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NBA AM: The Celtics Have A Lot Of Options

The Celtics may not last long against the Cavs, but they have plenty of options to weigh going forward.

Steve Kyler

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Hayward, Top Pick and Lots Of Decisions

The Boston Celtics got handled in Game 1 versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, and based on how large the inequities between the two teams appeared last night, the Celtics have a lot of choices to make fairly soon.

By way of a savvy trade back in 2013, Celtics president Danny Ainge stuck to his guns and demanded an unprotected first-round pick as part of the deal that sent future Hall-of-Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. On Tuesday, that deal produced the top overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, the best possible outcome for the Celtics.

As much as Nets fans bemoan the deal today, the risks involved in the deal on the Brooklyn sides were thoroughly discussed, and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov made it clear he wanted a win-now roster at any cost. The Nets tried to protect the pick, however, Ainge was unwavering in the cost of his two All-Stars, and Nets ownership ultimately agreed to the price.

Today, the Celtics have an embarrassment of riches: a roster loaded with promising young players (many of whom are on rookie scale contracts), veterans are on moderately priced deals—most under contract beyond next season—and arguably one of the best young coaches in basketball. To top it off, the Celtics also have a treasure trove of future draft assets, many from that same Nets transaction.

The Celtics future looks very bright, despite the drubbing they took from the Cavaliers in Game 1. The good news is the Celtics have a ton of options, but with those options comes some decisions:

The Top Pick

The Celtics are sending out very clear signals and messages. They are not locked in on any one player, and they plan to use the leverage of the top overall selection to look at anything available to them. As much as Washington’s Markel Fultz looks like the smartest and safest selection, the Celtics plan to engage with UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Kansas forward Josh Jackson. They will likely work out the top five or six players before zeroing in on who they will draft.

The idea of trading the pick or trading down with the pick is on the table, but Celtic sources were quick to say the most likely outcome is the Celtics keep and use the pick. The thinking on keeping the pick is because the impact of the guys possible with the pick outweighs anything they feel like they could obtain with the pick in a trade.

The smart money says the Celtics select Fultz, but that’s not been decided at this point, mostly because it does not have to be.

Trades

As much as fans want to talk about trading the top pick for a proven All-Star like Indiana’s Paul George or Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, the stance from the Boston side is that neither player is worth the top selection under their current contract situations.

In George’s case, he can hit free agency next July. While the Celtics would love to add George’s talent, unless he agreed to extend his deal the day he arrived in Boston, the Celtics are not interested in moving what could be a 10-year All-Star for a 12-month possible rental.

With Butler, the Celtics get a little more contract security but ultimately face the same issue. Butler can be a free agent in 2019. In NBA terms, that is a long-time but given how the East is structured in the Celtics window really next season? And is the window better with Butler for two years or with what’s possible with the number one for 10 years?

There are no guarantees with draft picks, and that’s something the Celtics seem to understand, but the prevailing belief is the C’s are not going to trade the top pick for either of the names linked to them. However, if either of those player’s teams wants to talk about the trove of future picks the Celtics hold, they would absolutely have interest.

The Young Guards

It does not take a genius to see that the Celtics roster is loaded with point guards, and with another elite guard likely on the way, the Celtics have some issues brewing.

As much as fans like to talk about playing for a winner, players are playing for a contract. In the Celtics’ case, many are playing for a chance at their first monster payday. In the case of Marcus Smart, that payday window comes open in full force this summer, when he becomes eligible for a rookie scale contract extension.

If the Celtics are not going to pay Smart the going rate, his camp has to ask for a trade. The Celtics don’t have to trade him, but things become increasingly more complicated if they try and hold one of the young guys hostage while reducing his role and minutes.

The same is true of second-year guard Terry Rozier. He has emerged in the postseason as a quality young guard. He has been sharing minutes off the bench for most of the season and is eager to see an increased role. Like Smart, the Celtics are going to have to decide how much he matters to the future with another elite guard prospect likely coming in via the draft.

The Celtics also face some interesting future contract situations with playoff standout Avery Bradley, who will enter the final year of his deal next season. Bradley has been a monster for the Celtics, but where does he fit in the grand scheme if another guard needing big minutes comes into the equation? Bradley is going to command a hefty increase from his current $8 million per year contract. So that’s a factor for the Celtics to consider.

In the same vein, All-Star Isaiah Thomas will enter the final year of his deal next season, too. There has already been talk that the smart move might be to trade Thomas while his value is so high because of the quality depth the Celtics have and avoid what’s expected to be a new contract demand of over $100 million for a player that will be right at 30 when his current contract ends.

None of these are easy decisions, mainly because this core of guards powered the Celtics to 53 wins and first place in the East. Combine that will an amazing team chemistry, is it smart to mess with that?

Free Agents

As things sit today the Celtics have $61.77 million in salary cap commitments for 2017-18. They are going to get a cap hold of $7.1 million for the first overall pick, they’ll carry a $7.7 million hold for Kelly Olynyk. $8 million in non-guaranteed money if they plan to keep Tyler Zeller. A $15.6 million hold on veteran Amir Johnson until they re-sign or renounce him. They have decisions to make on draft picks Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic. If either push to come to the NBA next season, they would eat into the Celtics space unless they are renounced or traded.

In a realistic way, the Celtics are going open the 2017-18 cap year with a least $76.57 million in commitments, leaving them what should be $24.43 million in usable cap space against what should be a $101 million salary cap, based on the latest from our cap guru Eric Pincus.

While that’s enough money to add a serious piece or two, that’s not enough space to pursue the Celtics believed top free agent target in Jazz forward Gordon Hayward. The C’s could get there if they pass on Olynyk or find a way to dump off some salary in a trade around the draft, but things are tight for the Celtics in term of pure cap space, mainly because of the hold the top draft selection gets in the new collective bargaining agreement.

The Celtics have a ton of trade options to consider (many of which we’ve covered), but it will take some moves for the Celtics to get to a single maximum salary slot before free agency opens and it will mean subtractions before additions.

The good news for the Celtics is that if Hayward does indeed opt to explore his options away from the Jazz (which may not be likely), he’s likely not going to make a quick decision. That would give the Celtics a chance to know where they stand with him before passing on someone like Olynyk to open room.

While the Celtics do have some tough choices ahead of them, many teams wish they had the Celtics’ problems. Too much guard talent, an All-Star, and future All-Stars to potentially pay and some excellent draft options by way of the top pick and a ton of trade assets to play with to boot.

While much will be made over the next few weeks about how much better the Cavaliers are than the Celtics in the playoffs, the truth of the matter is the Celtics roster is constructed with so much youth that needs this postseason experience. The Celtics have nothing to lose and everything to gain from getting this far in the season, and the future in front of them is as bright as any in the NBA.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers and @Ben__Nadeau.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA

Trae Young Believes He’s NBA Ready

Trae Young has exceeded expectations since his freshman year of college, and he believes he will continue to do so in the NBA

Matt John

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Before the collegiate season started, many believed that the best players in the upcoming NBA draft were going to be bigs. DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and Michael Porter Jr., all of whom were 6’10’’ or taller, were considered to be among the top prospects coming out of the NCAA, but Trae Young had something to say about that.

Coming out of high school, Young was regarded as one of the better incoming freshmen, but not among the best of the best. Young ranked no. 23 in ESPN’s top 100 in 2017 and was ranked third among point guards, behind Collin Sexton and Jaylen Hands, which led to low expectations for him. Young proved right out of the gate that he was much better than the scouts had rated him.

Young tore up college ball as an Oklahoma Sooner, as he averaged 27.2 points and 8.7 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field including 36 percent from three. While Young’s play made him stand out among his peers, it didn’t translate into much success on the court. The Sooners went 18-14 on the season and were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Now that the season is over, Young is shifting his focus to his next stop: the NBA. With the draft coming up in just a little over a month, only one word comes to mind when describing Young’s current mindset: Confidence.

“I bring a lot of things to the next level. I think I would bring an immediate impact off the court as much as I do on the court,” Young said at the NBA combine. “I can space out the defense. I can attack defenders in multiple ways, get my teammates involved. I think I can pretty much do it all for a team and I’m looking forward to whichever team I go to and making a huge impact.”

While Young is not expected to be picked in the top five, he should be picked between the six to ten range. Any player who is selected in that range has to work his absolute hardest to live up to the lengthy expectations that he will certainly face once he enters the NBA. Young luckily sounds like he is up to the task.

“I prepared extremely hard coming into the college season and making a huge impact right away, and I’m working two times as hard this summer preparing to get into the NBA level,” Young said. “I want to make a huge impact right away.”

Young is expected to be a high lottery pick, but he doesn’t care much for where he is selected as much as he cares about going to the team that suits him best.

“My main focus is going to the right team. It’s not about going one, two, three or 30. You see a lot of guys going in the second round in certain years that make big impacts for teams,” Young said. “It’s all about the fit for me. Whether that’s one or whether that’s whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and I’m going to be ready to make an impact.”

Young’s expected high draft position stems from his electrifying play as a scorer in college. Young’s performance for Oklahoma his freshman year was impressive enough to draw comparisons to NBA megastar Stephen Curry. While Young is flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as Curry, he takes pride in being his own player.

“He’s a two-time MVP and a champion. I mean, I love the comparison but I feel like I bring a lot of different things from different players’ games to the table,” Young said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young. That’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing so hopefully I can achieve some of those things.”

Young’s skillset may remind fans of Curry, but Young prides himself on modeling his game after his favorite player of all time: Steve Nash.

“With his size and my size, we’re pretty similar,” Young said. “He is very cerebral. He can score on all three levels and he knows how to get his teammates involved. He’s a winner so I feel like a lot of his characteristics match with mine.”

Those who have watched Young know of his offensive repertoire, but skeptics have pointed to his defensive shortcomings as a red flag. Young, however, believes his play at the combine will show that he can be a positive on the other side of the ball.

“I’m excited about having the opportunity to show people that I can play defense, and I’m excited to show that from day one,”

When all is said and done, Young may very well wind up being the most prolific scorer to come out of what many believe is a loaded draft, but Young has much bigger ambitions in mind for his career.

“I think I’m the best overall player in this draft, but my main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft,” Young said. “My goal is to be the best player in the NBA. That’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine

Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.

Jesse Blancarte

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UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.

While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.

Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”

Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.

Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.

“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.

I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”

Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.

“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.

Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.

“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.

Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.

Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.

“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 5/22/18

The final 2018 NBA Draft order is set and Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler offers up his latest 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Lots of Draft Movement

With the draft order now set for the 2018 NBA Draft, there is some sense of how the draft might play out.

The buzz coming out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is that a number of picks could be had in trade include all three of the top selections. Word is the initial asking price is very high and more of an indication to the San Antonio Spurs that if they do want to part with disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, they are open for business.

It’s also worth noting that there is a growing sense that both the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawk may be far higher on some of the domestic bigs in the draft more so than euro sensation Luka Dončić. Both teams are expected to take a long look at Dončić, so their views on him could change as we get closer to the draft, but for now, Dončić may go lower.

Here is the latest 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft, reflecting the final draft order and the latest buzz, rumors, and intel from in and around the NBA:

Dates To Know:

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college. However, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

The 2018 NBA Draft is June 21.

The Pick Swaps:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. This pick will convey.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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