“You don’t really want to necessarily trade a number one pick in a really good draft for somebody that’s halfway through their career, already making max money. That’s just a difficult trade to make,” he said, according to WBZ News’ Adam Kaufman. “It just feels like this is a pick we will listen to offers, I’m sure, we will have conversations all the way through June but, for me, making a first pick is an exciting prospect right now.”
Boston acquired the right to swap 2017 first-round picks with Brooklyn as part of the trade that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to the Nets in 2013. Brooklyn finished with the league’s worst record this season, giving it the best odds at landing the top pick in the upcoming draft.
The 2017 draft class is loaded with talent, none more promising than Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, interchangeably projected as the best two players available. Both play the point guard position, however, which the Celtics have locked up at least through next season with All-Star Isaiah Thomas wreaking havoc in the backcourt.
The issue, if you can call it one, is that the Celtics are a playoff contender.
Boston holds the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed after finishing with a better regular season record than the Cleveland Cavaliers. In spite of that record, they are still considered underdogs facing a Cavaliers team that swept through both the first and second rounds and is eyeballing a third straight trip to the NBA Finals.
Adding a rookie probably won’t be enough to give the Celtics an edge over the Cavaliers moving forward. Keeping Fultz or Ball would be a clear signal that Boston intends to move on from Thomas either via trade or letting him walk in 2018 free agency.
Flipping that rookie for another proven All-Star may just level the playing field, however. Boston had dangled its No. 1 pick in front of both the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls in hopes of landing either Paul George or Jimmy Butler at the trade deadline.
Both teams passed, but that was before the Celtics won the lottery.
Now, it seems Grousbeck may be backpedaling from the team’s midseason posture of adding an All-Star to compete for a championship. He cited the financial implications of moving a draft pick. Pick or not, Boston would still need to match the near $20 million both George and Butler currently command as part of their salaries. That would mean the Celtics would have to move a few rotational players to make the numbers meet, along with a potential franchise player.
“It’s three or four guys going and one guy coming back,” Grousbeck said. “That guy better be pretty good because if you’re drafting No. 1 and you make the pick well — you do really draft a transcendent player — you’ve got that player for five or six years as they build up before the max money even kicks in.”
There’s also the Isaiah Thomas conundrum.
Thomas is 28 and becomes a free agent after next season. He will undoubtedly command a max contract worth in the $200 million ballpark, which would pay him more than $30 million annually through his mid-30s.
It’s unclear whether Boston wants to commit max money to a player already in his late 20s, especially when there’s a teenage Fultz or a Ball at their fingertips for a seven-figure rookie salary.
In an unlikely scenario, the Celtics could opt to draft Fultz/Ball and orchestrate a Thomas sign-and-trade to another team. They could then continue to pile on the assets that have put the franchise in a successful position once again, but that would likely mean dealing Al Horford as well. Or Boston could deal the pick, against Grousbeck’s apparent wishes, and put another All-Star next to Thomas to compete with the Cavaliers for Finals run.
Whether or not any other player next to Thomas and Horford is enough to dethrone The King is a debate for another day. But the Celtics are in the driver’s seat right now.
And if you’re a Boston fan, that’s about all you can ask for.