What will the Celtics do with their No. 1 pick?
The Boston Celtics had the best odds to win the 2017 NBA draft lottery and did, giving them their pick of a talent-laden crop of incoming talent. The team stocked with the fullest cupboard of assets just gained another prize, and now they’re left with a ton of options.
Danny Ainge opted to sit tight on his trade pieces this season, though the team was linked in Paul George and Jimmy Butler trades ahead of the deadline. But now he’ll seriously have to consider what he’ll do with the No. 1 pick, likely to become Washington’s Markelle Fultz.
This all becomes trickier as the Celtics enter an Eastern Conference Finals battle against the Cleveland Cavaliers, meaning the attention has to be on the now, though the future is even brighter.
Even if the Cavaliers are to sweep the Celtics, this team has proven it can win in the regular season and postseason after closing out a seven-game series against the Washington Wizards. It’s tough to justify shipping off a bundle of role players who have shown up big for a single star.
If the Celtics pull off an unexpected win over Cleveland, moving pieces becomes nearly impossible.
Celtics could keep things the same and draft Fultz No. 1
With Amir Johnson’s $12 million coming off the books, Boston can afford a veteran’s maximum salary without moving any of its pieces. That could mean Blake Griffin, should he not return to the Los Angeles Clippers, or, even more likely, Gordon Hayward, who has been linked to the Celtics given his ties to head coach Brad Stevens. He was Hayward’s college coach at Butler and that team advanced to the national championship game.
Keeping the Fultz pick and holding tight to the teams’ current roster would be risky, as the Celtics aren’t assured a star in free agency, but if it pays off, they could have enough to compete among the league’s best. It wouldn’t break fans’ hearts or cut chemistry in the process, either.
There’s no denying Isaiah Thomas’ offensive prowess anymore, as even with teams’ playoff focus on him in their defensive schemes, he’s carried Boston offensively. His role may diminish on a team including Hayward or Griffin and Fultz, but the Celtics should take full advantage of the final year of his $6 million contract. They could even have the luxury of playing him off the bench.
Keeping the pieces would also load the Celtics bench even further with either Thomas, Fultz, or Avery Bradley, who’s been huge in the playoffs with 16 points on 38 percent three-point shooting, playing a reserve guard role.
Boston could also play its cards with 2016 No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown, who’s had an unexpected playoff role off the bench with Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart as important supporting pieces. Depending on the free agents signed, that could also mean Jae Crowder plays a role outside the starting five.
The Celtics depth chart could look something like this:
PG – Markelle Fultz
SG – Isaiah Thomas
SF – Jae Crowder
PF – Gordon Hayward
C – Al Horford
G – Avery Bradley
G – Marcus Smart
G – Terry Rozier
F – Jaylen Brown
F/C – Tyler Zeller
Maybe they can’t lure Griffin from L.A. or Hayward from Utah, though.
Trading for Paul George is another option
If Ainge doesn’t want to take the risk of playing the free agency game, Paul George will probably be his team’s top trade target.
George is in a complicated situation, though. There’s a possibility that Thursday’s All-NBA reveal dictates his future.
If he’s selected for one of the three prestigious teams, he will be eligible to sign a designated veteran clause, a new way for teams with a superstar to retain him. The Indiana Pacers would be able to pay George $50 million more than any other team once his current contract ends in 2018. That’s a heavy advantage over any other potential suitors.
He isn’t expected to make one of these teams, though, and his fate lies in the media’s hands as 100 writers and analysts vote on the honor.
Even if he does, there’s no guarantee that he’ll take Indiana’s offer. He could bolt anywhere he pleases instead. That’s why, either way, Thursday’s results might not ultimately matter, and Indiana may look to trade instead of potentially losing him for nothing.
George had his interests on moving to the Lakers expressed, and with L.A. earning the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, it might move on him almost as hard as Boston can, minus one draft spot. Though Indiana would be more inclined to dig into the Celtics’ deeper pockets, there’s no telling if George will commit long-term, with his contract set to expire months later. It’s another risk, but one Boston may have to take if it wants to avoid free agency pressure. It’s one Indiana may have to take too in fear of losing its star with no return.
Maybe there’s another deal to work out
The Celtics can offer: the No. 1 pick in 2017, the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected pick in 2018, the Clippers’ lottery protected pick in 2019, the Memphis Grizzlies’ top-8 protected 2019 pick, Isaiah Thomas on an extremely cheap expiring contract, Jae Crowder on an extremely cap-friendly deal through 2020, No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and an up-and-coming Terry Rozier.
No team can touch them in the assets department, and any team looking to make a blockbuster move knows where to look.
Somehow, sitting on all that talent puts Boston in the most stressful offseason situations in the NBA. There are many potential solutions, but no clear one right now. Still, it’s a pretty good problem to have.
Boston can celebrate its lottery victory for now, but a date with LeBron James’ Cavaliers looms.