By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — NBA trades can be confusing, and the latest Celtics swap is not an exception to that reality.
On Monday, Boston dealt the No. 1 overall pick for a package that is headlined by the No. 3 overall pick from the Philadelphia 76ers. After that, things get a bit murky. The Celtics will get one additional pick in the deal, but it could come from any of three teams over two seasons. There are unique protections and provisions on all of these picks, which understandably can give fans a bit of a headache while trying to sort it all out.
In order to sort through it all, let’s look at the specifics and the rationale from both sides on the deal.
What are the specifics of the trade?
The Celtics trade the No. 1 overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 pick and a future first-round pick.
The future first-round pick will be the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2018 pick if it’s within the No. 2 to No. 5 range of the 2018 draft.
If it is not, the Celtics will instead receive either Sacramento’s or Philadelphia’s first round pick in 2019, whichever is more favorable. However, if either of those 2019 picks result in the first overall selection, Boston will instead receive the other first-round pick.
(For example: If Sacramento wins the 2019 draft lottery and secures the No. 1 overall pick, then the Celtics will get Philadelphia’s first-round pick.)
Why is the 2018 Lakers’ pick protected if it doesn’t land in spots 2-5?
It’s pretty unique to see a pick protected in such a narrow range, but these protections help both the Sixers and the Celtics. Philadelphia clearly didn’t want to even risk giving up a No. 1 for another No. 1 pick in an earlier year, hence their insistence on that protection. On the flip side, the Celtics wanted to maximize the odds of the second first-round draft pick they acquired being a high lottery pick. The odds are in favor of the Lakers providing that with their pick in 2018.
LA will likely add the No. 2 overall pick to their roster this week, but they don’t have much cap room this summer as their roster remains saddled with overpaid veterans (Deng, Mozgov) and young developing talent (D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram). They could easily be one of the worst teams in the league once again next season, but the Celtics didn’t want to risk them jumping up to the middle tier of the league (if they make a trade for a Paul George-type), or getting screwed out of the top five by some bad lottery luck. Hence, the pick protections were negotiated in: the Celtics would only get the pick if it fell between the 2-5 slots. Otherwise, the Celtics preferred to punt on drafting high in 2018 and roll the dice to land an elite prospect in 2019.
What’s the rationale for the 2019 pick protections for the Celtics?
Once again, Philly was insistent on making any 2019 first-round pick they could give up top-1 protected. The Celtics understandably had to give into this demand if they wanted to make a deal at all here for likely elite picks. As a counter to that, the Celtics negotiated getting the more favorable of the 2019 first-round picks from Sacramento or Philadelphia (both currently owned by the Sixers).
This time around there is no floor on the potential pick (like the Lakers pick in 2018), but the Celtics’ brass clearly has faith that one of these two teams will probably be one of the worst five teams in the league still in 2019, which would give them high odds of securing a top-5 pick.
What’s the best case scenario for the Celtics?
This one is pretty simple: The Lakers end up being one of the worst teams in the league next year and land the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery. Boston also holds an unprotected pick from Brooklyn for the 2018 first round, so there’s a possibility the Celtics could own the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2018 NBA Draft next June if the ping-pong balls land right.
What’s the worst-case scenario for the Celtics?
This could go a number of different ways, depending on if the Lakers, Sixers and Kings are better or worse than expected. Let’s start with following the most realistic odds in those scenarios. The Lakers finished with the fourth-worst record next season, and the Sixers get lucky when the Lakers draft slot wins the lottery, enabling Philly to keep No. 1 for themselves. That situation pushes the compensation to 2019 with the better of the Kings/Sixers pick (top-1 pick) going Boston’s way.
Now let’s fast-forward to a 2019 hypothetical: The Kings are in full-on rebuild mode at this juncture and finish with the worst record in the league. The Sixers get a 25 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick (since they still own the rights to Sacramento’s pick at No. 1) and they hit it. From there, the Celtics would be forced to settle for the Sixers’ first-round pick (since No. 1 was protected) and the Sixers have emerged as a borderline playoff team themselves in 2019 with Fultz, Embiid, Saric and Simmons blossoming well, leading to the second pick heading Boston’s way falling in the 10-15 range. In essence, that would be Ainge trading No. 1 for No. 3 and No. 13. That’s an awful deal by any measure.
That’s just one of a handful of ugly scenarios that could be in play for Boston here. The Lakers could develop well under Luke Walton in his second season next year and turn into a top-20 NBA team. The Kings and Sixers won’t be contending two years down the road, but both squads could make enough strides where a top-5 pick is far from a foregone conclusion.
So does the reward outweigh the risk for the Celtics?
Clearly it does for Boston’s front office. The fact that Danny Ainge is insistent on the guy the Celtics would have picked at No. 1 could very well still be available at No. 3 will help ease the pain on this front. However, the odds remain in favor of the Celtics still getting a high draft pick here. The Lakers (on paper) shouldn’t be much better next year. The same goes for the Kings in 2019. Boston is betting big on both of those front offices not making enough savvy moves this summer to pull themselves out of the NBA basement.
It’s a calculated gamble and one that could come back to burn either Ainge or Bryan Colangelo. For now, I’d like Ainge’s spot from a betting standpoint.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.