In an increasingly cap-conscious NBA, first-round draft picks have easily become one of the league’s most valued assets besides superstar players, and the Boston Celtics could potentially have nine first-round selections in the next five years if they get a little lucky with the Philadelphia 76ers' 2015 choice.
The return of Rajon Rondo has been a nice distraction for Boston fans, but now that the superstar point guard is back in the lineup, fans are already starting to remember that the 2013-14 team is less of a cohesive unit and more of a stopgap.
General manager Danny Ainge has officially entered selling mode, and no one, save for Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley and probably Rondo, is immune to being dealt at the drop of a hat.
By shipping their rotational veterans out for future picks and cap relief, Boston has become almost solely concerned with hoarding assets. The Celtics are effectively punting on a campaign that would have, at best, ended with a first-round playoff defeat.
This trend started when Ainge fleeced Brooklyn Nets GM and panic-trade-maker extraordinaire Billy King by nabbing three first-rounders for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, but the Celtics' plan to rebuild through the draft goes far beyond that deal.
With the C's falling further below .500 and the eyes of the Boston faithful turning more and more to the 2014 draft class, let’s take stock of just exactly how flush with picks the Celtics are going to be for the rest of the decade.
First Round: BOS, ATL/BKN (Worse of two), PHI (top-14 protected)
Second Round: None
The Nets are on a recent surge and the Atlanta Hawks are treading enough water that they should make it into the playoffs without Al Horford, minimizing the value of Boston’s additional first-rounder, but the pick should still fall somewhere in the late teens or early 20s.
While the hype about the 2014 draft class has primarily centered on its future franchise cornerstones, this class is deep with talent. The C’s should be able to nab at least a cheap rotation player with the Nets’ or Hawks’ pick.
The real prize in 2014 will be the player the Celtics grab with their own selection, likely a top-10 pick given the team’s recent struggles, because that will be the player Boston’s front office hopes can help usher in the next era of successful basketball.
Boston may not be able to make up enough ground on the Milwaukee Bucks or Orlando Magic (although it’s not inconceivable) to seriously challenge for the top pick, but a mid-lottery selection could still yield a player like Michigan State’s Gary Harris or Duke’s Rodney Hood, who can shoot from deep and score in a variety of ways.
The C’s desperately need help on offense, so adding a wing player who can create his own shot off the dribble as well as make reads for his teammates would be a huge boon.
Unfortunately, the 76ers seem like a surefire lock to miss the playoffs this season, meaning that they will keep their 2014 first-rounder, which is top-14 protected through the 2015 draft.
Given the weak nature of the Eastern Conference, though, there is a real chance a young, but very talented Sixers squad could sneak in during the 2014-15 campaign as a frisky seventh or eighth seed.
Still, what matters in 2014 is grabbing the best possible player with their own lottery pick and a solid complementary piece with their other first-rounder, since Boston simply needs more top-flight talent before it is ready to contend.
First Round: BOS, LAC, PHI (top-14 protected)
Second Round: BOS, SAC (top-55 protected), PHI (if Sixers in lottery)
A first-rounder from a Western Conference contender may not be worth much on its own, but by 2015 Boston could have enough pieces in place to swing a trade for a star talent, and the Los Angeles Clippers' pick could be one part of such a deal.
The C’s acquired L.A.’s first-rounder in the unconventional Doc Rivers trade, and they also have their own pick as well as the possibility of getting the Sixers' if they make the postseason.
It is difficult to predict where Philly will finish in 2014-15, since it's an incredibly young team flush with cap space. But the Celtics have a legitimate shot at having three first-rounders in the 2015 draft.
Not much is known about the 2015 draft, given that many of the potential selections are still seniors in high school, but the Celtics could grab a talented big man like Kentucky commit Karl Towns Jr. or a strong, athletic point guard like Xavier’s Semaj Christon if they choose to deal Rondo.
Unless Los Angeles faces an unexpected injury or makes a surprising trade, it should be a top-five seed in the Western Conference, meaning its pick will likely be in the mid-to-high 20s. But it could still be of value to a team looking to rebuild through the draft.
Additionally, the C’s could be just as flush with second-round selections in 2015, since they could potentially get the Sacramento Kings’ pick if they have a good season or a pick from the 76ers if they fail to make the playoffs.
The odds of picking successfully in the second round are always slim, but players like Draymond Green and Chandler Parsons do occasionally fall through the cracks.
First Round: BOS, BKN
Second Round: BOS, MIA
2016 is the first year the Celtics get an outright selection from the Nets. While Mikhail Prokhorov is clearly willing to spend any amount of money to keep his team competitive, the Nets will be hamstrung in the 2015-16 season by the lucrative contracts of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, limiting their potential for improvement.
The Nets should be a playoff team at that point, but likely not an elite one given the diminishing talents of their pricey backcourt. That means the C’s have a shot at landing a selection in the teens from Brooklyn here.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that Boston likely will not hold onto all of these selections.
There comes a time when it no longer makes sense to keep drafting young players. By 2016, the Celtics will hopefully have the core in place to make a playoff run, meaning they could deal some of their many picks for immediate help in the form of a veteran rotation player or disgruntled star.
Boston has never exactly been a hot city for free agents, so it is essential that Ainge and the front office are active and aggressive on the trade market.
The C’s also have a pair of seconds they could use to help facilitate trades, since it’s unlikely that a second-rounder from the Miami Heat is going to yield a productive player.
First Round: BOS, BKN (right to swap)
Second Round: BOS, SAC (top-55 protected)
The C’s have the right to swap firsts with Brooklyn in 2017, and that could prove fruitful; the Nets will probably be entering a rebuilding phase at that time.
The only contracts on their books for 2016-17 will be the final year of Williams’ deal and a team option on Miles Plumlee, meaning that if they cannot splurge in free agency, they could be dreadful, particularly given Williams’ disappointing 2013-14 season.
By 2016-17, the Celtics will hopefully be back in playoff contention, and the option to swap their own first-rounder for Brooklyn’s could certainly come in handy.
The Celtics also have a slim shot at getting an additional second-rounder from the Kings in addition to their own pick, which can always be helpful in facilitating complex trades and potentially getting young assets from teams in need of salary-cap relief.
First Round: BOS, BKN
Second Round: BOS
That’s right, another Nets first-rounder.
Looking at the haul the Celtics were able to get from Brooklyn in hindsight is truly incredible. Even though the Nets have managed to right the ship somewhat, it is highly unlikely they would make the draft day trade again if they had the choice.
Even a team like the Nets cares about having draft picks, if for no other reason than to facilitate trades, and they are effectively incapable of dealing a first-rounder until 2020.
The beauty of having as many first-rounders as the Celtics do is that they can make a godfather offer for a player like Kevin Love or even LaMarcus Aldridge if things were to go south quickly in Portland.
There is no way the Celtics need all nine of their potential first-rounders, particularly with Sully and Bradley looking like long-term pieces, so really having all of these draft choices just gives the Boston front office incredible flexibility about how it wants to approach the future.
The Celtics do not need to make a hasty trade to try to stay relevant, but they are also not forced to take the Oklahoma City Thunder approach and be horrendous for several consecutive years to build a talented nucleus.
And in today’s NBA, that kind of freedom is more valuable than anything.
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