NBA AM: Celtics Hold All Of The Leverage


In 2013, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge traded Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans, three first-round picks (2014, 2016 and 2018), and the right to swap first-round picks in 2017.

The Celtics, after an impressive run of playoff appearances (and a championship in 2008), were looking to the future while the Nets were seeking to make an immediate splash in their new Brooklyn home.

Garnett, Pierce and Terry were well past their respective primes, but Brooklyn felt adding the three veterans to a core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez would be enough to compete in the Eastern Conference. On paper, a starting lineup of five All-Stars seemingly put Brooklyn on the map. However, fast forward to present day and it becomes clearer by the second the Nets were fleeced.

Brooklyn’s revamped core made the playoffs in 2014 and 2015, but have since deteriorated into one of the league’s worst teams. Brook Lopez is the only one of the five core members still with the Nets. Garnett retired before the season. Pierce hung up his high tops after the end of this season. Terry, Johnson and Williams are now all role players for their respective teams.

On the other hand, the Celtics are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals and secured the No. 1 overall pick via this year’s draft lottery on Tuesday night. This is the first time the Celtics franchise has had the No. 1 overall pick since the common draft era – circa 1966.

Most aren’t giving the upstart Celtics much of a chance to emerge out of the East versus the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, however, others feel Boston arrived to the party a year early and that the Conference Finals appearance is about players gaining experience on the biggest stage.

There are three ways to improve in the NBA – the draft, free agency and trade market.

In terms of the draft, the Celtics own the No. 1 overall pick in a top heavy draft with a talented rookie crop. Markelle Fultz of Washington and Lonzo Ball of UCLA are projected as the top picks. Both players are projected to be point guards at the next level and the Celtics already have All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas in the fold.

Thomas, 28, finished third in the league in scoring this past season, averaging a whopping 28.9 points per game. Thomas, under contract for next season for the equivalent of minimum wage in today’s NBA at just $6.3 million, is unquestionably the Celtics’ best player. Would Ainge bring in another point guard with Thomas playing at a high level heading into a contract year?

The Celtics could look to trade the No. 1 overall pick in order to surround Thomas with even more firepower. Leading up to the trade deadline a few months ago, rumors were rampant the Celtics were interested in Chicago Bulls All-Star guard Jimmy Butler and Indiana Pacers All-Star forward Paul George.

The Pacers were reportedly looking for a package that included Brooklyn’s 2017 first round pick, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics didn’t know where the pick would land at the time, but since it has been unveiled, will Boston reopen discussions with Indiana? One of the things Ainge will be considering is whether George would sign with the franchise long term if acquired. George has a player option for the 2018-19 season and there are growing reports of his desire to player in Los Angeles continuing to surface.

There were also plenty of reports about the Celtics being in hot pursuit of Butler leading up to the deadline. It was reported that Ainge was hesitant to include Crowder in any package and that was the main sticking point for convincing the Bulls to part ways with their star player.

The Celtics are projected to have just under $30 million in cap space this summer. This cap room could be used to absorb a player in trade or chase an elite free agent once the marketplace opens.

Whether or not the Celtics ultimately keep the top selection in next month’s draft, Ainge and company have plenty of options to take a relatively young Eastern Conference Finals unit to the next level utilizing the draft, free agency or draft.

The draft will be held on June 22 and here is the official order of the remaining lottery.

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Los Angeles Lakers
  3. Philadelphia 76ers
  4. Phoenix Suns
  5. Sacramento Kings
  6. Orlando Magic
  7. Minnesota Timberwolves
  8. New York Knicks
  9. Dallas Mavericks
  10. Sacramento Kings
  11. Charlotte Hornets
  12. Detroit Pistons
  13. Denver Nuggets
  14. Miami Heat

As the Celtics begin the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers tonight, no doubt, the rich are getting richer.


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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons