The top pick in the 2017 NBA draft should be off the table in almost all trade discussions for Danny Ainge. Jaylen Brown shouldn’t be made available either. With Brown and this year’s likely top selection, Markelle Fultz, the Celtics could be looking at two guys who could be top five players at their positions before they even reach their primes. Even if they didn’t have a bunch of other good, young players and another premier pick to look forward to next year, Fultz and Brown would give the Celtics an elite young duo to build around and dominate with for the next 10 to 15 years.
But the Bulls and Pacers, two teams with star players in their primes that got bounced in the first round, aren’t in as good shape and can’t afford to be stingy. They would be wise to keep Paul George and Jimmy Butler on the table, even if the top pick is not. The trade value of a player is determined by how much their team really values them going forward, and how badly would they really want to keep them. The Bulls and Pacers could say Butler and George are superstars all they want, but they should know what little value they have on those teams. With LeBron James and the champion Cavaliers absolutely having their way with George’s team, as well as the Celtics who beat Butler’s team, it’s beyond unrealistic to expect Butler or PG13 to lead their teams to conference titles in the next 2-3 years.
By the time the Cavaliers reign even begins to approach an end, the Bulls will have to pay Butler the max and put together a much better supporting cast than they have right now. The two best players that Butler has to work with in Chicago are a 35-year-old Dwayne Wade and a 31-year-old Rajon Rondo, who they will have to re-sign this off-season. The way things are going right now, if the Bulls remain stingy with Butler, they’ll be rebuilding around a 30-year-old Jimmy Butler in a few years.
As bad as Chicago’s situation is, the Pacers are in an even worse spot. If they don’t trade their franchise player, they may lose him to free agency after this year. George has expressed major interest in the Lakers, and if he puts the idea of loyalty aside, he’ll have so many more appealing options than the Pacers. If Indiana doesn’t cough up their franchise player, they may only have him for one more year.
So what can the Pacers or Bulls collect on instead? First off, if the Celtics end up with a wing presence like Butler or George, they won’t need the services of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, and should have no issue including at least one of them in a trade. They can also include Marcus Smart or Terry Rozier, which would take care of the logjam at point guard. In Smart’s young career, he has been wildly inconsistent, shooting extremely poorly and being an ineffective scorer. Besides his defense and rebounding, Smart hasn’t brought many tangible skills to the table. But late in big games and fourth quarters, Smart has consistently made winning plays anyway he could, showing a clutch gene. Rozier meanwhile, has been a very consistent and reliable contributor. Outside of subpar finishing around the rim, Rozier has been a pesky defender, solid shooter from deep, great rebounder, and excellent attacking the rim, showing superb handles and elite explosiveness. In Rozier, one of these teams should be receiving a young, high quality backup point guard.
Boston should let Indiana or Chicago pick three guys from this young group. But of course, the trade won’t be centered around role players. Boston can include the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick, and it doesn’t seem like the Nets will be much improved next year. There still isn’t any team with a roster nearly as untalented as the Nets, not to mention the worst teams from this year will be making lottery picks in a loaded draft, with Brooklyn being the only squad left behind. It’s very likely the Nets pick in 2018 could be another guaranteed top-4 selection, in a draft with 4 studs at the top in Luka Doncic, DeAndre Ayton, Michael Porter, and Mohamed Bamba.
Boston could also include their own first rounder in 2018. The following year, on top of their own first round selection, they have a lottery protected pick from the Clippers owed to them, and Memphis will send them their first rounder if it doesn’t fall in the first 8 picks. The Celtics can send Indiana or Chicago three young and effective role players, a premier pick in 2018, and another one or two first round picks on top of that. A trade like this would give the Celtics a legitimate chance at ending Cleveland’s reign before LeBron slows down, and it would give the Pacers or Bulls a rebuilding package in a conference that will be otherwise unwinnable. If both Indiana and Chicago want to decline and try to win the eastern conference with their current
incompetent squads, they can go ahead. Boston already has a blindingly bright future, they just have the ability to compete now, too. The other two teams don’t have that luxury. Instead, they’ll be asking themselves a few years down the road why in the world they didn’t trade their 27-year-old stars. The Celtics have all the leverage.