If Danny Ainge so desires he can decide the fate of the 2016 NBA draft. Come to think of it, he can probably move the entire NBA offseason in any way he wants, too.
Ainge has done a masterful job of rebuilding the Celtics without subjecting Boston to the same kind of torture Philadelphia has endured. There are so many ways to use his multitude of assets- making a Godfather trade offer, large offers to other teams’ restricted free agents, doling out huge short-term contracts- that Ainge can make the rest of the league follow his lead.
The Celtics have a definite No. 1 option, at least on offense, in Isaiah Thomas, a young versatile wing on a great contract in Jae Crowder and an astounding number of draft picks. Granted, Thomas probably can’t be the best player on a truly great team and Crowder isn’t the kind of dynamic scorer needed contend for a championship, but there’s no denying that both are talented players.
The lottery balls may not have bounced exactly the way Boston would have liked, but picking third is a lot better than fourth or fifth and having 16, 23, 31, 35, 45, 51 and 58 will make any trade package Ainge puts together a little sweeter.
The Celtics also have one of the cleanest cap sheets in the entire league. Thomas has three seasons left at an unbelievably low average value of $6 million. Crowder has four seasons left at an only slightly higher price. Kelly Olynyk is still on his rookie contract. So is Marcus Smart. Those are tremendous bargains.
Boston has just over 33$ million in guaranteed money next season and could open up as much as 50$ million in cap space. The Celtics do face tough decisions Jared Sullinger (a restricted free agent) and Amir Johnson (his $12 million is non-guaranteed), but both are likely replaceable.
Ainge famously offered a whopping four first draft picks in his effort to move up for Justise Winslow. Is he willing to do that again this summer? Is there a prospect worth that in this draft? Will the league hold last year’s offer against him and make him give up four picks for a less-able player?
It’s that second question that prove most interesting. The consensus seems to be that, after Ingram and Simmons, there isn’t another dynamic talent in this year’s draft, and many are skeptical that the even those top two guys will be the kind who can change a franchise. It may prove very difficult for Ainge to convince a team to give up on a top player for that third pick, no matter how many additional assets he is willing to include.
If Ainge does succeed in getting a superstar, any of the rumored Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins or Blake Griffin trio would do, the Celtics would immediately become the biggest threat to LeBron James in the East. Trading for a player of that caliber seems unlikely, but Boston shouldn’t despair.
If they don’t find an upgrade that significantly moves the needle, Ainge should happily take a big swing on his favorite prospect at the No. 3 pick and look to build a stable of promising young players on cheap contracts. After all, the Celtics have two more Nets picks (a swap next year and full ownership in 2018) still to come.