A potential trade has reportedly been discussed for weeks now, with both Jahlil Okafor and now Nerlens Noel as the players rumored to be going to the Celtics. It's been obvious for a while that Boston is looking to add an established player after making the playoffs last season. They also added three rookies in last year's draft and have three first-round picks this year, so it wouldn't be surprising for them to go for a veteran. Noel in particular seems likely to be moved, per Stein.
The fact that they haven't pulled the trigger so far, however, suggests that they are still considering using the pick. If they do, they have their sights on Providence's point guard Kris Dunn, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
It's unclear who the 76ers would use the pick on if they get it, but they have also been linked to Dunn in the past. If they decide to go with someone else, it will probably be a guard, as they are expected to select power forward Ben Simmons first overall.
Let's take a closer look at this rumor:
Why the trade will happen
The Celtics seem to be very high on Dunn. If they have him as the best player available, they would have to go with him. The problem: While he's clearly a good prospect, Boston already has Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier manning the point guard slot. Adding another lead guard would only make the logjam they already have even worse.
By moving the pick for Noel, they would be avoiding that problem while adding the type of rim-protecting big man they have lacked in past seasons. That could allow them to go from very good on defense to elite while still remaining young and keeping their cap flexibility, as Noel is still in his rookie contract. A trade would help Danny Ainge balance out the roster while improving in the short term without compromising future assets. It's something to really consider.
For the 76ers, the motivation is similar. They have too many big men on the roster and not enough guards. If they can unload Noel while getting the opportunity to get one of Dunn, Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield, their depth chart would make a lot more sense. They would also get a prospect on a four-year rookie contract, which would help them preserve cap space going forward instead of having Noel for cheap for one more season before having to pay him in restricted free agency.
The reason why this rumor refuses to die is because it makes sense for both teams.
Why the trade won't happen
It's been weeks since the first report about this potential trade surfaced and nothing has happened yet. The fact that this hasn't happened yet means it might not happen at all.
Clearly, Ainge is not convinced. First it was reported that the 76ers were offering Okafor and now it seems like Noel is on the table, but Philadelphia might need to offer more and is probably not willing. Other teams will surely inquire about the availability of both for the pick and the 76ers' center, so both front office have other options.
It's true that the Celtics have a lot of guards under contract, but no one is untouchable. They can draft Dunn and trade one of Thomas or Smart if they feel the Providence product has more upside. They could also go with two point guard lineups, which seems like a good idea since they have no quality shooting guard outside of Avery Bradley. They could also simply decide to go with California's Jaylen Brown or someone else and avoid the logjam altogether. They don't need to move the pick.
Similarly, the 76ers have no reason to hurry or overpay. The free agent market is lean on point guards, but they could find a stopgap later in this draft or wait until the next, which is loaded with quality lead guards. Eventually they will have to move one of Noel or Okafor, especially if Joel Embiid is healthy, but they can wait until the free agency period. Some team will strike out and will offer a solid veteran for a quality defensive center like Noel.
Likelihood of happening: 5/10
The rumor keeps coming up, which means the talks have been ongoing. It's possible both front offices are simply exploring their options before pulling the trigger on draft night. The Celtics would certainly benefit from a defensive presence like the one Noel can provide and the 76ers need to balance out their roster.
Then again, if there's someone that won't hesitate to pick another point guard, no matter how that looks, it's Danny Ainge. If he is as high on Dunn as reported, he will go for it and figure out the rest later. The 76ers might improve their offer or Ainge might decide to take what's on the table after all, but it's equally likely that one of the front offices simply decides to walk away from the potential deal.