If the Boston Celtics successfully complete a trade for a superstar (Kevin Love) this summer, there’s about a 100 percent chance Jared Sullinger and/or Kelly Olynyk will be a part of it.
Neither one is the most desirable trade asset in the world. What they offer right now on the court is less promising and tangible than other young talents throughout the league who’re being rounded up in similar packages to try and acquire the same superstars.
But that’s not important here. Boston’s most irresistible assets are future first-round draft picks. They have tons of them, and no deal of significance gets done without at least a few getting shipped out of town.
So, even though draft picks are the real headliner, let’s say the Celtics find themselves in a hypothetical situation with another team (let’s call them the Tinnesota Mimberwolves) and a tentative agreement is made. Their general manager (Slip Faunders) then informs Danny Ainge that he wants Sullinger. Do the Celtics do the deal, or offer Olynyk instead?
The hypothetical point is made, and one question needs an answer: Who’s the better fit in Boston's long-term plan?
Olynyk and Sullinger will eventually play the same position in this league, but their body type, skill sets and overall helpfulness throughout a second contract are different. Let’s look at each, then figure out who the Celtics would rather hang on to.
Olynyk is tall, white, wears No. 41 and can shoot three-pointers. These four characteristics have forced unfair comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. And before we get started those should probably never happen again.
But even if his destiny isn’t becoming one of the 20 most influential basketball players who ever lived, he’s still capable of having a very good and long NBA career.
The seven-footer played his entire rookie season out of position at center (he’s a power forward) and spent the first few months of his career looking like a chicken with its head cut off on defense.
But as the season went on, Olynyk showed gradual improvement in just about every area of his game. He played confidently with the ball in his hands, driving to the basket, seeking contact on crashes to the offensive glass and not hesitating on long jumpers.
Three or four years from now he might be the best passing seven-footer in the league.
He also has fantastic hands for someone his size, and he makes for a useful pick-and-roll partner, either stepping out behind the three-point line or diving to the rim and warping the defense.
On the other end, he flashed signs of a useful body, someone who will soon know how to always use his length protecting the rim. He incorporated “verticality” into his game late in the season and rotated over to the right spot quick enough to make a difference against oncoming penetration.
Olynyk has value, and it's far too early to give up on him.
Only six players in the entire league posted a higher offensive rebound rate than Sullinger last season. He's an immovable ox around the basket who knows how to gobble up rebounds with the best of them.
It's just one of the traits that make Sullinger such an intriguing trade chip. Here's more from NESN.com's Ben Watanabe:
As for players who are actually on guaranteed contracts, Sullinger would be the easiest to find a trade partner for. The promising 22-year-old increased his averages to 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds this season, playing in 74 games despite offseason back surgery. He has promised to get into better shape this summer and is under team control through 2016, provided the Celtics exercise their $2.2 million option after next season. Parting ways with Sullinger would be difficult, but if he weren’t desirable, other teams wouldn’t be interested, either.
On the downside, Sullinger fouls too often, doesn't have three-point range (26.9 percent on 208 attempts last year means "stop it") and may not have as long a career as he should thanks to back surgery at 20 years old.
He was arguably Boston's best and most valuable player last year, but how much better will he really be three or four years down the line?
Who Should Boston Keep?
In the end, this question can’t be answered to the best of Boston’s ability until they actually know which superstar they’re trading for. Different skill sets need different complementary pieces surrounding them.
But, in a vacuum, the Celtics should prefer to keep Olynyk for five simple reasons:
1) He’s a year earlier on his rookie contract.
2) He’s a better three-point shooter and passer.
3) He’s three inches taller.
4) He’s more versatile on both ends and has the better long-term ceiling.
5) He’s never had back surgery.
On top of that, and this was mentioned earlier, Sullinger’s fantastic sophomore season could make him the more attractive chip among other teams in the league who’d prefer guaranteed production over a long-term project. Shopping Sullinger could mean including one fewer draft pick in any hypothetical offer.
It's all the more reason why Olynyk is the keeper here, even though the Celtics won’t think twice about packaging them both if a good enough player comes along.