Danny Ainge didn’t know he was going to get Kyrie Irving when he traded away the first overall pick days before the draft. He just knew that he didn’t want Markelle Fultz that badly, and that was enough.
As the rest of the offseason has unfolded, a trade that was initially met with skepticism has looked better by the day. What looked like a decision between Isaiah Thomas and Fultz as the team’s future at point guard was not that at all, as Ainge eventually added what many would agree is a better option than both.
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When the trade with the 76ers was made, many wondered if this meant Ainge was hitching his wagon to Thomas. In reality, he was continuing to hoard assets, because those are the only two speeds Ainge knows: collecting and cashing in.
Had the Celtics not moved down and gained that protected Lakers-or-Kings pick from the 76ers, maybe they’d have considered the 2018 Brooklyn pick less expendable. Ainge didn’t now how he’d be moving his assets, or for whom. He just figured, in unsurprising fashion for him, that he was better off having more.
So he swapped having Fultz for having Jayson Tatum and another potentially high pick. It’s a little early to judge who will have the better career, considering neither of them have played a single game, but Ainge added The Ringer’s No. 2-ranked player in the draft and saved some dough in the process.
Then July happened and the Celtics landed Gordon Hayward in free agency, which made those assets even more expendable given that the only thing Boston had to do to add an All-Star was trade someone (Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris) to create the cap space.
Signing Hayward provided another reminder that you can’t have a million picks and spend them all, as the Celtics now seemingly had three eventual long-term starters in Hayward, Tatum and Jaylen Brown. That’s not to say that suddenly the Brooklyn pick was burning a hole in their pocket; if nobody great was available via trade, they could have happily kept both the Nets pick and the Lakers/Kings pick and either spent them both or packaged them to get the apple of Ainge’s eye in the 2018 draft.
But someone great did become available and Ainge pounced. That the player acquired happened to play the very same position as Fultz is more coincidence than stealth maneuvering, but it’s a coincidence that’s made the Philly trade look a hell of a lot better.
Say the Celtics don’t make that trade, and they choose take Markelle Fultz. What’s that trade with the Cavaliers looking like? Would the Cavs still take the package that you gave them, or would they insist on Fultz? You’d still need to give up a lot more than Fultz to make the money work, plus you wouldn’t have that extra pick you got in the 76ers trade. The moves that the Celtics made have meant they got to add Irving without losing the guy they took at the top of the draft.
Combining the Fultz trade and the Irving trade, here’s what the Celtics have added and subtracted:
In: Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Lakers 2018 first-round pick (if between Nos. 2 and 5)/higher of Kings and 76ers top-1 protected 2019 pick
Out: 2017 first overall pick, Nets 2018 first-round pick, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic
Rearrange that any way you’d like. That’s a lot going out and a lot coming in, but in a league dependent on stars, the biggest takeaway is that the Celtics got the biggest star out of those two swaps.
Fingers crossed that Fultz stinks, though.