Our next installment of the Boston Celtics Offseason Preview Series gets us back on track chronologically. We’re going to take a look at the Celtics and the 2020 NBA Draft. This isn’t going to be your normal draft type of preview, as we’re not going to talk draft-eligible prospects. We’ll leave that to Adam Spinella aka Coach Spins, who has a host of draft-related articles coming your way.
What we are going to do here is focus on strategy for the draft. As a reminder, Boston is expected to be plenty busy come draft day, as they have the following picks:
The Celtics are also in the position of 2020 being the last draft in which they have extra picks in either the first round or second round. From 2021-2026, Boston currently owns all their own first and second rounds picks, but no additional picks. It’s the first time in nearly a decade that Danny Ainge doesn’t have a treasure chest full of extra picks.
It’s that lack of additional picks that could drive part of the Celtics strategy for the 2020 NBA Draft. Having extra picks is always a luxury, and one Ainge has had for several years running.
In addition, Boston added seven rookies last offseason, including four via the draft. It’s not likely an already young team wants to add as many as four more young players to the roster.
Lastly, with between 11 and 14 players signed for the 2021 season already, roster spots are at a premium for the Celtics.
With four picks, including three in the first round, Boston is going to be busy no matter what on draft night. When you add the three concerns above (no additional future picks, already really young and a roster crunch), it’s likely Ainge and team will be working the phones heavily.
There are many ways Boston can approach the 2020 Draft:
· Use the picks as scheduled
· Trade a pick or picks for help now
· Trade a pick or picks for future picks
· Trade a pick or picks to dump an undesirable salary
· Use a pick or picks to “draft and stash” a player
· Consolidate picks in an effort to move up in the draft
The best bet? It’s a combination of all of the above for the Celtics. Let’s break them down.
Use the picks as scheduled
Despite being the simplest approach, it’s highly unlikely this is the one Boston takes. As noted, the Celtics don’t really have roster space for four more rookies. And they don’t want to trend even younger than they already do.
But, since it is possible, let’s entertain the idea the Celtics use all four picks. Instead of talking about specific players, we’ll talk about positions/roles to target. Best guess is Boston would want to come away with another big, another wing, a ballhandler and then the best player available who is amenable to a Two-Way contract with the second-round pick.
While Robert Williams and Grant Williams both look like rotation players, Boston could definitely use another big. Daniel Theis is solid, but he’s only signed for one more season. The rest of Boston’s bigs are a collection of players who might not be long for the roster.
With Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, it seems like the Celtics have great wing depth. Behind those three it’s pretty shaky though. Marcus Smart is certainly a great option, but he spends as much time as a ballhandler as he does as a wing. Romeo Langford is going to miss some time recovering from wrist surgery. The rest of the Celtics wings are all replacement level players.
And for ballhandlers, it’s Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart and…question marks. Brad Wanamaker was perfectly solid as a backup, but he may be headed out of town as a free agent. Tremont Waters looks like a fine prospect, but he needs a good amount of work before he’s ready to contribute in the NBA. One could argue this is Boston’s primary need at the draft, especially with Walker looking like a safe bet to miss some games going forward and Smart always banged up.
Trade a pick or picks for help now
This one gets tricky. Boston doesn’t have any available trade exceptions, so trading a pick or picks for a win-now player would also involve sending some salary out. To get a real impact player would probably cost the Celtics Gordon Hayward or Marcus Smart. Hayward likely won’t have decided on his player option by the draft, so that makes him an unlikely trade piece. (Players who are pending free agents aren’t eligible to traded.) That means Smart, and that’s basically a non-starter. Sure, Smart could be moved (we already covered Ainge will trade anyone), but it’s so unlikely that it’s not worth spending time on.
So, how would the Celtics move a pick for veteran help? They could combine the salaries of a young player or two with a pick or two to bring in someone. The challenge there is most of Boston’s young players carry low salary numbers, so they aren’t matching a very big number.
The most likely way this happens is that the Celtics combine a draftee or two with a player under contract, but after option decision are made (Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter anyone?) in a deal. The downside there is that teams like to make their own picks. If Ainge selects players other teams don’t really covet, it reduces the chances of a trade like this.
Trade a pick or picks for future picks
This is a tactic Ainge has used on occasion in previous years. The most-famous of this was when Boston moved back at the 2017 NBA Draft by trading the first overall pick for the third pick, while also picking up a future pick in the process.
Prior to that, in 2016, Ainge traded two second picks in that year’s draft to the Memphis Grizzlies for a future first-round pick. This also happened at last year’s draft when Boston traded Aron Baynes and the pick that became Ty Jerome to the Phoenix Suns for a 2020 first-round pick.
The 2020 NBA Draft is light on top-end talent, but is considered to be fairly deep. Because of that, if there is a player that another team wants when Boston is up, Ainge could trade out of that pick in exchange for a future pick. In a sense, it’s a way for Boston to kick the can down the road in exchange for roster and cap/tax flexibility this season.
Trade a pick or picks to dump an undesirable salary
This is also a fairly likely salary. While Ainge said the Celtics are prepared to pay the luxury tax in 2021, they’d like to lessen that tax bill, or avoid it entirely, if at all possible. The best way to make that happen is to get off some of the bad money on Boston’s books.
Now, to be fair, the Celtics don’t really have any contracts that are truly awful. It’s probably best to call them undesirable vs actually bad.
This is where players like Vincent Poirier and Carsen Edwards qualify. Neither makes enough to be considered bad salary, but both make more than Boston should be paying them to occupy a roster spot. They are prime candidates to either be added to a bigger trade as part of salary matching, or to be straight dumped. Either player could easily be combined with the #47 pick to get them off Boston’s books.
One note: Enes Kanter would also qualify here, but his player option makes things murky. It’s unlikely Kanter will have decided upon his option by the time the draft takes place. As a pending free agent, he’s not trade-eligible. That makes it unlikely Boston could use one of their current picks to dump him.
Use a pick or picks to “draft and stash” a player
The “draft and stash” is another tactic Ainge has used in the past. At the 2016 NBA Draft, Boston had an absurd eight picks (three in the first round and five in the second round). As we covered above, Ainge flipped two of the second rounders for a future first. In the first round, Ainge used two picks to draft and stash players. In part, this was done to conserve salary cap space, which was later used to sign Al Horford.
The two players Boston drafted were Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic. Yabusele spent the 2016-17 season in China, while Zizic split his year between Turkey and Croatia. Yabusele then signed with Boston in 2017, while Zizic was later traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the Kyrie Irving deal.
The Celtics aren’t trying to conserve cap space this time around, but could use to tactic to ease a roster crunch and lessen their luxury tax bill. Where Boston is scheduled to pick there are several interesting international prospects who could spend another year or two overseas before signing an NBA contract. That makes this a strategy that is highly in play for the Celtics.
Consolidate the picks in an effort to move up in the draft
Finally, we reach the favorite of all draft devotees: the trade up. Ainge has done this sparingly in the past. In 2013, Boston traded up with the Dallas Mavericks to select Kelly Olynyk. Long before then, one of Ainge’s first transactions as Celtics GM was to trade up in 2013 to select Marcus Banks. In 2006, the Celtics traded a future first round pick to select Rajon Rondo.
The challenge with the trade-up strategy in this draft is that Boston would have to love a player to move up for them, while also being convinced the player won’t fall to them. If the Celtics love a player available at #10, it’s certainly worth dealing #14 and either #26 or #30 to move up and snag that player.
That also kind of illuminates the other challenge with trading up: Boston’s picks aren’t all that valuable. There are various “Draft Pick Value” charts floating around, but they all agree that #14, #26 and #30 are roughly worth the same value as #8. Unless they add a player into the mix, the Celtics aren’t climbing very high in this draft via trade.
Overall, as stated earlier, expect Boston to be very active in the draft. The best bet is that we see a combination of some of the strategies mentioned here. Ainge could trade out for a future pick, while also using another pick on a draft-and-stash player. He could use a pick to dump one of the Celtics smaller salaries (Poirier or Edwards).
The guess here is that Boston uses only one of their four picks on a player we see play for the Celtics in 2021. The other three will be moved via trade, or used in combination with a draft-and-stash player.
What do you want to see Boston do at the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday, November 18? Sound off in the comments on your preferred draft strategy!