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NBA Draft

Are The 76ers Making A Deal With The Devil?

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There are two questions the 76ers’ front office needs to ask itself as it is reportedly on the verge of trading the third overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft and a future protected first to the Celtics for the first overall pick. Firstly, are the 76ers, winners of a mere 28 games last season, just one piece away from being playoff contenders? And secondly, is that one piece available in Thursday’s draft?

As Basketball Insiders has noted, league executives are always under enormous pressure to get their picks right, especially when picking at the top of the draft. But if the reported trade with the Celtics goes through, Philadelphia GM Bryan Colangelo will be inviting historic levels of scrutiny. What if the 76ers take Markelle Fultz and the Celtics end up with De’Aaron Fox or Josh Jackson — and Boston’s pick has a better career? Celtics GM Danny Ainge could still come out of this draft with the best player despite trading back two spots, then add another major piece in a future draft via the additional protected pick.

Trades of players at the top of the NBA draft are not for the feint of heart. Get this right and Colangelo will be celebrated as the GM who added the missing piece to Philly’s “Process.” Get it wrong and former 76ers GM Sam Hinkie’s cult following will howl until the end of time. Who “wins” the trade may not be known for years. But Colangelo appears to be setting himself up for a career-defining pick.

You’d think opposing GMs would have learned their lesson about making trades with the Celtics. It goes back at least to the 1956 trade of Bill Russell to the Celtics by the St. Louis Hawks, which received Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. The trade led to the greatest dynasty in NBA history for the Celtics. Macauley and Hagan were both Hall of Famers, but Macauley lasted only three seasons with limited impact for the Hawks. Sound familiar? Three seasons is actually more than the Nets got out of Kevin Garnett after the disastrous trade that sent a string of high lottery picks to Ainge and the Celtics.

SportCenter anchor Michael Eaves tweeted yesterday that some within the Celtics organization were unimpressed with Fultz’ workout and left unconvinced that he is the best prospect in this draft:

With Ainge enjoying a reputation as one of the NBA’s most shrewd negotiators, the Celtics built much of the top of its rotation through trades and free agency (Al Horford, Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder) rather than the draft. Perhaps it’s Boston rather than Philadelphia that’s making the mistake here.

This could be one of those rare trades that helps both teams. But if you’re Bryan Colangelo, you’ve got to get this right. Philadelphia was in a position to select an impact player at three while keeping its future picks to continue building. Get it wrong and Hinkie’s legions will always say Colangelo tried to skip a step in the “Process.” This could end up as one of the most scrutinized trades in NBA history.

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.

About Buddy Grizzard

Buddy Grizzard

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.