Previously in this series, we have taken a look at the Celtics very specific circumstances in the upcoming draft and who might be fits in the Celtics current draft range. Today, we are going to be talking about something that Danny Ainge values very highly: flexibility.
The Celtics have always tried to keep themselves relatively liquid so they can be ready for any opportunity that comes up. The most topical and prescient way that this has manifested itself is in the Celtics chase for Anthony Davis and how the Celtics will have a wide variety of assets available in spite of being
one of the top teams a very good team a playoff team in the East. The Celtics have accumulated draft assets, valuable young players, and veterans on cost effective contracts, all of which are the magic ingredients for being able to be ready to pounce when something big is possible.
However, while I think it’s clear that Anthony Davis is the #1 target for Ainge, he also has a history of not being afraid to push the chips into the middle of the table if he thinks the right player is available. He reportedly offered four first round picks to trade up for Justice Winslow in 2015 and was rumored to have put Paul Pierce on the table during the 2005 draft to acquire Chris Paul. Besides Zion Williamson, there’s not much surefire All-Star talent in this draft, but all it would take is for Ainge to fall in love with one of these top prospects and things could escalate in a hurry.
One name that I could see being associated with Danny Ainge is the least well known of the Duke “Big 3” in Cameron Reddish. Reddish is a big wing with incredible defensive potential and clear NBA measurables, but there have been questions about his motor and shooting consistency. For these reasons, Reddish seems like a candidate to slide out of the top five and perhaps fall to midway down the lottery. The Celtics traded up in the 2013 from 16th to draft Kelly Olynyk by sending two second round picks in the deal with Dallas. It’s reasonable to think that if the Celtics want to move up, they may be able to pair the Kings pick with their own pick to move from the late lottery to somewhere around 8 to 10 to get the player they want.
If the Celtics are concerned about having roster spots and no Europeans stash candidates are particularly tantalizing, another option might be exploring trading out of the draft entirely with one or more of the picks. The Celtics sort of did this during the 2016 draft when they traded two high second round picks for a future first rounder with a lot of risk attached to it because it might not eventually convey. We know that pick in question well, because it is the lottery-protected Clippers pick that currently projects to convey this off-season.
One of the best ways for a GM to get surplus value out of their assets it to be willing to kick the can down the road and take on some risk. It requires the team trading “in” to have an interest in a player on the board, but the Celtics could at least have some targets for due diligence. One team I would consider calling is the aforementioned Clippers, who now have the Sixers 2020 pick.
If the Celtics season doesn’t turn around soon, the Celtics will project to be picking around 22nd, which is likely going to be a higher draft pick that what Philly can convey next year. However, that loss in value might make a bigger difference for the Celtics, who could have a jammed up roster again next season.
Contrast this against the Clippers who need to clear the decks and will need cheap young players for their max-contract player pursuit. The Celtics could send their pick to the Clippers this year in exchange for the Philadelphia pick and having only two rookies in one year versus three. This also doesn’t mention the potential upside if Philadelphia (with both Butler and Harris as free agents) takes a step back.
Another team who might consider a deal like that is the Phoenix Suns, who have seemed rudderless for the past decade. The Suns will own Milwaukee’s pick next year (as there’s no way it will convey this year) which looks like it has a chance to be literally the worst first round pick. The Celtics, simply by trading out, get more even development and are more likely to gamble on the unlikely upside of the Bucks falling out of the NBA’s elite tier.
There’s a lot of options for the Celtics on this all important draft night, and even if there isn’t a big show-stopping move, there’s still plenty of intrigue about what types of moves Danny Ainge might make. However there’s no way to know what opportunities (besides Davis) might present themselves on Draft Night. The Celtics will simply have to stay ready and stay flexible.