With eight selections at his disposal (including three first-rounders), Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is set for a busy evening at the June 23 draft. While Boston could bring in some young talent, there are bound to be plenty of trade offers on the table.
The rumors are already swirling.
The Celtics have a young core that is collectively inching toward its prime. Boston should ideally look for talented players in their mid-20s that fit the team's timeline and provide immediate help. It could find such individuals through free agency or the trade market, but the draft can't be overlooked.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the biggest speculation surrounds how the Celtics will utilize their most-prized asset—the third overall pick. The franchise likely doesn't have any time to develop more long-term projects with the current roster. If it can't use the third overall pick in a package for a superstar, it should utilize it on a player who can immediately crack the rotation.
With Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram presumably off the board by the time Boston is on the clock, there are numerous directions to explore.
Looking for Wing Depth?
If Ainge opts to rebuild the frontcourt through free agency, the biggest gap would be on the wing. The team lacks a serviceable backup behind Jae Crowder, and Boston is seriously considering drafting Jaylen Brown, according to ESPN's Chad Ford:
"Spoke to several teams that had Cal forward Jaylen Brown in for draft workouts. All three said his performance was stellar. Shot the ball really well. Was in great shape. After a shaky freshman season, he may be rising in the draft. He has elite physical tools. Celtics seriously considering him at 3."
Brown's three-point shot was shaky in college (29.4 percent), and he's just 19. Those facts should theoretically make him unsuitable for the Celtics' needs, but he still carries some intrigue. The 6'7", 225-pound forward is athletic and surprisingly developed for his age, and he could mimic some of Crowder's production with an improved stroke.
Lachlan Marr of CelticsBlog made Brown's case:
For the Celtics there is a lot of potential to develop Brown within their system to be a real force on the parquet floor. He has superstar upside, developed defensive acumen and is explosive on the fastbreak, running the court and leaping toward the hoop with the grace of a gazelle and the power of a juggernaut.
A combo forward would further enhance Boston's roster versatility, which already features plenty of two-way players. Head coach Brad Stevens managed to develop Crowder into one of the most impactful small forwards in the league, so molding a similar player type in Brown shouldn't be a problem.
Playing It Safe?
The ever-present dilemma of drafting an immediate contributor versus the highest ceiling is compounded when a playoff team acquires a high draft pick. If Boston opts to take the safe route, it appears Buddy Hield could find his NBA home at TD Garden.
Ainge and Stevens recently made the trip to California to inspect Hield, who left a good impression, according to Jay King of MassLive.com:
"It went well," Ainge said. "I would say there were no real surprises. Buddy Hield is a really good shooter and a hardworking, well-conditioned player. He's a great kid and a guy that's ready to step in and play. Very, very impressive."
Hield is 22 and one of the most NBA-ready talents in this year's draft pool after spending four years in college (Oklahoma). He drained 45.7 percent of his threes last season, on a ridiculous 8.7 attempts per game.
Bleacher Report draft guru Jonathan Wasserman also has Hield going to Boston at No. 3 in a recent mock draft, suggesting that Hield carries potential beyond his immediate prospects:
He's one of the few players in this draft you can immediately feel good about as a rookie. And given the gradual improvement he's made, along with his work ethic, there is good reason to believe Hield's peak is still a few years away.
The Celtics are in win-now mode, and Hield can help them win now. Something tells me he'll be able to help later, too.
Boston is already stacked in the backcourt, but it could use another body if Evan Turner bolts in free agency. The Celtics' 26.1 three-point attempts per game ranked 11th last season, but the abysmal conversion rate of 33.5 percent had them just 28th. Slotting another combo guard to stretch the floor should bolster those numbers.
Trading for a Star?
With Boston potentially a superstar and a couple pieces away from title contention, Ainge should leave no rock unturned when hunting for a big name. That's precisely what he's doing, according to RealGM's Andrew Perna:
Danny Ainge attend a workout with Excel Sports Management clients in New York City recently and met with prominent agent Jeff Schwartz, a league source told RealGM’s Andrew Perna. Schwartz represents Love, as well as Harrison Barnes, who will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Brandon Ingram, the presumed No. 2 pick in next week’s draft is also a client of Excel, but Ainge is believed to have inquired with Schwartz about whether a trade for Love could be revisited.
As Perna points out, Schwartz represents other individuals whose services Boston could potentially be interested in, so this could be speculated in any number of directions.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are fresh off a championship, which should tie their core closer together rather than encourage change. Then again, Love is still somewhat of an awkward fit with the Cavs, and a hefty $170 million salary bill (including luxury tax penalties) could force Cleveland to look for cheaper options.
For all his defensive struggles, Love is still a capable No. 1 option on offense. He could create a deadly pick-and-roll partnership with Isaiah Thomas, inject a healthy dose of post-ups and give a massive boost in the rebounding department.
Ainge has the assets to construct an enticing package, but it feels unrealistic that the Cavs would conduct any serious business before properly celebrating the championship run first.
"The Boston Celtics, who hold the No. 3 overall pick, are also known to have trade interest in Butler, while sources say that the Bulls are highly intrigued by Providence guard Kris Dunn, who is projected to be selected in the 3-to-5 range in the June 23 draft."
The report suggests the Bulls will listen to offers, but are not in any way desperate to move Butler. That should imply a high asking price, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, equipped with the fifth overall pick, figure to be in the race as well.
The allure is understandable—Butler has established himself as a true star, which is what Boston is looking for. However, while he is one of the best two-way perimeter players in the league, the Celtics already have Avery Bradley for defense.
Butler could be an upgrade over Bradley, but perhaps it would be wiser to use the third overall pick on more pressing positional needs. Boston is set in the backcourt, which should make a star big man the primary target.
Jahlil Okafor Still a Target?
The rumblings of a trade centred around the Philadelphia 76ers' Jahlil Okafor and Boston's high-lottery draft pick started at the trade deadline. Those rumors had substance, and the two parties were close to an agreement, according to MassLive.com's King.
It's a deal that seemingly made sense, although the lingering uncertainty of draft-lottery pingpong balls might have given the 76ers cold feet.
The picture is clear now.
Philadelphia can gauge the value of Boston's pick more accurately, while Joel Embiid is set to make his NBA debut next season, which means there likely won't be room for both Nerlens Noel and Okafor on Philly's frontcourt.
76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo further sparked speculation ahead of the draft when asked about his big man conundrum, according to NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper:
I don't know that there's a likelihood. I can't put a number on it. I would just simply tell you that there's been conversations and there's been a lot of interest expressed in some of the players that we have, but nothing that's made enough sense to pull the trigger on. We've talked about the five position in particular.
Now that Boston knows its chances of drafting Simmons or Ingram are slim to none, pushing for an Okafor trade would be smart. He averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks during his rookie season, and would provide a terrific offensive boost up front.
Okafor's defense is still a question mark, but he's a promising young big who still has three years remaining on his rookie deal. He is undoubtedly a safer bet than anything Boston can get at No. 3, and Ainge shouldn't hesitate to throw in some second-round sweeteners if needed.