a spot they are much more desperate at than another guard.
One other minor aspect that is a positive to this move is next year’s draft is shaping up to feature some elite big men prospects. The best center in this draft may not come off the board until after the lottery and would do little to help Boston. However, by loading up for next year they are priming themselves to find the interior presence they’ve been missing for so long.
All of those points about the draft and adding another future asset are just one piece of this deal. A second piece of it that goes an entirely different direction is the trade route. Jimmy Butler’s name is again coming up in trade rumors and this move only gave Danny Ainge more to play with to get Butler in green.
First of all, two other names coming up are Anthony Davis and Paul George. I would not imagine either of these players being traded to Boston. There is absolute zero reason for New Orleans to trade Davis (although that has not stopped them from making strange decisions in the past) and George has already expressed his interest to play for the Lakers after next season and a one year rental of his services would be a waste.
Back to Butler, Boston can now offer Chicago a plethora of picks and players that would be difficult to turn down. Some combination of this years number three pick, next season’s Brooklyn or Lakers pick, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, or Marcus Smart would make sense. All of those may be great pieces and hard to send away but Butler is an elite talent. At only 27 years old Butler is just entering his prime and put up 24/6/5 last season on solid shooting splits.
Butler did all of that in a dysfunctional Chicago system next to ball dominant players and under a coach with no control. It’s not hard to imagine him looking even better in Brad Stevens read and react offensive system. Oh yeah, Butler is a lockdown perimeter defender too, something that is welcome on any team.
This trade provides one more positive for Boston, cap space. At this point it is no secret that the Celtics are going to make a hard push at Gordon Hayward. Between his relationship with Brad Stevens and the upside playing in Boston offers it is starting to feel like a legit possibility Hayward could come here.
By trading back from No. 1 to No. 3 the Celtics save nearly $2 million in cap room. While $2 million sounds like a measly amount when a team is preparing to offer out a max deal there is a big difference between handing your new rookie $7 million versus only $5.5 million upon signing.
Hayward will command a huge contract but he is also an elite player and an all star. He is someone who can create his own shot and take some of that ball handling pressure off of Isaiah Thomas.
Think about how all of these positives work together for a moment. Another asset in Danny Ainge’s back pocket can spark a trade for a star or if they keep it, it can help entice free agents on how the team will be built in meetings.
The money saved also helps offering the free agent a contract much easier. In the coming days the Celtics are going to go one of two ways: make that trade now and go all in for a 5 year title window, or keep the pick, go after the free agent and still have a ton of flexibility in the future.
Pretend for a moment everything works out and Gordon Hayward decides to come to Boston and the team goes with option A. They pull the trigger on a Butler deal and with some fancy cap maneuvering you’re looking at a core of IT/Butler/Hayward/Horford. Pretty solid, enough to get by Cleveland and Golden state, who knows, but still solid.
Now, Option B. They select Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum and you roll out a starting five of IT, Avery, Hayward, Crowder and Horford. With a bench that has two lottery picks (Brown and Jackson/Tatum), Marcus Smart, and center Ante Zizic. For those who may have forgotten, the Celtics selected Zizic as a draft and stash last year at No. 23. If he were in this draft class he is rated as a top 10 pick.
With Option B, there would not be enough money to retain Thomas, Bradley, and Smart but that’s where all those future draft picks help. Again, that is another solid team that could grow together for a long time and the team has control over many of the contracts.
The basis of this trade was flexibility for Boston. Right now everything seems horrible because Ainge did all of this work to get the number one pick and now he is sending it away. However, he has a better eye for evaluating talent than any of us. Is a night going to come where Fultz comes into the Garden and scores 30 and we all dream what if, probably yeah. But that will not matter if the Celtics are set up for short and long term success and have their own talented young pieces.
Ultimately this gave the team the ability to build in multiple ways (picks, free agents, cap flexibility) versus putting all of their marbles in the Fultz boat and letting it ride. No, this trade did not ruin the future and we can all call down because this was a good trade for Boston. Ainge brought one banner to town already and his plan should be trusted going forward.