NBA Saturday: 76ers and Celtics Can Both Come Out On Top

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Markelle Fultz_Washington_2017_Draft_AP_1

The Process is potentially on the verge of completion.

On Friday evening, ESPN’s Marc Stein shook up NBA Twitter with a report that the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were engaged in trade talks involving the No. 1 overall pick in the June 22 draft.

Adrian Wojnarowski followed up the report by saying the two clubs were in “advanced talks” concerning the potential deal.

As reports began to unfold following the initial news break, Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler expanded on what Philadelphia may be sending in order to bring the top pick into their fold.

Without dragging out the explanation much longer, this potential deal would be a slam dunk for both teams.

For the Sixers, being able to cash in stockpiled assets from years of consistent losing out on the top pick in order to select sweet-shooting point guard Markelle Fultz is a no-brainer. Fultz alongside 6-foot-10 ball-handler Ben Simmons and 7-foot-2 Joel Embiid potentially gives Philadelphia their big three of the future.

Equally, the deal could wind up a success for the Celtics even while moving down in the draft. ESPN’s Chad Ford reported that Boston wasn’t sold on Fultz and was considering selecting Kansas wing Josh Jackson. Should the deal go through, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge could wind up with his guy and secure more draft assets in the process.

Along with getting Jackson and more picks, the Celtics will also be in a position to clear up some cap space for a potential run at Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward.

A Celtics team that was the top seed in the Eastern Conference this past season could potentially add a max-level free agent and a top-tier draft talent without having to sacrifice their core. That’s all the motivation Boston should need to get the deal done on their end.

Despite the position Boston could be placing themselves in by making such a deal, Philadelphia should be pushing for this move just as hard.

When the Sixers and former general manager Sam Hinkie embarked on the long-term rebuilding process back on the draft night of 2013 when he shipped point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel, the goal in mind was to eventually field a championship contender.

After four years of losing games hand over fist and fielding starting lineups that could’ve passed for D-League all-star teams, bringing Fultz to Philadelphia would be the final piece to truly envision a scenario where the Sixers could contend for an NBA championship down the road.

While this draft is lauded for its diverse talent within the top-10 picks, the potential of Fultz as a player and his fit into the Sixers’ current roster seems tailor-made. Philadelphia worked out former Kentucky guard Malik Monk on June 15, and they’ll work out his backcourt partner De’Aaron Fox on June 17. They also reportedly worked out Jackson in Sacramento Friday afternoon, with general manager Bryan Colangelo and head coach Brett Brown, among others, in attendance. As is usual during every pre-draft cycle, teams like to explore all of their options.

With the option for Fultz though, all other exploration should cease.

At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Fultz fits the physical mold of James Harden nearly to a tee. Obviously, nobody knows for sure if Fultz could ever materialize into a top-five player in the league. There is a lot of work that needs to be put into reaching that pinnacle. But Fultz’s track record suggests he’ll do what’s necessary to leap every hurdle in his way. After getting cut from the varsity team at De Matha High School as a sophomore, Fultz has launched himself into the conversation for the best player available in the draft just three years later. That’s the type of work ethic that translates at any level of basketball.

Even though Fultz’s work ethic speaks for itself, his numbers proved to have a big mouth as well during his freshman season at Washington. Averaging a line of 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 41 percent three-point shooting per game, Fultz clearly established himself as the prototypical modern guard of the NBA. A guy who can score, shoot at an efficient level, hit the boards and also orchestrate an offense.

As the NBA witnessed during this past season and postseason, with the pure dominance the Golden State Warriors demonstrated, the league may be entering a phase where a team needs four high-level players to compete as opposed to the previous formula of three All-Star caliber guys.

And while the fourth and final piece of the Warriors on-court weaponry came via free agency with Kevin Durant, Golden State built the core of their team through the draft. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were selected in three drafts over the course of four years. If following the Warriors mold will duplicate any level of success, the Sixers are on the right path, and moving up to acquire Fultz puts them further along that path than they’ve ever been.

For Boston, their team dynamic with Isaiah Thomas leading the way has helped them separate from the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference that don’t have LeBron James on its roster. In order to draw more even with the Cleveland Cavaliers and push an Eastern Conference Finals series past five games, Thomas needs more immediate help than a 19-year-old combo guard.

By clearing the necessary cap space in order to make a serious run at Hayward, the Celtics can bring in a player with the talent level to help close the gap on James’ Cavaliers. With young core players like Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder another year older — not to mention last year’s No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown — the addition of Hayward may be just what Boston is looking for.

However, there are no guarantees Hayward will choose to sign with Boston. But when your best player is in his prime like Thomas is, it’s wise as an organization to try and capitalize on that. Plus, James can’t make the Finals every year, right?

As this potential deal continues to develop before draft night, it will be interesting to see how all sides of the situation play out.

But few trade opportunities will present themselves that benefit both teams as great as this opportunity could.