Monday, June 13, 2016

If Celtics Keep The Third Pick, Bender Should Be Their Man

There are many rumors swirling around the Celtics as the NBA season nears its end and the Draft and Free Agency get closer.

Armed with a war chest of draft picks, enough salary cap space to add two maximum contracts, and a team that already has become a fringe contender under the tutelage of Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge is in an excellent position to build a title contender in Boston over the better part of the next decade.

The Celtics are rumored to be shopping the third pick with the hope that they can land a superstar player that will not only put them in position to become a legitimate title contender but also give Ainge the ability to entice an impact free agent to come to Boston.  Under this option the scenario would be to add a player such as Chicago's Jimmy Butler with the hopes that free agent Kevin Durant would see Boston as a more plausible destination.

If trading the pick makes sense and puts the franchise on a clear path to championship contender, I am all for it.  Watching Stevens mold Ainge's most recent rebuilding efforts in to a team that won almost 50 games this year and has qualified for the playoffs in each of the last two seasons has been enjoyable but it's past the time for moral victories.  Winning at least two rounds in the playoffs should be the goal and using the third overall pick in this year's draft to attain that goal would be acceptable.

The problem is that the third overall pick, coupled with other picks and/or players, may not be enough to land a player who can raise the level of the Celtics on his own while also being the bait that lands Boston a player on the level of Durant in free agency.  One name that has been linked to the Celtics in the rumor mill that fits this criteria is Denver's Danilo Gallinari.  Gallinari is a nice player who would likely have a positive impact on the Celtics fortunes but I doubt he'd be the type of player to elevate the C's to championship contender status or be the catalyst for Durant to come to Boston.

If that ends up being the case, Ainge would be wise to keep the pick and take a gamble on Dragan Bender. The 18-year-old Croatian forward has already been profiled in this space but the more I watch his highlights, the more I believe that he has as good as chance as any player in this draft of making a significant long-term impact in the NBA.

Bender can shoot, dribble, pass, defend, and is athletic.  He is also 7-1.  There are very few 7-1 people on this planet that can do the things he can do on a basketball court and while there's no guarantee that his potential will translate into NBA success, the hope that it might is reason enough for Ainge to take a shot on him with the third pick.

The Celtics are not likely to make the leap to title contender in 2017 by drafting Bender but by taking a shot on his potential, it could put them in a position to be a potentially dominant team in a few years.

The Celtics are also unlikely to be able to use Bender as bait to lure Durant to Boston but if Ainge cannot use this pick to land the type of player that Durant may want to join forces with, that's not Bender's fault.

The other possible options with the third pick all represent players that could be potential All-Stars and they could potentially be more helpful to the Celtics next season.  Providence point guard Kris Dunn, Washington forward Marquese Chriss, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, Kentucky guard Jamal Murray, and California forward Jaylen Brown are all outstanding prospects and any one of them could possibly become an impact player in Boston and lead the Celtics to a decade of contention.

Bender could also be that player and based on his skill set and size, he is the player that Danny Ainge should select if using the pick is what the Celtics decide to do next Thursday.

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