History will say the Boston Celtics passed on the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft, not only trading it away but doing so in a deal with one of the team’s fiercest rivals.
Danny Ainge isn’t worried.
Philadelphia and Boston completed their trade of draft picks on Monday, the 76ers acquiring the No. 1 pick from the Celtics and netting the chance to draft Washington guard Markelle Fultz. The Celtics moved down two spots to No. 3 and picked up another first-round selection in either 2018 or 2019 — with Ainge saying the deal came at no cost to Boston whatsoever.
“We’re getting the player we want. They’re getting the player they want,” said Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. “And we’re getting an additional player that we want in next year’s draft or the year after. It’s a good deal for both teams.”
The player Philadelphia wants is clear: The 76ers wouldn’t say it Monday, but they’re going to take Fultz barring something cataclysmic happening before Thursday.
“We felt like the move from 3 to 1 was worth the cost of a first-round pick in the future,” 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said.
Next up will be the Los Angeles Lakers, expected to take UCLA guard Lonzo Ball.
And then come the Celtics, starting the real intrigue. If Ainge is to be believed, even they don’t know who they will take at No. 3 — but he insisted that whichever choice they make there would have been the choice they made at No. 1 if this deal hadn’t gone down. The Celtics had Duke’s Jayson Tatum in for a workout on Monday and hope to have Kansas’ Josh Jackson in on Tuesday.
“I think they’re both terrific players,” Ainge said. “I’ll say that. … I like both of those kids. I think they’re both terrific talents.”
So the way he looks at it, the deal is a win-win.
For now, Boston has seven first-round picks in the next three years.
And that means the Celtics could be gearing up for more moves soon.
After finishing with the No. 1 seed in the East this season before getting ousted in the conference finals by Cleveland in a one-sided series, the Celtics have considered packaging some of their future picks for an established star that could help them close the gap on the Cavaliers and Golden State — the teams that have met in the last three NBA Finals.
With Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, Ainge is looking to make a deal like the seven-for-one trade in 2007 that brought Kevin Garnett — and an NBA-record 17th championship — to Boston.
“We are certainly aware of our competition,” Ainge said. “We know how good Cleveland and we know how good Golden State is. We watched the same Finals that everybody did. But I think we’re still moving on the same path. … And when the right deals come around, we will move on them.”
Philadelphia will hold the No. 1 pick for the second straight year. The Sixers worked Fultz out on Saturday night as talks with the Celtics got to the final stages. It was agreed to in principle at that point, with the last holdup being the customary league approval on the terms — which came Monday.
There are some conditions on the future first-rounder Boston gets out of this deal. If the Lakers hold a pick between No. 2 and No. 5 next season, Boston now gets that one as well. If not, Philadelphia will send Boston either its own first-rounder in 2019 or Sacramento’s first-rounder that year.
“This is certainly a trade that is under the microscope more than others,” Ainge said. “But we’re not afraid of that.”
With Thomas, the Celtics didn’t necessarily need a point guard — which is the piece Philadelphia apparently wanted most.
Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 25 games during his lone college season at Washington, excelling on a team that finished 9-22. Fultz, who went to high school in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, led the Pac-12 in scoring and finished No. 6 among all Division I players. He was the top freshman scorer in the country.
In 2016, the Sixers picked Ben Simmons, who didn’t play at all during the season after breaking a bone in his foot. Fultz would join a Philadelphia roster that includes Simmons, Jahlil Okafor and 2017 Rookie of the Year finalists Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.
“I am incredibly excited that we’ve acquired the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft,” 76ers managing general partner Josh Harris said. “This pick provides us a tremendous opportunity to add another foundational player to our promising core.”
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