Adam Kaufman

How Should Celtics Decide Whether to Keep or Trade Their Top Draft Pick?

NBA Draft Lottery.jpg

Celtics fans, players, and personnel had to endure a difficult 2013-14 season. You don’t need to be reminded. To see Gino, you had to go to YouTube.

But all that suffering was with one goal in mind: Drastic offseason improvement.

It will be fascinating to see what team president Danny Ainge has up his sleeve once trade activity and free agency get underway, but the most popular topic throughout the 25-57 regular season campaign was the June 26 draft.

Will the C’s finally land that elusive first overall pick, or will they finish as low as eighth, courtesy of yet another discouraging run-in with the ping pong balls? We’ll find that out just after 8 p.m. this evening in the Draft Lottery.

What happens after that is up to Ainge, but our panel of Celtics insiders weighed in on what they believe will determine whether the team holds onto that selection or moves it in a trade.

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In case you missed it, on Monday the group discussed the possibility of sending that draft choice to Minnesota for Kevin Love.

Gary Dzen: Under no circumstances am I trading the first or second pick if I'm Danny Ainge. If you get a top-two pick in a draft considered so loaded that half the NBA tanked the season for it, no current player is worth giving that up.

What about the third pick? If Ainge is sitting pretty at No. 3 and the Timberwolves want to consummate a deal with whomever the Celtics pick, Ainge would be right to use that fact as leverage against having to give up another player or pick to sweeten the pot. You want Joel Embiid, Minnesota? Pay me.

The decision might be made already for the Celtics if they drop to the sixth or seventh pick tonight, but I'm still not trading the pick unless I'm reasonably certain Kevin Love is coming back in return. Anything less would be getting pennies on the dollar.

Jeremy Gottlieb: Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck famously promised "fireworks" from his team this summer and while Danny Ainge never used those exact words publicly, one has to assume that given the amount of first-round picks he's stockpiled over the past year, he intends to move at least some of them. Bearing that in mind, if Ainge wants to make the kind of splash that could result in a 2007-style turnaround, he has to be willing to include this year's lottery selection in any potential deals. Even if it's No. 1 overall.

The thing about young players in the NBA is that even if they are transcendent, special talents, it still takes multiple years for them to really make an impact. LeBron James didn't arrive in Cleveland and immediately lead the Cavs to the playoffs; it took him three years. Kevin Durant didn't arrive in Oklahoma (by way of Seattle) and immediately lead the Thunder to the playoffs; it took him three years as well. It took Shaquille O'Neal two years to lead Orlando to the playoffs even though he entered the league already dominant at the most important position on the floor and he still needed another top pick in Penny Hardaway the following season to co-headline the Magic's first ever postseason run that quickly.

As impressive as the consensus top three players in this year's draft (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Jabari Parker) appear to be, none of them are LeBron, KD or Shaq. So even though the Celtics may well wind up with a future franchise cornerstone should they land any of those three guys, the team and its fans will still almost definitely be looking at a couple more down years before a return trip to the playoffs. If all involved have the patience for that, keep the pick. If they're looking to set off those fireworks, they'll need to deal it no matter where it winds up.

Adam Kaufman: This is an immensely difficult question because NBA scouts and executives other than Danny Ainge have been raving about the 2014 Draft for a very long time. It’s considered the best and deepest draft since 2003, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade all went in the first five picks. Even David West went 18th. Everyone agrees there’s no King James in this class (or any other on the planet, perhaps), but could Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, or Julius Randle one day be just as good as those other players? That’s a distinct possibility, and it’s one of the major questions facing Ainge if he’s fortunate enough to be in a position to draft in the top-three spots.

Ainge and his fireworks-promising ownership will have to decide whether they want to attempt to win now, which (for example) would require packaging what could be the No. 1 overall pick to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love, or building for the future with the uncertainty of a teenager becoming a 10-time All-Star and key component for years to come.

Heaven forbid the Celtics finish with a draft choice in the 5-8 range. If that happens, they shouldn’t hesitate to package it off somewhere for an established NBA talent who will make Boston better overnight (see: No. 5 pick Jeff Green to Seattle for Ray Allen in 2007).

A top-three pick is more complicated but still worth parting with for Love, in my opinion. He’s 25, scores with ease both inside and from beyond the arc, he’s a rebounding machine, and has never played with a guy as talented as Rajon Rondo. Plus, he’d presumably be around for at least six years for the prime of his career. The guarantee is worth passing on the unknown of Parker, Wiggins, or Embiid. But Love may be the only guy in the league that applies to.

So, whether or not to keep the pick should depend entirely on 1) whether it’s in the top-three, and 2) if Boston’s package is intriguing enough to Minnesota.

Brian Robb: No pick should be off limits to trade for the Celtics in this draft, but any potential deal involving a top-three pick should make Boston's front office think long and hard. You don't want to sacrifice too much more in any trade, even for a player like Kevin Love, if you are potentially sacrificing the option of choosing the cream of the crop from this year's deep draft class.

A top pick this year may not give you the immediate return that Love will provide, but having an elite young player under your control for four seasons at a discount price is appealing in many ways compared to overpaying for a veteran. You wouldn't have to sacrifice your trade assets if you kept the pick, for one thing. Offering a big money extension to a veteran could eat up more than a quarter of your salary cap room for years to come. The team loses flexibility there moving forward if they hand out that kind of money.

Would Love be worth the sacrifice of a top pick? Yes, in all likelihood. Outside of him though, I don't think there are many other players on the trade block around the league that I'd deal a high lottery pick for at the moment. Young players on rookie scale contracts are more valuable than ever now and need to be treated as such.

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