Celtics Options After Winning the NBA Draft Lottery
The Boston Celtics won the lottery and have been graced with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. This victory comes thanks to a 2014 trade with the Brooklyn Nets that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn in exchange for a plethora of first round picks. The Nets managed to win only one playoff series with their so-called super team of aging veterans, while the Celtics have come away with multiple lottery selections that resulted in last year’s third overall selection Jaylen Brown and, now, the No. 1 pick in June.
Boston is in a unique situation: picking No. 1 overall after finishing first in the East and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Because of this, the decision in front of Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge will impact the entire landscape of the NBA. There are a variety of avenues the front office can take as they finish the final steps in their four-year long rebuild. Let’s take a look at the possible scenarios:
1. Use the pick on consensus top prospect Markelle Fultz and find a star in free agency
Washington’s freshman point guard is considered the top prospect by nearly every media outlet. In any other given year, Fultz would be the easy selection for whichever team successfully tanked the season, but Boston’s road to the top pick isn’t usual, and it has Isaiah Thomas entrenched at point guard. However, Thomas turns 29 years old next season and should demand a $200 million contract, which is quite the investment for an aging 5-foot-8 player like Thomas.
Boston has a couple of opportunities with how to work Fultz into the rotation. They could stick him at backup point guard as Thomas plays out the final year of his contract, but the uncertainty of Thomas’ future with Boston could wreck havoc on an extremely cohesive team culture. Minutes would be hard to come by in a guard unit that already includes the likes of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, all three of which have played excellent basketball, particularly in the playoffs.
According to ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, Thomas has expressed interest in playing alongside Fultz, calling the youngster a “friend” and claiming they could work well next to each other. If the Celtics believe Thomas has earned his payday and decide to keep their star point guard around long term, Boston could decide to go this route. If so, it might behoove them to move one of the other three guards in a trade for a much needed upgrade at power forward.
Holding on to Fultz also allows the Celtics to find a star via free agency, and it’s a great offseason to need a forward. The top option for Boston is Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward, who played under Celtics head coach Brad Stevens at Butler and is already being rumored to be very interested in heading to Boston. In fact, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Celtics are “really focused” on signing Hayward this offseason.
At the end of the day, Fultz has all the tools to rise as a generational talent who can become the cornerstone of a franchise. The Celtics will have a hard time passing on such an opportunity, especially with the possibility of throwing a free agent into the fold.
2. Use the pick as trade bait for Paul George, Jimmy Butler or another star
This option has been all anybody can talk about with this pick since the trade deadline. The Celtics reportedly went after both players at the deadline in an attempt to separate themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference’s second tier of teams. Adding an established NBA star is the best way for Boston to take the next step toward dethroning LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
However, free agency is right around the corner for both players, and Los Angeles is calling. George, an LA native, is set to be a free agent in 2018. Butler, who stays in Southern California each offseason, can hit the open market the following year. There’s no guarantee that either player will be ready and willing to resign with the Celtics, leaving the potential for a mere 1-to-2 year window to take down LeBron before their new star leaves, Thomas’ age and size catches up to him, and Horford turns into rotten fruit à la Joakim Noah.
It’s because of this uncertainty that Ainge has yet to pull the trigger on a trade for one of the veterans. Chicago and Indiana have and will continue to demand Boston sells the house for their respective stars, which is why a deal hasn’t- and possibly won’t- come to fruition.
3. Trade down, collect more assets, and draft a much needed forward
This is the least sexy option for Celtics fans considering how close to the brink the franchise is to being legitimate title contenders, but this could also set Boston up to add multiple pieces of talent to a group that already finished first in the East.
Philadelphia at No. 3 and Sacramento at No. 5 are the most likely candidates to trade up to find their franchise point guard at the top of the draft. The only way Boston is willing to trade back is if it: a.) loves a prospect that should still be around at a later pick, b.) can add a veteran power forward or center to replace the likely gone Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson, c.) they believe Thomas is their point guard for years to come, AND d.) a deal for George or Butler isn’t attainable.
A prospect that could be tantalizing for the Celtics is Duke forward Jayson Tatum. The Blue Devils star is a 6-foot-8, 240-pound small forward that can easily slide down to the stretch-4 in smaller lineups. Once considered the top prospect of this class, Tatum disappeared at times in his only college season, but there’s no doubt about his elite scoring ability. His game is reminiscent of volume scoring wings like Rudy Gay and Carmelo Anthony, and Tatum would be a great fit sliding into Boston’s smaller lineups and is a long-term, massive upgrade to Jae Crowder. Tatum might be ready to contribute offensively right out of the gate, although the rest of this game may lag behind. A small lineup of Thomas-Bradley-Smart-Tatum-Horford is intriguing.
The Celtics have a variety of options as the June draft approaches, and how the front office handles this offseason will show if the organization believes the team is now a championship contender, or if the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s draft is another piece to the rebuilding process.