What we know - and what what we don't - about trading the top pick

The Boston Celtics have decided to trade their control of the top overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft to the Philadelphia 76ers, leaving their fanbase and much of the NBA media and their readership as confused as they have ever been about what might be coming next.

There's been plenty of rumors and likely misinformation moving around as if it were established fact - even at very high levels from usually very solid sources - on things as typically rock-solid as the very terms of the blockbuster deal this article is addressing. It's not because of incompetence or bad faith reporting, though - the stakes are very, very high given the breadth of talent in this year's draft, and the view is very murky, with nearly all top options having dings of some sort to frighten even the most brave and secure General Managers, among which most would rank Daniel Ainge.

Whether he is seen as a wise General Manager may hinge on how whatever is being planned pans out.

Rather than pay lip-service to dissecting a thousand poorly-sourced rumors, I thought I'd focus on the things we DO know, just as a backdrop to all the madness going on around us. So, let's start with the deal itself:


Initially, many of us were under the impression it will exchange the number-one pick for the number-three pick in this years draft PLUS the 2018 Los Angeles Lakers pick AND the 2019 Sacramento Kings pick, all first-rounders. Unprotected, this would have been an acceptable deal (to me) to the extent that while not thrilled with it, in terms of sheer odds of hitting on a star player, it makes sense. However, it turns out that the Lakers pick is protected at the top slot, and below fifth (so, protected 1 and 6-60), turning into the Sacramento first in the 2019 draft if not conveyed next year, unprotected. I'm less optimistic about this, but there's still very good odds Boston will either have two top-five picks next season, or a top-five and top-ten pick in the next two seasons as a result (barring the most robust growth of front office capabilities in league history on the part of the Kings).

The deal, with these terms in place, is NOT a sign we are going to trade back further, either with the Kings for both the fifth and tenth pick in this year's draft, or for another club's combination of future assets and/or players. It is also not a sign we are going to make a blockbuster trade. HOWEVER, trading back/into future drafts, for players - or both - is certainly possible, and the only way we're going to have even an idea of what's happening in this regard is to further dissect leaks and other forms of communication emanating from the clubs themselves and well-connected, responsible media members. Keeping an eye on who is or was  working out with which clubs, and the media those clubs themselves choose to leak or share is one good proxy for solid intel, and as much as trusted sources may have botched some aspects of this trade, they are another or the more reliable sources of information on situations which may explode into relevance as this trade itself did.


Beyond the players in the draft who Boston has had - or has sought to have - in for workouts, basically the guys at the top of every big board in the country worth reading, we know very little about who (if anyone) Boston will be taking with the pick(s) they control by the time it arrives. Deals could materialize at any moment, and while more likely at this point to take shape as the selection clock is counting down, the entire landscape could change very rapidly if a team with big aspirations decides to cash in with the Celts as a trade partner in the interim.

We also have very little info on what players might reasonably be available, and if so, for what. Multiple players perennially associated with the Celtics await the decisions of front offices at a crossroads (such as the Indiana Pacers and Paul George, and the Chicago Bulls and Jimmy Butler) who have done little to signal intent, and contract details may cloud the likelihood of several such potential partners. Moreover, marquee talent may be anticipated to become available - or already is, unbeknownst to the general public - in much the way we saw in the period between Ainge trading for Ray Allen and then Kevin Garnett later in the summer of 2007.


This summer is legacy-defining for a legendary Boston Celtic as a GM, one known for being exceptionally deliberate and cautious. While only a middling talent assessor based on draft track record, Ainge has been exceptionally capable as a dealmaker - thus the moniker "Trader Danny" - who just completed one of the most rapid rebuilds in modern memory, worthy of his iconic antecedent, Red Auerbach. I don't know if this deal will end up looking like something that should be mentioned in the same breath as that lofty example years from now, but right now I am not at all excited with what I DO know about the details.

What we don't know will make the difference, though.

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