NEW YORK — Surely he was joking. But also, perhaps Steve Pagliuca ought to give the idea some actual thought, even if his team is scheduled to host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night.
“I should go to Vegas tomorrow,” the Boston Celtics co-owner (or if you’d prefer his official title: managing partner, co-owner and chairman of the basketball committee) told Bleacher Report on Tuesday night after winning the NBA draft lottery. He had a celebratory slice of pizza in one hand, a green Celtics hat on his head and was recalling the moment where he, as the man representing the team in the lottery ball drawing room, became the first to learn that Boston had been awarded the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.
“I was legitimately shocked,” he added, “after so many years of anguish.” He mentioned the 1997 and 2007 draft lotteries, where the Celtics missed out on chances to nab first Tim Duncan and then Kevin Durant.
This year, of course, things are different. The Celtics were in the lottery not because of their on-court futility but rather as a result of front office savvy—and also former Brooklyn Nets general manager’s Billy King’s foolish wheeling and dealing.
Four years ago King sent the Celtics a boatload of draft picks and swap options in exchange for an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets this year finished with the league’s worst record and sent their lottery odds to the Celtics, the East’s top seed, making the Celtics the rare No. 1-seeded team to have a No. 1 pick.
That's how we got here. The question now is: What happens next?
The Celtics have a great point guard in Isaiah Thomas. The top prospect in the draft, Markelle Fultz, is also a point guard. This is what we call a good dilemma, but a dilemma nonetheless.
“We’ve got plenty of time to decide what to do, but I would imagine we would probably make the pick,” Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck told reporters at the lottery afterward. “In today’s NBA, picks are very valuable. You have a young person that you can really help mold and grow with. Bring him in before the max salaries kick in. It makes a lot of sense to keep these picks.”
It does, but you can make a compelling case for trading it, too. The Celtics are already an Eastern Conference Finals team. Is adding a soon-to-be 19-year-old who plays Thomas' position the best path to a championship? We know Jimmy Butler and Paul George will be shopped this offseason—perhaps offering up the No. 1 pick for one of those stars would be the best move.
A trifecta of Thomas, Al Horford and George or Butler is a strong foundation. Then again, it might not be strong enough to overtake league superpowers like the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I’d call all teams to explore what they would give up for the pick, then weigh that against draft options,” one Western Conference scout told Bleacher Report. Another league source said Boston would be “crazy” to trade the No. 1 pick for players—in this case George or Butler—who this season couldn’t lift their teams past the playoffs' first round.
The Celtics could go the other direction too. Maybe they get swept by the Cavaliers and decide there's too large a gap between them and the league’s top teams. They could come to the conclusion that Thomas’ value will never be higher and make the tough decision to flip him and his valuable contract for some younger pieces. At that point, they could go with Fultz at No. 1 and rebuild again.
Essentially, this would be all about waiting out LeBron James.
Or they could stand pat, draft the best player on their board and keep Thomas and all their super-glue players (like Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart). In case that's not exciting enough for you, this gives Boston the chance to try to squeeze unrestricted free agent Gordon Hayward, who played at Butler for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, into its tight cap sheet.
“We haven’t discussed any of that because you don’t have the full picture until you have the lottery, the workouts, the rest of the season, then we get the full picture,” Pagliuca told Bleacher Report. “Right now they’re focused on who’s the best player in the draft.”
Even that topic of who is best is up for debate depending on where you look. Fultz is widely considered the projected No. 1 overall prospect, and B/R's Jonathan Wasserman ultimately has him going to the Celtics. But the hype surrounding UCLA's Lonzo Ball isn't going away, either.
Soon, though, the Celtics will have all the options in front of them, and that's when the choice will fall into the lap of general manager Danny Ainge. Draft and rebuild? Trade? Keep the pick and hit the free-agency trail? He essentially has three choices.
And an entire league awaits his move.
Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA and other things for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.