Discussing whether Danny Ainge was right matters less than trying to figure out what Danny Ainge is doing next.
POTENTIAL CELTICS PICKS
Forget the “superstar” predictions about Fultz made by people who wouldn’t have known the kid if he walked into the room a month ago. We won’t know for a few years if passing on him will be a lifelong professional regret for Ainge.
What we do know is that Boston said, “No thanks” to a preternaturally smooth player who was 23-5-5 last year at Washington, shot 41 percent from the college 3 , showed himself to be a terrific pick-and-roll player with -- seemingly -- a high level of poise and maturity for a 19-year-old.
There’s no doubt he’s going to be a good NBA player but we’re not talking about a kid with high-level explosiveness and athleticism or some attribute that just jumps off the screen at you like it would with Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose. You had to watch a lot of Fultz to see that the strength in his game is actually the lack of weaknesses.
So what did the Celtics get in exchange for saying, “No thanks”? Either a 2-for-1 with draftees: Fultz in exchange for whoever the C’s take at No. 3 AND whoever they take next year between 2 and 5 with that protected Lakers pick. The 2018 draft is very solid for the first four players.
Or the Celtics traded for mobility. If Ainge has no intention of using the third overall pick and instead wants to orchestrate a blockbuster, he’s added currency.
But if the Celtics are picking, an obvious questions arises.
“What if the Lakers take whoever the Celtics wanted at No. 2?”
It’s been presumed that, if not Fultz, then it was Kansas’ Josh Jackson that Ainge wanted. Now that the Lakers have been sniffing around Jackson as well, wouldn’t it mean the Celtics fell back too far if Jackson goes at No. 2? It would. But don’t you assume that would have dawned on Ainge? He knows the risk and if he did this deal with the intention of picking at No. 3 that means it’s not just Jackson he’s loves. It means he’s good with either Jackson or Duke’s Jayson Tatum or whoever else caught his eye.
We can debate all day whether any of the other prospects will measure up to Fultz but it’s wasted breath at this point. Is Fultz going to be better than both the player taken at 3 and who they take next year? That’s what matters. Who will be a better team as a result of this deal, Boston or Philly? It will take years to know.
In the same vein, if Ainge made the deal to stuff more picks in his pocket for a potential deal, we’ll have to see what it is before projecting its success.
But you hope that, if he’s dealing, Ainge knows he’s got trade partners.
It can’t be, “Hey maybe now that we traded down and have these picks, we can do something . . . ” if the intention is to move No. 3 for, say, Jimmy Butler, then one would pray that deal has been pre-constructed, vetted and parameters have been agreed upon.
Again, Ainge isn’t a moron. He will have checked whether teams are open for business or not if the intention is to swap again.
To be honest, the business of the NBA makes me glaze over. All that crap about finding matching contracts, expiring contracts, etc. Never mind keeping track of the guys who are already looking to hook up with buddies on other teams when their contracts expire.
The Celtics on-court product isn’t complicated, though. They’re a pretty good team with serious scoring limitations. They don’t have a 6-foot-5-plus knockdown shooter. The only guy who can truly create his own shot is 5-8. They are soft up front on the glass and defensively.
They have three very good backcourt defenders in Terry Rozier, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. They have a mature, explosive athlete in Jaylen Brown who is still raw when he has to put the ball on the floor more than once. They have a heady, stable, passing big man in Al Horford with a nuanced game. And Isaiah Thomas will be a high-level point producer for a few more years.
The Celtics need size, shooters and someone to take the scoring burden off Thomas while still allowing him the space to create as he did in 2016-17.
Fultz certainly wouldn’t have made the Celtics a worse team. But Danny Ainge has rolled the dice believing Boston can be even better without him than they would have been with him.