Kaufman: With Danny Ainge, Expect Anything And Everything For Celtics On Draft Night

BOSTON (CBS) — So, what will Danny Ainge do tonight in the NBA Draft?

Yeah, I don’t know either. Truthfully, I’d bet Ainge doesn’t know.

After stunning hardwood hot-takers on Father’s Day weekend by trading the right to select projected star guard and top choice Markelle Fultz to the Sixers in exchange for the third selection and a future first-round pick, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations has three options:

Keep No. 3, trade down, or trade out.

It’s the Draft Night triple-threat position, and Ainge has kept everyone guessing to this point.

“We call him the minister of disinformation,” one NBA executive told the Boston Herald this week.

Presumably, if the C’s retain the choice, they’re between three forwards once Fultz and Lonzo Ball (future Laker – congrats, LaVar) are off the board. Those, as you’ve no doubt heard, are Duke’s Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson (not to be confused with “Charlie Conway” or “Pacey”) from Kansas, and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac. Good luck finding a consensus.

Ainge admitted Monday he believes the player he would have chosen first will still be available third, so it’s fairly safe to say the mystery man’s not one of the guards.

Tatum’s drawn comparisons to Celtics legend Paul Pierce as a combo forward who scored at will as a freshman with 16.8 points a game, including a 34.2 percentage from 3 on 117 attempts. He’s not explosive or overly athletic, but knows how to attack the basket and he’s a ready-made scorer. Defense, however, isn’t a strength at this stage and his effort on that end of the floor’s been called into question.

Jackson’s reminded some of Tracy McGrady. He’s a full year older than Tatum, but a freakish athlete who posted similar numbers in his lone college season (16.3 PPG, 37.8 percent from long-range on 90 attempts). The wing is a tremendous defensive player and can already guard multiple positions, but his shooting mechanics are terrible and it’s a wonder as to how well he’ll develop as a scorer at the next level. Worth noting: He’s also the only one who curiously hasn’t worked out for Ainge and Brad Stevens and he has some off-court concerns.

Isaac’s a versatile 19-year-old, just a few months Tatum’s elder, and he’s your classic 3-and-D fit in the Association. With his 6-foot-11 frame, 7-foot-1 wingspan, and highly regarded upside, it’s possible he’ll develop into a star after scoring 12 points per game in college (34.8 percent from distance on 89 tries) provided his offense continues to develop, though he may never be more than a role player.

But, the Celts also supposedly have interest in North Carolina state point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who surely won’t go third. Is another trade coming? Could Boston swap No. 3 with Sacramento for Nos. 5 and 10 and still land one of Tatum/Jackson/Isaac as well as Smith? Would the Kings even go for it?

Seemingly not, though Boston has the assets to sweeten the pot, and it would be borderline black magic if Ainge could still obtain the player he has atop his big-board in the fifth slot.

Then, of course, there’s that popular third option of dealing for a proven NBA commodity. Lights as bright as the ones in Times Square are flashing around the Hub with growing fantasies of Kristaps Porzingis in Green now that Phil Jackson’s so strangely and publicly made the only Knick worth mentioning available.

Parting with No. 3, a future non-Nets pick, and Jae Crowder – especially if the Celts believe they have a strong chance of inking Gordon Hayward next month – makes reasonable if not perfect sense. It’s plausible the package could look different if the C’s were willing to take back a bad contract (Carmelo Anthony? Joakim Noah?). The question is whether Jackson’s serious about moving the face of his franchise.

If the following is of genuine interest, too, we can suggest a trade partner.

Then there are the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and Paul George of the Pacers. The Celtics would be thrilled to have either on their terms, but do such terms exist? Butler appears reluctant to leave Chicago and George is anxious to depart Indiana, but only really for Los Angeles. Both players, even without no-trade clauses, have hamstrung their organizations with value that’s decreasing with each day they remain in their current cities, and yet those teams are currently seeking star-worthy returns other clubs won’t pay.

Also, don’t eliminate wild card factors like the dropping projected 2017-18 salary cap.

With eyes on Hayward or Blake Griffin, Ainge may have to get creative, possibly having to free up in the neighborhood of $4 million in space.

My feeling: Don’t rule out a Draft Night deal that doesn’t even involve the third pick. Might Ainge, for instance, part with Crowder or Avery Bradley to move into a second lottery position to take Smith or another option (Gonzaga big Zach Collins and Arizona 7-footer Lauri Markkanen come to mind)?

As Kevin Garnett famously said nine years ago about this time, anything is possssssibbbbblllllle.

Ainge no longer controls the draft with the No. 1 overall pick, as he once did, but he still possesses all the pieces he needs to shock the NBA world for the second time in the span of a week. And, no, that doesn’t mean by using three more second-round picks (Nos. 37, 53, and 56) on players ticketed for Maine or overseas next year.

When it comes to deals, Trader Danny has proven he won’t be taken advantage of, but will the job-secure prez hear a sea of boos at the Garden for the third straight year if he uses his picks? Will skeptics continue to hold Ainge accountable for a 14-year draft history that’s produced just one (four-time) All-Star in Rajon Rondo – and an All-Defensive player in Bradley? Will fans applaud, or at least be more patient (the early returns on Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier have been favorable, and there’s lots of hype surrounding Ante Zizic)?

With any luck and for the right price, Ainge will find a way to extract Porzingis from the Big Apple but, at this time, I’d predict Tatum will hear his name called from the Barclays Center stage at No. 3, followed by another surprising trade before night’s end.

Bottom lining this, I’ll maintain true to what I’ve always said, even before they passed on Fultz: I don’t care what the Celtics do. Use the pick, trade the pick. Draft one of the three forwards or give up the house in trades. We’ll shout our opinions from rooftops tonight and for days to come with hasty analysis, but won’t know the ramifications potentially for years. Only one thing matters and that’s no matter what Danny Ainge does he’s proven right.

More from Adam Kaufman
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