By: Colin Chiles, who you can follow on twitter here: @ColinC27
Estimated read time: 7.5 minutes
The NBA Draft Lottery was Tuesday night and while I could write an entire article on how the lottery works including the pros and cons of having a top three lottery drawing, I want to focus on the results because the actual draft on June 22nd is one of the most important in a long time both because of the potentially transformational players that will be drafted and because the particular teams at the top have a large variance as to the direction their franchise might take.
There are a lot of storylines in this year’s draft but for this article let’s take the team view and focus on the top three picks because they are the most important and most interesting. I’m going to lay out each team’s options and I mostly want to stay away from making predictions or doing a mock draft just yet. Stay tuned for those beginning in early June.
1. Boston Celtics
Yes the team that is technically in the Eastern Conference Finals the first pick at the best talent coming into the NBA. (Although you can call them the Boston Dust Mites ‘cause they gonna get swept! Okay that was really bad. I apologize for wasting your time – I’d like to say it won’t happen again but I can’t control myself sometimes.) Seems a little unfair that a team that made it this far gets to pick first but this is another thing you can blame on Russian meddling. I’m assuming most people are aware that the Russian owner of the Nets traded half a billion first round picks to the Celts for aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but if you didn’t know, well now you do.
The Celts are in a super interesting predicament though because mostly everyone agrees the top prize in this draft is Markel Fultz, scoring point guard extraordinaire, but they already have one of those in Isaiah Thomas. They could try playing them together but I really think they should consider trading him. Boston fans love IT and for good reason, he’s a 5’9” scoring machine, but if he’s your best player your team has a certain ceiling. Fultz could surpass that with legitimate MVP level talent, even if his college defense was rather suspect.
So what do you do if you’re Boston? They have a team that’s ready to win right now and a number one pick that could be effective in the league immediately but is likely going to take a number of years to become that guy, no matter who they take.
Let’s lay out their options
If I were GM Danny Ainge, the first thing I’d be determining is whether I could lure Gordon Hayward to Boston in free agency. If that’s a possibility that’s the move. Sign Hayward, add a number one draft pick and you can immediately compete for a title. I’m not convinced Hayward is going to leave Utah though so lets move on to option number two.
Now that we know that George did not make an All-NBA team, it’s more likely that the Pacers look at trading him. I originally had Jimmy Butler on this list too but since he DID make 3rd team All NBA, he’s eligible for a quite lucrative extension, making it more likely Chicago is able to retain him. So would Indiana accept the number 1 and Marcus Smart for Paul George?
Boston could really compete for a title with Paul George or if they could get Gordon Hayward in free agency. If they can’t though, then in the immediate future they aren’t going to challenge Cleveland or Golden State so that takes me to option number three….
Blow it up!
If that wasn’t on the table and I’m Boston – I’d blow it all to hell. Trade Isaiah, Horford and either Smart, Bradley or Jae Crowder for draft picks and young talent. You’d try to keep Bradley over Smart or Crowder but he’d have to be expendable in this scenario because he likely garners higher interest from other teams. Would the 76ers trade #3 in this year’s draft for Isaiah Thomas and Boston’s 2018 Nets pick? I wouldn’t if I was the Sixers, but they might be looking to make the playoffs next year and if Boston got #3 this year, they’d be starting a team around Markel Fultz and (probably) Josh Jackson. That would be fun. They could then flip Horford and Smart off for more picks.
I don’t know what the trades would be, but Isaiah, Horford and the grab bag of glue guys Boston has will all command a market.
Beyond those three moves they of course could do some combination where they trade only Isaiah and try to re-tool on the fly. Fultz is a baller (despite not being able to afford the Lonzo shoes yet) and they could try to fill the offensive productivity created by Isaiah with him and whatever they get in a trade for IT.
As I mentioned before, they COULD do nothing and try to play them both. Fultz has a pretty wide range of offensive skill which makes him pretty malleable at this point. If they wanted him to fill one of their current bench player’s roles, I’m sure he could do that, I just don’t think that’s the best way to use him. He’s not Jalen Brown, he’s Markel MFing Fultz.
No matter what they do, Boston is the most interesting team with the most interesting options. That comes with the rare territory of being one of the best teams in the east AND having the top pick in the upcoming draft.
Moving on to the next picks where I won’t spend near as much time.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
It can’t be understated how important it was for the Lakers to land in the top three of this lottery. If they had been number 4, that pick would have gone to the 76ers AND a 2019 first rounder would have gone to the Orland Magic. Trades can be very weird sometimes. Instead they get number 2 in this draft and keep their future 2019 first.
As for the pick itself, it’s felt for awhile like Lonzo Ball is destined to end up there, partly at his father’s insistence. I’m not entirely sure that he’s the pick though. I’m biased, but if I had a “big board” I’d have Josh Jackson at number 2 because of what he can do for you defensively and his potential versatility on offense. If they take Lonzo, I would guess they’ll have to trade D’Angelo Russell but that’s not a big problem.
Even though they have pieces, they kind of need everything. What they do might also be involved with Paul George if Indiana is looking to deal and Boston decides they want to keep the number 1. George also has stated on the record that he’d like to in up as a Laker, so if they fully believe they’ll end up with him next summer when he hits unrestricted free agency, then that could inform their decision.
Which brings us to the final lucky lottery winner…
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Philly is glad to be in the top three but this could have worked out much better for them. Due to some Hinkie trade wrinkles (R.I.P. – Hinkie died for our sins), if the Kings had landed ahead of them, Philly could have swapped picks with them and as I already mentioned, if the Lakers pick had ended up outside of the top three, that pick would have gone to them. So Philly COULD have potentially had two top five picks. Alas they have to settle for a top three pick. Not bad really.
The 76ers are left with whichever of the top three guys is still on the board at this point and most people seem to think that’s Jackson but I have to think Philly would love to end up with Lonzo. Philly needs shooting pretty badly and if Jackson is on the board, I think they should take him but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they looked elsewhere. If they took Josh Jackson and he can’t shoot from distance in the NBA, they have a problem on the perimeter with Ben Simmons also not being able to shoot.
This could mean them trying to trade down to a team that might want to jump in front of the Suns to take Jackson, because the Suns would love to put him next to budding star and 70 point scorer Devin Booker. What they really would like is Fultz and I actually think Ball would be a good fit too but if those two are off the board I think Malik Monk is probably high on their board.
What they do is really interesting too but their biggest focus this off-season should be performing animal sacrifice rituals and fasting every other day in order to please the gods so that they may bless Joel Embiid with good health. The world needs a healthy Embiid. I need a healthy Embiid. Please let there be a healthy Embiid.