BOSTON – Even before the Boston Celtics landed the top overall pick in next month’s NBA draft, there has been talk about Boston potentially trading it away.
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While Danny Ainge has made no secret about being open to all options involving the top overall pick, there are a couple of things to remember.
Moving the number one overall pick is not a decision that’s made lightly.
That’s why only twice since the ABA-NBA merge in 1976, has the number one overall pick not played for the team that selected him.
But in looking at the two instances when it did happen, 1993 with Chris Webber (drafted by Orlando, traded to Golden State) and 2014 with Andrew Wiggins (drafted by Cleveland, traded to Minnesota), the Wiggins deal best resembles the kind of situation that the Celtics now find themselves in with the top overall pick in hand.
In 2014, Cleveland wound up with the number one overall pick for the second straight year. In 2013, they shocked many in selecting UNLV’s Anthony Bennett which turned out to be a huge mistake.
But the following year, taking Andrew Wiggins out of Kansas with the top pick was more of a no-brainer.
The Cavs were soon faced with the kind of problem every team would love to have.
Just a couple weeks after the draft, LeBron James announced that he was taking his talents back to Cleveland.
The number one pick and James returning to Cleveland?
Does it get much better than that for a Cavs fan?
As it turned out … yeah. It got a hell of a lot better, actually.
While a James-Wiggins-Kyrie Irving Big Three will probably win you a lot of console championships, in the real world of NBA basketball it wasn’t going to work.
The Cavs knew this, which is why they made no secret about willing to part ways with the top pick (Wiggins) for the right player.
That player was Kevin Love, who had grown tired of all the struggles he endured with the Timberpups who never grew up enough to win enough games to get to the playoffs.
Minnesota, understanding that they may be better off down the road without Love, decided to move him for a bunch of pieces centered around Wiggins who went on to become the league’s Rookie of the Year.
Cleveland’s motivation for making the deal had a lot to do with being in the best position to compete for a title right now, without having to do major work at the front-end of their rotation.
LeBron James. Kyrie Irving. Kevin Love.
Fill in the rest of the roster with good players who are great fits, and just like that ... you're a title contender.
Boston finds itself in a similar position to the Cavs in 2014.
Unlike most franchises with the top overall pick, Boston doesn’t need that player to come in and carry the franchise from Day One.
Remember, Boston advanced to the Eastern Conference finals this season with one of the younger teams in the playoffs.
Of the players under contract for next season, Al Horford – he’ll be 31 years old on Saturday – is the oldest player.
So with all that youth still developing their games, still figuring out how best to impact the Celtics, Boston knows they would be much better served if they can convert that top overall pick into a proven, established All-Star that can move them that much closer to title contention sooner rather than later.
That’s why Cleveland was so eager to trade the pick, knowing it would likely return a proven star for a team that at the time felt they were one piece away from being a true title contender.
Boston, which lost to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals last week, is at least one high-impact performer (I believe two personally) from posing a stronger threat to the Cavs’ dominance than we saw in a conference finals that Cleveland ended in five games.
There are a few big names that the Celtics have shown interest in the past, and they could once again come into play this offseason.
Indiana’s Paul George is a player Boston has had its sights on for a while now. The only real concern the Celtics have with George is whether he’ll re-sign with them next summer when he becomes a free agent.
Rumors have circulated for a few months that the Palmdale, Calif. native is longing to be closer to home and play for the Los Angeles Lakers who have identified him as a primary free agent target when he becomes available.
Indiana might be motivated to move him sooner to ensure they’ll get something for him if he does, in fact, decide to move on.
But are the Celtics willing to risk giving up the number one overall pick (along with other key assets) for a player who may only be around for one season?
And while it is a long shot and on paper makes little sense, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis shouldn’t totally be discounted, either.
The Pelicans are a franchise right now that’s not going anywhere with their current allotment of talent, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
They gave up their first-round pick this year as part of the DeMarcus Cousins trade, so they’re not on the clock until the 40th selection, or 10th pick in the second round.
It would take a significant amount of assets to acquire Davis, but considering his age (he’s just 24 years old), talent, and versatility at both ends of the floor, he becomes an instant game-changer if the Celtics can get him.
Boston also likes Jimmy Butler of Chicago, although the Celtics aren’t likely to need to give up the number one pick to get him.
The Bulls have been hesitant to move Butler for many reasons.
For one thing, he’s a hell of player.
In addition, his contract (he has three years left on a five-year, $92.3 million deal that began with the 2015-2016 season) is very team-friendly for a player regarded as being among the top-15, top-20 in the NBA.
With the salary cap steadily rising, Chicago would likely have to pay significantly more than that if they traded for say, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, who each hit free agency in the summer of 2018.
No matter what direction the Celtics decide to go with the number one overall pick, there will be some risk involved.
But with that risk comes the tremendous potential to be rewarded with a great player who could be just what this franchise needs in order to bring home Banner 18.