Jayson Tatum

Danny Ainge has established a good track record of getting the best player available

Danny Ainge has established a good track record of getting the best player available

The last couple of years have answered the question of whether Danny Ainge can draft. When making his first choice in 2016 and 2017, he was higher on his guy than most. In both cases, he was right. 

No major publication considered Jayson Tatum the best player last year; Ainge would have taken him No. 1 but was able to trade down because the Sixers were trading up for Markelle Fultz and the Lakers for some reason wanted to sign up for the Lonzo Ball life.

Jaylen Brown at No. 3 in 2016? You remember the boos, and you can understand why they happened. Fans were confused. If they'd been checking nbadraft.net like we all did, they expected him to be the ninth pick. 

Yet in both cases, Ainge and Co. were clearly right. Holding a high pick with no consensus option awaiting him, they wound up with the best player available. 

What's more impressive is that they've also done it later in the draft, and the further down the board you go to make your first pick, the easier it is to take a guy who won't amount to anything, let alone prove to be the best possible selection. 

That's what the Celtics did three years ago with Terry Rozier at No. 16. At the time, Bleacher Report Senior NBA writer Howard Beck deemed that selection the "biggest reach" of the draft; at the very least, the Celtics were heavily criticized for taking him where they did.

Go look at that draft and the players who were selected after Rozier. Would you rather any of those guys over Rozier? Maybe Josh Richardson? Maybe? Probably not, though? 

Now, here's where we need to note that the 2015 draft, for as good as it looks now for the Celtics, could have greatly derailed what's been an excellent rebuild. As the legend goes, Ainge intended to trade a whole lot to get from No. 16 to No. 9 in order to select Justise Winslow, who just had a worse third NBA season than Rozier. 

How badly did Ainge want to move up? According to ESPN's Chris Forsberg that summer, Ainge offered Charlotte "as many as six draft picks, including four potential first-round selections," only to have the deal rejected. Keep in mind that the Celtics still had three Brooklyn picks (which would turn into Brown, Tatum and Kyrie Irving) at that point. 

At any rate, the basketball gods saved Ainge from himself and he followed it up by making the right selection. The latter has happened three straight years now. 

Before that, the Celtics looked more human at the draft. Using 2010 as the cutoff (they didn't have a first-round pick in 2009, so 2010 seemed like a good place to keep it semi-recent), the Celtics have had their fair share of not-quite-misses-but-not-quite-home-runs. The Marcus Smart pick (No. 6 overall in 2014) could have been better spent on Dario Saric. Jared Sullinger (21st overall in 2012) could have instead been Draymond Green (No. 35). Three picks after the Celtics took JaJuan Johnson at 27 (via New Jersey), the Bulls took Jimmy Butler.

Of course, there's no more devastating "what if?" to play than looking back at 2013, when the Celtics got Kelly Olynyk at No. 13 (via Dallas), only to later learn they'd passed on the best player in that draft (Giannis Antetokounmpo). 

Yet that three-year run on not getting the best player has been sandwiched by stronger drafting. In 2010, the C's' selection over Avery Bradley at No. 19 proved to be the best pick they could have made. 

The Celtics are slotted to pick at No. 27 Thursday, a spot that promises very little, though they've got more than enough ammunition to move up. Even if they get whoever proves to be the best NBA player of the guys on the board, there's no promise that said player will have much of an NBA career. Their last three top picks have shown that if they do jump up, they'll get the right guy. 

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Kawhi Leonard to Boston? There's been plenty of talk

Kawhi Leonard to Boston? There's been plenty of talk

The Kawhi Leonard-to-Boston talk, which will intensify with news that Leonard wants out of San Antonio, has been going on for a while. Here's a look at some of what we've said on the subject:

 

Bean: Weighing the obstacles of LeBron-to-Boston

Bean: Weighing the obstacles of LeBron-to-Boston

I would love for LeBron James to be on the Celtics. Why? Because he's the best player in the world and it would probably get the Celtics at least one NBA title in the near future. Championships rule. LeBron rules. 

But it's not as simple as just signing the player, as we all know. In addition to having to ship out at least one key player to make the money work, it would also mean abandoning what seems to be a pretty clear path to a long run of Eastern Conference dominance. 

Yet if there's any player worth changing plans for, it would have to be LeBron. Here are the things - assuming LeBron chooses the Celtics, which is a big "if" - that could get in the way: 

1. YOU CAN'T TRADE GORDON HAYWARD


Technically you can, of course, but if the Celtics were to trade Gordon Hayward one year after selling him on Boston, it would be Danny Ainge's coldest move. Much, much colder than trading Isaiah Thomas. 

The IT thing was cold, of course, but it was also similar to a lot of trades. Teams trade players at the end of their contracts all the time. As for the personal tragedy recently endured by the player - and this isn't to downplay that at all - but it's actually more common than you'd think for players to be traded while going through something awful in their lives. The details just aren't always brought to light. 

But convincing a top free agent to pass up more money elsewhere to play for you and then trading him before he's played a full game? That very rarely happens in any professional sports. This is because executives are well aware (and rightfully fearful) of the message it sends to future free agents/trade targets whose blessings would be needed to complete a deal. 

Obviously, the fact that a potential Hayward trade would be for the best player in the world is an important thing to note. It wouldn't be like the C's signed Hayward and then flipped him for a couple of draft picks. LeBron is a once-in-a-generation, so in the moment, we'd all understand why the Celtics would do it. 

And it wouldn't even hurt the Celtics in free agency immediately. A team with LeBron, Jayson Tatum and others? Free agents would be champing at the bit to join that. 

But what about in a few years when LeBron's gone and the Celtics are back to what they were when they signed Hayward: a good team hoping to add a player and be great? Those free agents will have other choices just like Hayward did, but the other suitors won't carry as big a threat on pulling the rug from under the player. 

THE KYRIE THING


If Kyrie Irving is willing to play with LeBron, which could be a possibility, great. Those guys obviously play well together. If not, you're risking pissing off your franchise player one year before he can opt out and sign somewhere else. 

If not, what are you doing? Kyrie doesn't make enough for him to be easily traded as the outgoing piece in a sign-and-trade, so then what? You sign old-ass LeBron, trade Al Horford to make room for him, then trade Kyrie somewhere else? 

The first thing that comes to mind there is trading Kyrie for a big. Karl-Anthony Towns would be a hell of a get. Then ask yourself this: If the Celtics should supposedly be concerned with Irving potentially walking after next season, wouldn't any team trading for him be concerned as well? Irving is one of the best players in the league, but he's also coming off knee surgery and could potentially hit free agency next summer. Would a team really trade a Karl-Anthony Towns for him now? I'd guess not. 

IT WOULD INTERFERE WITH WAITING OUT THE WARRIORS


After next season, the Warriors could start to finally take some hits. Klay Thompson will need a raise. Depending on what he does this summer, Kevin Durant could also be up. Draymond Green will be a free agent the following summer. 

By the time all that happens, Chris Paul will be 35. So, you'd have the Warriors potentially breaking up and the Rockets getting old. Even if the Celtics don't have any titles between now and then, their current plan would have them in position to be favorites once those teams endure their roster challenges. 

If the Celtics add LeBron, they'd be making themselves better now - while the Warriors and Rockets are also loaded - while not being as potentially dominant a few years from now when the competition may be less daunting. 

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