The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers reportedly have agreed in principle to a deal sending the No. 1 overall pick — which the Sixers figure to use on Markelle Fultz — to Philadelphia in exchange for the No. 3 pick in Thursday’s draft, along with a protected future first-rounder. It’s a blockbuster for the Celtics, who made the Eastern Conference finals this past season and still pick in the top five Thursday, and the Sixers, who add the top pick to form a powerful trifecta in Philly with Joel Embiiid and Ben Simmons (if they’re healthy). Here are the winners and losers from this shocker:
Philadelphia 76ers: They snag a player who is as close to a sure thing as there is in this draft. They are unlikely to land a No. 1 pick next year, even with their own pick and the Lakers‘ first-rounder next year. Fultz isn’t a can’t-miss prospect. But his target window is considerably larger than any pick the Sixers would make at No. 3 (unless, you know, somehow the Celtics and Lakers both were to pass on Fultz).
Fultz is loaded with potential and fits perfectly with the Sixers. They have Simmons at forward (if he’s healthy) and Joel Embiid (if he’s healthy). What they have needed for years is a point guard who could shoot and create from the perimeter.
Yes, they surrender a lot of upside and value, but the Sixers are in a position to move past that station in their rebuild, and Fultz represents an opportunity to take a quantum leap. At some point capitalizing on what you have outweighs acquiring value to mitigate your risk. The Sixers are stocked with a core that could be one of the best in the league, with time, after this deal.
Josh Jackson: It’s possible, very much so in fact, that Danny Ainge could pull a Crazy Ivan and go a completely different direction on draft night. Everyone from Dennis Smith Jr. to Jayson Tatum have been mentioned as selections. But if Boston stays at the third spot and doesn’t trade that pick again, the common consensus, and most logical pick would be Kansas forward Josh Jackson.
If Jackson heads to Boston, it’s a great situation. He lands on a team that made the Eastern Conference finals with a stable management and coaching office, good veteran leadership and a defined role to play. He’s being set up in the best position imaginable to succeed, and that matters. Going to Philadelphia (or Los Angeles, where he could still end up) would not benefit Jackson nearly as much.
Boston Celtics: This is complicated, They could be a winner and a loser because of how different this trade could look in a few years. If Jackson (or whoever they take) is the best player in this draft, a distinct possibility, then is a steal. They get the guy they wanted, and an extra pick, and in a nice quiet bonus, the downgrade in salary from the No. 1 overall pick to third gives them max cap space this summer.
There are a lot of ways this goes haywire, but it gives them more options, and if their gamble that Fultz is not the best player in this draft is correct, they added assets while getting what they wanted. A dangerous gamble, but one with great upside. This also positions the Celtics better to construct a trade for Jimmy Butler, Paul George, or an alternate superstar.
They got two first-rounders for one. It’s a No. 1 pick, so it’s not a no-brainer, but that’s a haul. And with widespread speculation that they intend to turn this haul into another star player, they could look even better off by the end of the week.
Isaiah Thomas: Guess who’s getting $200 million? With Fultz off the board for the Celtics, the C’s have no reason to decline to offer Thomas the super-max extension next year for $200 million. Thomas told reporters last summer the Celtics would need to “bring out the Brinks truck.” He has softened that stance somewhat but after making the All-Star team, All-NBA, and likely finishing in the top seven of MVP votes, he’s right to want that big payday. However, Fultz gave the Celtics a backup option if they needed it. Without him, they’re pretty much locked in on Thomas. This makes it easier to justify keeping Avery Bradley and/or Marcus Smart, who are free agents next summer.
Markelle Fultz: He’s only a minor loser. He is going to be set with a team that has Simmons and Embiid. The future is bright. He’ll be featured as a star in Philly in a way he would not have in Boston. There’s plenty of ways this worked out well. But there’s also the fact that he’s going to a team that has struggled to establish a culture, with two players who missed most of last season because of injuries, and still won’t be good for several years.
In Boston, he would have learned what a winning environment looks immediately. He would have been able to play with Thomas, and he would have been coached by Brad Stevens. Brett Brown is really good, but after so many years of misery, he carries those losses with him, even if it’s not fair to put them on him. If the Sixers struggle more than expected, replacing Brown is the easy answer, which creates instability.
When you factor that he’s going to a worse team, that he’s in essence being traded (which calls into question his value) and the fact he’s still not absolutely guaranteed to go No.1, there are reasons to think this didn’t improve his situation.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers are still in a great spot with that No. 2 pick, but the fact that the pick they sent to Phoenix for Steve Nash is being used (with protections) to acquire a better pick than theirs hurts. The fact that it’s now going to the Celtics makes it even worse.
It doesn’t change much for Lonzo Ball. But if the Lakers were to take Jackson, it increases the likelihood that Ball slides. If the Celtics want a point guard, they would be taking Fultz. Then, you’ve got the Suns, who would probably take him, but they do have a lot of guards. So if Phoenix passes, he would be looking at Sacramento or Orlando.
Think about LaVar Ball vs. Vivek Ranadive for a minute.
Either way, this trade increases what seems to be a low percentage chance that he slips multiple spots in the draft should the Lakers elect not to draft him.
Boston Celtics: This is how they come up short. They got good “value” on the pick, getting multiple first-rounders for one. But Fultz is considered a high-level first-rounder. There are plenty of scenarios where this works out for them. But the big, obvious scenario, where Fultz winds up as the best player of the three picks involved, would be devastating. There also has to be consideration of how this move now sets up Boston to pay $200 million for Thomas and then have to make tough decisions on Bradley and Smart.
Fultz was a way to bridge the gap between this contending core and the future. Danny Ainge is betting on his knowing talent better than the consensus, and Ainge has had big hits and moderate misses. The draft is a crap shoot in the eyes of many executives, though Fultz is considered on another level. This deal could look incredible in a few years. Or it could look like the Celtics gave up a transformational talent to continue stockpiling for the future. The Celtics are better stocked to make a deal for a superstar than ever … but they’ve constantly passed by those opportunities. Will this be any different?
It’s a huge gamble Ainge has made, but ironically, not one that results in cashing in chips, but maneuvering for more currency.