The Boston Celtics won the 2017 NBA draft lottery on Tuesday, handing them the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft on June 22. It’s a whale of an asset, the opportunity to take any player in a class that some draft analysts expect to produce multiple future All-Stars … and it’s one that the Celtics will be holding onto and using themselves, barring a godfather offer from a prospective suitor, according to part-owner Wyc Grousbeck.
I think these picks are very, very valuable. You think of it, if you’re going to trade this pick as part of a package for an established star [who is] making max [money], you’ve got to send max money out the door, as well. You’ve got to send more guys along. So, this guy coming back better be the second coming. What’s more, he’s going to be halfway through his career, whoever he is. And he’s going to be paid, right now, a ton of money, which restricts you in other ways.
If you can get a really good guy with this pick, you’ve got him. You can build with him. You can grow with him. You can coach him up. And you get to max money eventually — five, six years down the road — but it’s a totally different thing.
So, these picks are really valuable in today’s NBA. And so our intention would be to make the pick unless someone blows us away with an offer. That’s the way I would probably think about it.
That might not necessarily be the way that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge — the architect of the four-year teardown and rebuild that has landed Boston back in the Eastern Conference finals, and the one responsible for getting the C’s over the considerable obstacle that is LeBron James and back into the NBA Finals — thinks about it.
“We’re looking for the best overall player, and that hasn’t been decided yet,” Ainge told reporters on a post-lottery conference call, according to NBC’s Kurt Helin. “I’ve thought about that with all our players and how [the potential top picks] fit with our core. The beauty of [Celtics All-Star point guard] Isaiah [Thomas] is he can play any system.”
The one Thomas and the Celtics play now has been enough to win 53 games and earn them the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Judging by Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, though, it doesn’t seem like it’s nearly enough to topple the defending NBA champion Cavs — which, as our Henry Bushnell laid out Wednesday, leaves Ainge and the Celtics with something of a dilemma on their hands.
Does dangling the No. 1 pick and the chance to draft a potentially transformational talent (like Washington’s Markelle Fultz or UCLA’s Lonzo Ball) in exchange for an established two-way star in his prime (like Indiana’s Paul George or Chicago’s Jimmy Butler) to run with a re-upped Thomas and Al Horford represent enough of a boost to Boston’s here-and-now ceiling to put the Celtics on more even footing with the Cavs? And is taking that big a swing worth the risk, given that George will hit free agency next summer, Butler’s eligible to do the same in 2019, you’d be committing to paying Thomas well over $30 million a year well into his mid-30s, and making such a deal would concede close to a decade of control (a below-market four-year rookie-scale contract, plus up to four more years in an extension of that rookie deal) of a prospect like Fultz or Ball?
What Ainge thinks about those questions remains unclear. But now that he can attach a name to the draft spot, it seems likely that he’ll do his due diligence to see what it might be worth on the street.
“At the trade deadline we were trading away the possibility of the No. 1 pick, a 25 percent chance of the No. 1 pick, but that’s a 75 percent chance of not having that pick, and that’s how teams look at it, which is probably why we didn’t get a deal done,” Ainge said. “Now we have the No. 1 pick, and we will explore the value of it.”
That exploration might make Grousbeck and the rest of Boston’s ownership a bit uneasy, even if they’re not willing to publicly call off the expedition.
“I’m not trying to lay down rules of the road for the basketball staff when they make their recommendations,” Grousbeck said. “I’m just trying to say how I feel. And it’s the way we felt in February, quite honestly.”
Come late June, we’ll find out if Boston’s braintrust still feels that way — and, if they don’t, what the Celtics’ definition of “the second coming” looks like.
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