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While it's become something of a cliché in the NBA since Kevin Garnett first uttered the words in the summer of 2008, the statement "anything is possible" has never been more apt for the Boston Celtics.


Currently, they are the league's number-one seed in the Eastern Conference, and now possess the number-one pick, something no team has done in decades (not since the 1982 Los Angeles Lakers, in fact, who themselves may now be poised to renew their ancient rivalry with Boston after drawing the number-two pick) while preparing to face the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers tonight in the Conference Finals.

This is not normal, folks - so soak it in.

No matter what happens tonight versus the Cavs, Boston is playing with house money. It was expected - in the preseason, during the season, and especially at several distinct junctures of the post-season, that Boston's season would be over by now, maybe by weeks at this point. Fake number-one seed (worst ever!), not enough scoring/rebounding/stars/defense, too much depth, too easy of a schedule - you name it, I've (and probably you've) heard 'em all. But Boston is still playing, one of only four teams still so doing, along with the Golden State Warriors, the Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs.

While it's safe to say, even with your green-tinted lenses on the Celtics are not the equals of at least half the teams it shares the post-season with, they can beat these teams, and have proven that with the better two of the three in the regular season. Boston belongs here, and thus, by definition, are contenders, one piece away from being a serious threat to win it all, and still in the picture for doing it NOW, this year.

By any stretch of the imagination, the rebuild....is over.


Whether we wish to say it ended as time expired in Game Seven against the Wizards, or with the news that Boston will be selecting first in this year's draft, there's no denying Boston's status as a contender now, and looks to continue to be for many years to come. In terms of raw assets to bolster future runs, no team is even close, and none are better poised to lure away stars in free agency this summer. The future holds so much promise, it may have blinded some of us to the seeming inevitability of exactly what will be done with the first pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. For most analysts, the selection of Markelle Fultz is a foregone conclusion. I am here to tell you it most certainly is not.

It is perhaps the fact the Fultz is in a tier of his own, seen as head and shoulders away the best prospect in this class, that both leads to those assumptions and makes them less likely than some might think. Holding this pick with its current success puts Boston in a position of power perhaps unmatched in the history of the league. They have exactly what any rebuilding team needs (particularly when you consider they also have at least one more lottery pick in the next three drafts, maybe as many as THREE), yet...can probably get whatever piece they are missing COUGHHAYWARDCOUGH in free agency. I imagine Danny Ainge recording a clip of "That's our final offer, take it or leave it" ought to make life easier for him over the next several weeks.

So, then, what COULD be done with the pick? Clearly, it can be used to select a player, and all the analysts pointing to Fultz being the obvious choice are correct - though he isn't without blemishes, there's really no strong second option without significantly more warts, in my opinion (though we'll be asking you for YOURS on this option soon). This breaks the decision structure down to 1) Draft Fultz, 2) trade the pick for an established star, 3) trade the pick for future picks, 4) trade the pick for multiple picks in THIS year's draft, or 5) some combination of 2-4. Let's take a look at each of these options:


OPTION ONE: DRAFT FULTZ
Believe it or not, even if Fultz works out for Boston long-term, this path is not without concerns. Clearly, they are the concerns almost any team would love to have, but with number- one picks earning more than ever - over seven million per year - which would pretty much eliminate signing full or even second-tier max players in free agency this summer. There'd still be a pretty substantial chunk of change left to work with, in the neighborhood of $20 million, without dumping guaranteed salary, but one would imagine the chance at a ring might outweigh the monetary compensation which comes with such achievements, especially if still young enough to reap the rewards might bring to endorsements and the like can bring. Emphasis on "might", however - dollars still tend to rule the day.


OPTION TWO: TRADE FOR AN ESTABLISHED STAR
It seems like Paul George and Jimmy Butler have been lingering in trade talks with Boston long enough, we'd be considering whether to retire their jerseys by now had they pulled the trigger the first time it came up. But this fact alone seems to suggest these players - especially George - will never don the green and white. George has had his agent telegraph his desire to either win with the Indiana Pacers NOW, or to join an ascendant Lakers squad, the latter of which just became significantly more plausible with L.A. retaining the second pick in this year's draft. Butler might be had for a relative bargain, if rumors of previous asking prices were accurate, as time is running out to extract a solid deal from Boston, and only a few teams (Philadelphia and perhaps Denver or Phoenix) could also field a worthwhile offer.

Thankfully, this is not an issue for Boston, as a player or two almost always surfaces over the summer as a potential target for a blockbuster team, and with the cap surge having made a mess of more than a few team's books last summer, we may see an unusually high number of teams trying to find creative moves to un-stick the mes they have put themselves in, with several teams throwing in the towel altogether for a full rebuild. A few teams are even in the enviable position of having top-tier talent to deal without even having to gut their roster entirely, most notably the New Orleans Pelicans now that Vivek Ranadive has gifted (if that's the proper word, we shall see soon enough) the club DeMarcus Cousins for a song.


Before you throw your hands up in frustration at the prospect of yet another round of "BOOGIE2BOS", relax. I am thinking bigger - and I am not alone. Mike Gorman reportedly shares my opinion that with a star like Cousins locked up, the possibility of trading Anthony Davis for a package of three potential lottery picks including this year's top pick and Tyler Zeller plus two of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart is not exactly crazy talk. And for those of you in love with this year's team (as you should be), don't string me up. We're just putting on the GM cap here and trying to think like Danny, and I'd be quite alright with making the pick and running much of this squad back, too.

There are other guys to keep an eye on playing for teams stuck in the middle with no way to build, or stranded on long-term lottery teams with little chance of escape in the prime of their years, as well. A partial list of candidates might include Andre Drummond (DET; we'd likely need their first rounder this year back to take a shooter to aid spacing), Kristaps Porzingis (NYK; we'd probably have to absorb Carmelo Anthony's deal too, but this could be done if no FA moves are planned), DeAndre Jordan (LAC; as with Drummond, we'd need the Clippers '18 first to land a shooter to aid spacing to make this work) and C.J. McCollum (POR; we'd need their fifteenth pick or maybe Jusuf Nurkic also) come to mind.


OPTION THREE: TRADE FOR (JUST) FUTURE PICKS
This would pretty much be an option for dealing with just one team - the 76ers. They could add next year's Lakers first, Sacramento's 2019 first, Oklahoma City's 2020 first and one of their own in 2021. Such a move would really only make sense for Boston if it continues to exceed expectations, snatching a few games (or more) from the Cavs, with the expectation that this squad can contend for multiple years in the near future with enough support from free agents and quality draftees. Such a combination of picks would likely yield at LEAST one other high lottery pick, and probably multiple lottery picks, but would be a risk to both clubs given Philly's existing roster's history of injury. Possible, but unlikely.

OPTION FOUR: TRADE FOR MULTIPLE 2017 PICKS 
Another unlikely option, especially now that the Lakers retained a pick that would have gone to the 76ers. Still, it could go down with the Kings, who have the fifth and tenth picks, should the right players catch the eye of Danny, Wyc and company. And probably another sweetener (Skal Labissiere, perhaps? Willie Cauley-Stein?) would still be needed, placing us squarely into the last category of options:


OPTION FIVE: A SYNTHETIC APPROACH
I love team-building exercises, maybe to a fault. But not even I love them enough to dive in much further than I already have in options two and four; the possibilities are literally endless, only constrained by CBA rules and the roster constructions of other teams. There's a VERY good chance we just make the pick, but equally lots of good arguments for moving it. Only time (and Celtics management) will tell, so enjoy the ride, because (cue Garnett cliché)....

For more articles on CelticsLife about the NBA Draft, click here. For more by Justinclick here.



Image via @marco_ciabini
Data via DraftExpress.com, ESPN.com and RealGM.com
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 5/17/2017 01:33:00 PM Edit
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