By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The news of the Celtics trading the No. 1 overall pick in this week’s draft to Philadelphia broke relatively slowly over the course of 30 hours, so there certainly has been no shortage of time for folks to weigh in with their thoughts on the reported deal. This is, after all, the United States of America. Opinions are allowed and even, at times, welcomed.
Yet while reaction to the trade has ranged from “I trust whatever Danny Ainge is doing” to “Danny Ainge is a complete and utter moron,” there is one unmistakable takeaway from the events of this past weekend.
You have to give Ainge credit.
Look, five or 10 years down the line, this deal could prove to have been a colossal disaster. It might also end up looking like a master stroke. We can all pretend to know right now, in this moment, whether it’s right or wrong. But you don’t know. I don’t know. Even Ainge can’t know.
But what we do know is this: If this deal is going to affect anyone in any significant way, it’s Daniel Ray Ainge.
If it works out well for the Celtics, Ainge will receive some credit … though it’s not as if the city of Boston will throw him a parade simply for performing his job well.
If it works out poorly for the Celtics, it will serve as a major black eye on Ainge’s resume.
And if it ends up being a disaster? He’ll lose his job. That’s how sports work.
While the deal has a 0.1 percent chance of ending up in Sam Bowie territory (respectfully, Markelle Fultz is unlikely to turn into Michael Jordan), this type of maneuvering at the top of a draft has a way of standing out in history. And that’s really the point here.
Ainge could have absolutely taken the safe route, and nobody would have ever begrudged him. Fultz is seemingly the unanimous best player in the draft. One GM said that Fultz is the best player in this year’s draft and last year’s draft. Sporting News said Fultz is one of the 10 best players to enter the league in the past decade. The mock drafters have found accord in saying he’s the No. 1 pick. NBA executives describe him as a “flat-out stud” and a “transformative player.”
As a basketball evaluator — both of individual players and of broader concepts regarding his team and competition around the conference and the league — Ainge clearly is not entirely sold on Fultz’s ability to elevate the Celtics to the level at which the Cavaliers and Warriors are currently operating.
As a fan, even if you hate this trade, even if you think it’s a slap in the face to fans for Ainge to trade away the No. 1 pick after the franchise finally scored some good luck in the lottery, you have to be happy that your team is run by a man who operates with conviction.
The easiest thing in the world for Ainge would be to play it safe. Draft Fultz. Add a free agent. See how it all shakes out.
Would that path get the Celtics to the Finals? Would it lead to Banner 18 within three years? Doubtful. But even if the Celtics went that route and kept making the conference finals and maybe even won the privilege of losing to Golden State in five games, nobody — nobody — would ever look back on the Fultz pick and say that Ainge messed it up.
Nobody would ever say, “Ainge drafted Fultz; he should therefore lose his job.”
But by trading the pick away? By passing on the kid with whom everybody in basketball seems to be infatuated? By boldly declaring that unlike the masses, he knows what is best? Ainge is staking his entire reputation to his own beliefs.
You can’t possibly say in June of 2017 whether he’ll end up being right or wrong. But that’s the type of decision-maker you should want running your franchise.