BOSTON (CBS) — The NBA Draft is now less than three weeks away, the Celtics a mere 20 days from the No. 1 overall selection. And if you were paying attention earlier this week, you know that the Celtics may already have told you their intentions.
They will not trade the selection.
They will not surprise anyone.
They will take University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz.
In case you missed it during this holiday week, longtime Boston Herald basketball writer Steve Bulpett had this nugget on the Celtics: “A couple of opposing execs went as far as to say the C’s were looking for protection when discussing this Nets pick in trade (talks) last February, wanting to be able to keep it if it wound up first in the lottery so they could take Fultz.” Got that, Celtics fans? The 2017 Nets pick was on the table at the annual NBA deadline. But according to some, the Celtics wanted it back if they ended up winning the lottery.
So they won the lottery.
And now they’re going to give it up?
Of course, this being 2017, everything comes with a disclaimer. What if the New Orleans Pelicans were willing to trade Anthony Davis? Then, presumably, the Celtics would move the pick. But we all know that isn’t likely to happen – it has a snowball’s chance on Al Gore’s planet – and that the increasing probability is that Fultz will be wearing green when the Celtics show up for camp in the fall.
Whether this is good news or bad news depends on your ability to scout (which is minimal) and Fultz’s eventual development (which is speculative), but there is news here nonetheless. Let’s say that Bulpett’s report is true, that executives weren’t merely playing reindeer games in anticipation of the draft. There are subsequently two conclusions that seem indisputable.
1. Knowing what we now know, it’s no wonder the Celtics failed to make a substantive deal at the deadline. Think about it. Let’s say you’re the Chicago Bulls and the Celtics offer their 2017 pick in a package for Jimmy Butler, but it comes with the caveat that that the Celtics retain the pick if it’s No. 1 overall. Why in your right mind would you do that? The whole point of trading Butler is to have a chance at the No. 1 pick, particularly during a year when the Brooklyn Nets were lapping the field (at least at the time) for the best lottery odds.
Flip the roles here for a second. Way back when, let’s say the Brooklyn Nets made the same demand of Boston when Celtics president of basketball Danny Ainge sent the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn for three first-rounders. Plain and simple, Ainge wouldn’t have made the deal. The whole point was to have a crack at top young talent – or, specifically, the top talent in the draft – and not the next Marcus Smart at No. 6.
Can you imagine the horror that would have ensued? The Celtics have the right to swap, but Brooklyn keeps the pick if it’s No. 1. Then the Celtics finally win the lottery, only to have the No. 1 pick remain in Brooklyn. Oy.
As a complete aside, we can only wonder what backup plan existed if the Bulls had agreed to trade Butler in such a scenario. But in all probability, the Celtics told Chicago if the Celtics ended up with No. 1 overall, the pick would be replaced by the Brooklyn choice (owned by the Celtics) in 2018. Understand? Chicago would get Brooklyn’s 2017 pick for Butler. But if it came up No. 1, the Bulls would get Brooklyn’s 2018 pick instead.
Again, that’s speculation. But it’s hardly surprising that a team didn’t take the cheese on that.
2. If Ainge felt that strongly about Fultz in February – that he was the kind of No. 1 pick worth protecting – then what could have possibly changed? You don’t get that protective about the No. 1 pick unless you believe the player is a transformative talent. And if he is, especially in the NBA, you take him.
As we all know, the Celtics are loaded with guards. Sooner or later, with or without Fultz, they must make choices. But unlike most of Boston’s current backcourt players, Fultz has a little more size (6-foot-4) and a wingspan measured somewhere between 6 feet, 10 inches and a flat 7 feet. That means that even if he’s done growing, he plays bigger. He can handle the ball. He can rebound. He can pass. He can shoot. And with those arms, he’ll probably be a pain to play against when he’s on the defensive end of the floor.
Is Ainge conniving enough to have plotted all of this back in January or February, just to give himself leverage at the draft in the event of a lottery win? Yes. He’s that smart and, more importantly, experienced. Maybe he wants everyone to think he wants Fultz, thereby increasing his trade leverage. Maybe he intends to trade the first pick and mess with the Lakers, who seem destined for a pre-arranged marriage with Lonzo Ball. Maybe he has orchestrated one great conspiracy.
But if if it’s 100 percent true that the Celtics wanted protection in the event they won the lottery this year, well, it’s merely a matter of days now before Markelle Fultz is a Celtic.