BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 22: Jayson Tatum the third overall pick selected by the Boston Celtics smiles with Adam Silver during the 2017 NBA Draft on June 22, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
The 2017 NBA Draft came and went without the Boston Celtics making any big splash – that is, something along the lines of acquiring a Jimmy Butler or a Paul George, or even a Kristaps Porzingis.
Instead they made another kind of splash. Days before the draft, Celtics team president Danny Ainge traded Boston’s no. 1 pick (which turned out to be Markelle Fultz) for the 76ers’ third pick and the Lakers’ protected first rounder for next year. By trading down, the Celtics felt they could still get the player they wanted, while acquiring another asset for the succeeding draft.
With the third pick, the C’s selected Jayson Tatum of Duke, a 6’8” swingman who is probably the most polished scorer in the draft. There were talks that the C’s could have gotten Paul George from Indiana by trading that third pick, another key player, and another future pick; or that they could have gotten Butler or Porzingis for something similar. But in the end, Ainge stuck to his guns, and continued the steady buildup of his team by acquiring good assets, in the hopes of developing them into great ones.
With the draft in the books, everyone is now asking what’s next for Ainge and the Celtics, who have an abundance of assets with which to make a run at some marquee names to take their team to the next level, and break the stranglehold that the Cavs and Warriors have on the top spots in the conference and the league, respectively. Things start to get tricky however for the C’s, as having too many good assets may no longer be ideal, especially if they can’t use them to acquire great ones. Aside from Tatum, they can also bring over big men Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele, from last year’s draft, from overseas. Zizic is a 6’11” center with a 7’2” wingspan, who can mix it up inside, but has the range to shoot from the outside. Yabusele is a 6’8” power forward with tremendous athleticism who can be another potential stud for them.
More so, with free agency looming in July, Boston is the frontrunner to sign Gordon Hayward, who played for Coach Brad Stevens in Butler, and could be the All-Star addition the Celtics need to stand toe-to-toe with the Cavs in the East. Expect Hayward to get a max deal however; and with the salary cap projected to be at around $99 million for next year, they will likely have to trade a key rotation player (Rozier, Crowder, Smart or Bradley) for much less on the return, to make the salary work.
On top of this, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart are all set to be free agents next summer, and will be in for big paydays. Boston may not find it wise to invest heavily in all three of these players, or keep them long enough and not end up getting anything in return for them. They will likely trade one or two of these, with a combination of possible first round picks (they have at least three first rounders in 2018 and 2019) to try and get another All-NBA talent on their roster. This is where Boston has the edge over other teams, as they have the assets to put an enticing enough package together for the Pacers, to trade George (who has signified that he’s sure to leave Indiana next season), or to the Knicks for Porzingis, who’s rumored to actively being shopped around by Phil Jackson. Either player – George, assuming he’d be willing to stay long term, or Porzingis – added to the Celtics’ core of Thomas, Horford, Bradley, and eventually Hayward, would make Boston a potential “superteam” in the East.
Looking back now, it seems quite logical why Danny has held off on pulling the trigger on a major trade; instead continuing to stack up good assets while keeping his cards close to his chest, so to speak. This season’s championship run by Golden State put the entire league on notice that it’s going to take a lot to dethrone these Warriors. After their Conference Finals exit to the Cavs, the Celtics realized for sure that a bunch of good guys, no matter how deep their bench is, won’t be enough to overcome a core of All-NBA talent. Their philosophy of building through the draft and free agency, will soon be put to the test. But for now, it seems Ainge is biding his time, waiting for the right moment, or deal, to make his move. One thing is for sure, he has all the pieces necessary to build his own superteam if he wanted to.
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