Part of our coverage at RCR leading up to the NBA Draft next month, former Jacksonville resident and current Marine stationed in Virginia Michael Bajalia looks at the Boston Celtics on the heels of the team’s 3-1 elimination at the hands of Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.
I don’t know about you, but when something awful happens to me, I try to focus my attention towards something positive. Anything that may change my outlook and take my mind off the negative. That is exactly what every single Celtic fan in America is doing right now. Despite being recently eliminated from arguably one of the most lopsided Eastern Conference Finals in NBA history (average margin of loss was 25.7 points), there are several positives that the Celtics organization can direct their attention towards. Most notably they hold the number one overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft, but let us not forget the blossoming, 5’9″ star point guard running the offense. Factor in one of the youngest and brightest coaches in the league in addition to a bevy of promising youngsters (Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier to name a few) who have shown insane potential and it’s easy to put that embarrassing playoff exit in the rear view mirror.
But the Celtics right now are at a crossroad. Yes, they did finish the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference, even though that 53-29 record would have placed them fourth in the Western Conference. But I digress. Not only could they have easily lost to the Wizards in the second round, but they showed they are clearly not on the same level as Cleveland. One year, one draft, one pick, is not going to change that, not unless their goal is to lose in the third round each year. If the Celtics want to legitimately compete, they need to make some moves. They cannot rely on their current roster and a two draft picks to drastically change anything. Maintaining the status quo will just result in their being the fine tuning series before Cleveland goes to the Finals. Over recent years, Danny Ainge and the rest of the organization has shown reluctance to make major off-season transactions, but given the situation the Celtics are in, they are in prime position to do so this year.
Now I’m not saying the Celtics NEED to trade away the number one overall pick. Quite the contrary actually. This draft is setting up to be one of the most talented, and deep ones in recent memory, particularly at the guard position. Some experts are going as far as to say it will rival the 2008 draft that produced Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Lebron James. But as Cleveland clearly highlighted, the Celtics main problems are the lack of an interior threat (both offensively and defensively) as well as not having any other scorers other than the point guard.
While drafting Lonzo Ball would provide an immediate boost to any roster, it does not really address the Celtics most pressing issue, the desperate need for a genuine scorer and the lack of a true interior threat. It also poses the problem of drafting a player who plays the same position as the best player on the team right now, not ideal for the number one overall pick. If the Celtics were to proceed with this pick, I, like most people, believe they should draft Markelle Fultz. His unique combination of size, athleticism, and offensive prowess will not only compliment Isaiah Thomas well, but enhance their perimeter defense. We know what he brings offensively (47.6% FG and 41.3% 3FG), but standing 6’4″, the former Washington Husky has excellent lateral quickness that will only improve with NBA coaching. Combine that with a 7’0″ wingspan and he will provide immediate defensive assistance to an undersized Boston backcourt, pressuring any ball handler in front of him and alleviating pressure on their interior defense.
The same argument that can be made for Fultz can similarly be applied to Jayson Tatum, Malik Monk, Josh Jackson, Da’aron Fox, Tyler Dorsey, Dwayne Bacon, Jawun Evans and the plethora of other sizable, scoring options in this year’s class. Fultz is clearly the most talented and well-rounded option with sky high potential, but not him nor any of those other players necessarily addresses both of their needs. If the Celtics plan on making additional moves, then yes, absolutely take Fultz with a huge grin on your face and don’t look back. But that can’t be it. The Celtics are the only premier team in the NBA without at least a “Big 2”, let alone a “Big 3”. Why not leverage the top pick to trade down in the draft, steal one of the aforementioned gems who answers your needs, while adding another superstar? If they want to maximize this opportunity to bolster this roster and have a chance to legitimately compete for an NBA title, one draft pick will never get you there. This is the opportunity to finalize the Jimmy Butler, Jahlil Okafor, Greg Monroe, etc. trades that consistently fall through all too often. Then not only do you build yourself a solid trio and a foundation that you build upon for years, but you save yourself potentially millions on signing your rookie. The difference between the number one overall pick and say the number seven pick is usually around an astounding $11 million over a three year period. Then you have some leeway to go after the top free agents in this year’s class. Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe to name a few. Other than Al Horford who is a shell of his former self, Boston’s big men stable of Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson, and Jordan Mickey are adequate role players at best.
The possibilities are endless Boston, so long as you explore all your options. It’s your move. The ball is in your court. You are officially on the clock.