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NBA Sunday: In Celtics-Sixers Trade, Fans Are Biggest Winners

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The Philadelphia 76ers needed a point guard and, well, the Boston Celtics didn’t. That’s the simplest way to explain why it was that, as first reported by David Aldridge of Turner Sports, on Saturday, the sides agreed to a trade involving the first overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft.

After bringing Markelle Fultz in for what was believed to be one final workout on Saturday, the Sixers are expected to select the point guard with the first overall pick in Thursday’s draft, adding a much-needed playmaker to the core of Dario Saric, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

For Danny Ainge and his Celtics, the move is just the latest in a long line of master strokes.

For months, there has been speculation about the future of Isaiah Thomas and whether or not the Celtics would make an aggressive push to overtake the Cleveland Cavaliers atop the Eastern Conference, or whether Ainge, especially after losing to the Cavaliers in somewhat embarrassing fashion in the Eastern Conference Finals, would commit to a steady rebuild that would take a few years, at least.

With the trading of the top overall pick (and the opportunity to draft Fultz), that question has been answered. Assuming the Los Angeles Lakers select Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick, the Celtics will likely select Kansas forward Josh Jackson with the third overall pick or attempt to package the pick in a trade for Chicago Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler. If something for Butler can’t be worked out, the team will likely focus its attention on signing Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz. Hayward will be an unrestricted free agent and has obvious ties to Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, whom Hayward played for at Butler.

Regardless as to how things work out from here, though, one thing has become apparent: the trade for the number one overall pick likely sets off a chain reaction of events that shows that, as the roads have diverged for the Celtics, they have chosen the one that forcibly goes through Cleveland, not the one that idly waits until the king decides to open the gates and let them pass through his kingdom.

Several weeks ago, as the Golden State Warriors and Cavaliers were busy steamrolling their way through their respective conferences, several people opined that the Celtics would be best served by drafting Fultz, letting Thomas walk as a free agent in July 2018 and rebuilding around Fultz, Jaylen Brown and whatever young players the Celtics deemed to be worthy.

It’s not everyday that you hear suggestions of a team that finished first in its conference proactively pulling the plug on a competent core of players that has proven itself to be a good basketball team, yet, that’s exactly where the Celtics were. The whispers grow louder as the Cavaliers pummeled the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, and along the way, the inevitable question was asked: is the Cavaliers being this dominant over the rest of the conference good for the NBA?

Pointing to the impressive ratings that the league has enjoyed with the Warriors and Cavaliers dominating their peers, the answer seemed simple enough. But the question that arose for others was also simple enough to ponder: are ratings all that matter?

At the end of the day, ratings mean that people are watching games. For whatever reason, they deem the outcome of the content to be worth their eyeballs. Obviously, for the business of professional sports, that’s one of the most important considerations. Viewership, after all, is the primary driver of the market value of the rights to broadcast games. A player like Chris Paul would never see the possibility of earning $40 million in a year without those ratings. But at what point should purists of the game be more concerned with what lays at the very foundation of professional sports? At what point should the fans of the game be concerned with enjoying watching competitive contests where either team has a legitimate shot of prevailing?

Since 2010, the NBA’s “modern talent arms race” has been discussed in various pieces. If, somehow, the Cavaliers managed to acquire, say, Carmelo Anthony this summer without giving up Kevin Love, the Cavs would feature a roster with so much talent, even teams toward the top of the conference—the Celtics, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors, for example—would pale in comparison. The danger in such a situation is complacency and the extinguishing of the competitive fire that makes professional sports work. At its very core, what should be most concerning for the league is the extent to which all of its teams attempt to overthrow Goliath. Ratings be damned, the worst thing for the fans of the game of basketball would be for the league to collectively shrug its shoulders, put its palms up in the sky and complacently let the regular season become a nine-month long exhibition season for the Warriors and Cavaliers to meet up in the next three NBA Finals.

And believe it or not, this past spring, it didn’t appear that the league was very far from that. The Warriors and Cavs combined to go 24-1 en route to the first trilogy in NBA Finals history.

In it all, Danny Ainge was presented with a monumental choice: wait it out, or try to play the role of disruptor.

Today, it appears he has made his choice. And fortunately, it was the one that favored competing.

As the 2017 NBA Draft draws nearer, many scouts have opined that this draft could be the deepest over the past 10 years. There is quite a bit of drama to unfold between now and then. Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk and Dennis Smith, Jr. will all be difference-makers for a franchise, but with only four days to go before the draft, their final landing spots remain a mystery.

The Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets each have multiple first round picks and could elect to attempt to trade up in the draft, especially as the Detroit Pistons are reportedly considering trading their lottery pick for a veteran.

Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler and Paul George are among the impact players expected to be available on the trade market.

With the 2017-18 season still a few weeks from beginning, there’s no telling what the league’s contenders will look like by the time training camps opens in the fall.

However, one thing we do know, which serves as a victory for all of the NBA’s consumers, is that there will be competition. With the Celtics setting the example, at the very least, we know, that at least one contender refuses to idly sit back and watch the seemingly inevitable transpire.

In the end, that, more than ratings, is what makes the NBA work.

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About Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and international basketball.