Sunday, June 18, 2017

Celtics Trade #1 Pick To 76ers

If you trade the number one pick, you better be right.

How many times has Danny Ainge heard this since the news broke Friday that the basketball decision maker for the Boston Celtics was in discussions to send the first pick in next week's NBA Draft to division rival Philadelphia?

The one person who matters in this is Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck.  Grousbeck has been patiently waiting for Ainge to assemble a team to contend for a championship since Ainge dealt Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets on draft night in 2013 for a haul of first round draft choices.

As the Celtics have waited for the Nets picks to bear the fruit of a franchise player or three, Ainge has constructed a competitive roster that this past season advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, as likeable as this team has been, it has been lacking star power to help its leader, Isaiah Thomas, really contend for a title in a league dominated by LeBron James' Cavaliers and the Steph Curry-Kevin Durant Warriors.

On the night of the Lottery, right before the Celtics hosted Game 1 of the Eastern Finals against James, the Celtics found out they had the rights to the first pick.  ESPN reporters asked Grousbeck what the plan for the pick was - as in, would Ainge use it as bait to land an established All-Star such as Jimmy Butler or Paul George - and the Celtics owner emphatically said that they'd be using the pick on a player.

What a difference a few weeks makes.

If you trade the number one pick, you better be right.

Markelle Fultz, who played his one season of college ball for a University of Washington team that won only 9 games, emerged early on as the front runner to be the top pick in a draft class that also boasts several other intriguing prospects such as UCLA's Lonzo Ball, Duke's Jayson Tatum, and Kansas' Josh Jackson.

Fultz is an athletic 6-4 guard who can attack and finish at the basket, knock down 3-pointers, and defend his position.  In other words, he's the prototypical NBA guard.  And for a team like the Celtics that needs scoring to complement Thomas and is also looking like it's building for the next decade thanks to all of the Nets picks (they took Jaylen Brown at #3 in 2016 and also still have the 2018 Nets pick to look forward too), Fultz seemed like a great fit.  For the last several weeks, every mock draft had Fultz going to Boston and Fultz spoke about his desire to be the top pick and play for the Celtics.

And then, in about as much time as it takes Fultz to blow by a defender and get to the basket, the Fultz-Celtics marriage to be became a thing of the past.

If you trade the number one pick, you better be right.

Ainge has swung a deal with Philadelphia (that has not been officially announced) that gives Boston the 76ers' 2017 pick (#3 overall) as well as either the 2018 Lakers first round pick (if it falls between #2 and #5) or the 2019 Kings first round pick.  Both of those picks belong to Philadelphia from previous trades and both seem like likely high Lottery picks. It's realistic that the Celtics could hold the first pick (from the Nets) and the second pick (from the Lakers via the Sixers) in 2018.

Of course, they had the first pick this year. That was real.  Everything else now is speculation.

Ainge always seems to be collecting assets to build the next great Celtics team, be it in 2007 when he made trades to add Ray Allen and Garnett to play with Pierce or now when he's building around Thomas and Al Horford.

This trade is difficult to judge in the moment because we're never really sure what Ainge is up to.

Does he just like Jackson or Tatum more than Fultz?

Are they, and these additional picks, part of another deal that could be used to add a veteran like Butler to the Celtics roster?

Does he know (or think he knows) that a free agent like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin is destined to become a Celtic in July?

Is he amassing a war chest of assets to pry away a future MVP candidate like Anthony Davis of the Pelicans?

Until the other dominoes start to fall, let's hold judgement on this trade.

But if this trade ultimately fails and the Celtics never reach the status of a championship team while Fultz leads Philly to multiple titles, Wyc Grousbeck will likely utter this phrase to Ainge when he fires him:

If you trade the number one pick, you better be right.  Sorry Danny, you were wrong.

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