The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers' trade involving the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft appears to be complete as of Saturday night, though it is not yet official. This might be the most interesting swap the league has seen in years, so let's break it down from both teams' perspectives.
(Grades reflect how this trade looks today, but since this includes precisely zero proven NBA players, a pick that will either be conveyed in 2018 or 2019 and two teams that could make more major moves this summer, it will be much easier to judge it down the road.)
76ers receive No. 1 pick in 2017 NBA Draft
We can't technically say "76ers receive Markelle Fultz," but that's what this is. To many observers, this one included, the guard out of Washington is the clear-cut best prospect and the best fit for Philadelphia in this year's draft. He has all the athleticism, size and feel for the game that you want out of a modern-day, attacking guard, and he has all sorts of upside on defense. Next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers need a guard who can create but is also comfortable playing off the ball. Fultz is that player and much more. He is the guard of their dreams.
Had the Sixers stayed at No. 3, they would have been able to add a good player, but there would have been no chance Fultz would have fallen to them. The question is not whether this move makes sense; the question is whether or not they gave up too much -- is the difference between Fultz and someone like Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum or Jonathan Isaac enough to justify surrendering a pick that could very well wind up being in the top-five?
I say yes. The point of Philadelphia's rebuilding strategy, started by former general manager Sam Hinkie in 2013, was to acquire stars. If Bryan Colangelo's front office believes Fultz has the potential to be that kind of player, then he should have no problem surrendering another good pick in order to get him.
This could, of course, look different if the Lakers end up being awful again and the 76ers have to watch the Celtics come away with the No. 2 pick in next year's draft, which would likely land them someone like Michael Porter Jr. or Luka Doncic, who are both projected to be franchise players at this early stage. Even if Los Angeles finishes dead last, however, there will only be a 21.5 percent chance that pick will wind up being second. In terms of expected value, it is hard to fault the 76ers for how this was constructed.
The big story here is how Fultz will improve Philadelphia's overall outlook. Had this trade not gone down, then perhaps the front office would have addressed the point guard issue by signing Kyle Lowry in free agency or getting someone like De'Aaron Fox or Malik Monk in the draft. Lowry would have cost a boatload of money, and the other prospects would have come with much more risk than Fultz. This is ideal because the Sixers still have plenty of financial flexibility this summer, but they now have solidified their core. Whatever happens with the rest of the roster, they have a Big 3 with virtually no ceiling.
Ultimately, it will be just about impossible to argue with this move if Fultz develops into an All-Star. Since Philadelphia was able to hold on to one of those future picks, this feels like a home run. Beyond just adding what seems to be the right player for a reasonable price this could wind up being a pivotal moment for the franchise because of what it represents. Whether it's this summer or next, a significant player could decide he wants to be a part of what the Sixers are doing, whether it's a free agent or a trade target who is suddenly more open to re-signing with them. There are still plenty of unknowns in Philadelphia -- Embiid and Simmons' health, Robert Covington's potential contract extension, how Dario Saric will fit with Simmons, etc. -- but everyone around the league can see this team has a chance to be special.
Celtics receive No. 3 pick in 2017 NBA Draft, the Lakers' 2018 first-round pick if it falls between Nos. 2 and 5 OR the Kings' 2019 first-round pick
Hot damn, this is a risk. However you feel about Danny Ainge, do not doubt that he has the courage of his convictions. Celtics fans were excited about Fultz, and the safe thing to do would have been to take him and sort out the backcourt logjam later. Instead, Ainge has added to his pile of future picks, while taking what his front office apparently believes is only a small step back in this year's draft. In doing so, they have also sidestepped the Fultz vs. Isaiah Thomas debate.
Thomas, 28, is coming off an All-NBA season, and he is on arguably the most team-friendly contract in the league. That ends a year from now, when the beloved guard will be an unrestricted free agent and eligible for a five-year contract with Boston worth roughly $180 million. Fultz has the size to share the backcourt with Thomas, but it would not necessarily be an ideal partnership, and that's before we even consider where Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier fit into the plan.
Despite all of Thomas' brilliance, there is an argument that the Celtics should have traded him while his value is at an all-time high, given the reins to Fultz and saved some serious money. Ainge has elected not to do that, which should make Boston better in the short term. The issue is what this means years down the road.
The glass-half-empty point of view is that the Celtics could have given away a chance to draft a franchise-changing player. The other side of this, though, is that they could be adding a player who makes more sense with their current roster. Let's say they pick Jackson and he becomes a force as a combo forward. Let's say last year's No. 3 pick, Jaylen Brown, also makes the most of his preposterous potential. Two-way players with length and athleticism are in short supply around the league, so Ainge could look brilliant for getting good ones in consecutive drafts.
Equally important is the player Boston could take in a year or two. Perhaps Ainge is in love with Porter, Doncic and/or other players expected to be in next year's lottery -- he already has the Brooklyn Nets' pick next season, and he just made his odds of getting one of those guys even better. If the pick doesn't convey, well, do you think the Kings are going to be a playoff team two years from now? It's not out of the question, but it's also quite possible that they'll be terrible. This means that pick has real value, both to the Celtics and to potential trade partners, but the wide range of outcomes here renders any analysis inherently incomplete.
Ainge has already drawn criticism for this trade on multiple fronts. By bypassing Fultz, one could argue that he is overvaluing the current players on the roster to the detriment of what the team could look like in a few years. By nabbing yet another future pick, one could argue that he is once again prioritizing future flexibility at the expense of being more competitive right away. Both things can't be true, but the fact these are talking points illustrates that Boston is in a truly unique situation. Despite finishing first in the East in the regular season, the Celtics are still keeping their options open when it comes to finding elite talent in free agency, on the trade market and in the draft. Ainge's big gamble is supposing that they can do that more successfully with two picks than with Thursday's top pick. Essentially, Ainge is betting on himself.