Is this the start of a nuclear summer for the Boston Celtics? I hope Celtics fans did not get too attached to Markelle Fultz. It always felt a liiiiittle too neat for Danny Ainge to take Fultz, no? The Celtics have traded picks with the Philadelphia 76ers in Thursday’s draft, moving from one to three and picking up at least one additional First Round pick. The Los Angeles Lakers 2018 1st (top pick protected) looks to be one of them.
This deal is an undisputed win for the Celtics. Why Philly wants to send a possible top 2 pick in next year’s draft to a division rival to move up two spots in a very loaded top 10 is anyone’s guess, but Ainge was wise to capitalize. The Brooklyn Nets (hey, we have their pick next year too!) are the only team that is currently a lock to be worse than LA this year.
Give Ainge credit for bringing in Fultz for a high profile visit and making it feel like that selection was a formality. It clearly got Philly’s attention. Intriguing a prospect as he is, choosing him would have meant parting with one of our other guards. Forget the narrative that Fultz is somehow head and shoulders better than the rest of the guys in this draft. It’s a myth. There are five to six can’t miss prospects in this draft, and he is indeed one of them. Moving down from one to three is a total no brainer for the Celtics. Why? Let’s count the other reasons.
Back to Thursday’s draft. This is the best collection of top 10 talent in the draft this decade, hands down. After Fultz, there’s 6′ 6″ point guard Lonzo Ball, 6′ 8″ Josh Jackson, 6′ 4″ DeAaron Foxx, and 6′ 7″ Jason Tatum. Dennis Smith, Jonathan Isaac, Malik Monk, and Zach Collins. In a year with no dominant player but a deep first tier, why NOT move down? I was hoping Danny Ainge would. I thought it might be Sacramento given their two top 10 picks. If the Celtics actually make this selection Thursday, look for them now to take either Jackson or Tatum to play the wing alongside Jaylen Brown. The Celtics have their guards, and the top of this draft is devoid of impact big men. Do the next best thing.
If the goal is to use this pick to upgrade the roster now, this trade adds at least ANOTHER very appealing asset in the form of a future top pick. Before this trade, dealing for a star player would have required parting with the ’18 Brooklyn pick (it’s true, and it is why no trade has been made yet). Now the Celtics have another chip to throw at teams. This is important because the Celtics want Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward. Unfortunately, so do the Miami Heat and the Jazz. Both of those teams can offer more money than Boston (Miami can thank the state of Florida’s lack of a state income tax for THAT). Getting Jimmy Butler would certainly speak to the Celtics’ desire to win right now and offset their financial disadvantage in what looks like it will be quite the bidding war.
This trade helps the Celtics maintain the balance they have struck so well in the past couple years: competing while developing their young talent. It was hard enough for Brad Stevens to find minutes for Brown last year. Adding another young stud in need of minutes would make that situation more difficult. Ideally, Ainge would like to move in to the 2020s with at least two future core players. They have one already in Brown. They now have what look to be two top five picks for 2018. With a 53-win roster, it seems like the time to make a major trade is coming fast.
So what happens now? Because it feels like Ainge is just getting started here. In my opinion, the Celtics have three players who are as close to untouchable as you can be in Al Horford, Isiah Thomas and Jaylen Brown. After that, it’s anyone’s guess, but I believe the Celtics are planning on trading a package for Butler this week. The framework for a deal likely will involve one of their three top picks in the next two years (likely this Thursday’s pick), at least an additional First Round pick (likely two) and a couple players in the form of possibly Jae Crowder and Tyler Zeller. Acquire Butler, and their sell to Hayward becomes easier.
Hopefully, with that core five in tow, rounding out the roster should be easy given the players the Celtics already have combined with their six (and likely 7) First Round picks in the ’18 and ’19 drafts. They could round out the roster with another big man by dangling future picks or one of their free-agent-to-be guards, such as Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley. They also have two overseas big men and three second round picks in this draft, a round where guys like Hasaan Whiteside, Draymond Green, and Nikola Jokic have been mined this decade.
While Ainge has spent the better part of five years in asset collection mode, this trade should represent the end of that stage. He just added to his embarrassment of riches. Whether it’s Butler or another impact guy, expect Ainge to shift into a fullcourt press for help now. The future of the team has long looked favorable, and it looks even better now. Can Ainge pull off the work needed to make the present look just as appealing? Count me as a believer that he can. And will.