Ainge counting cards by trading top pick

Picture drafting a player like drawing from a deck of cards, and picking a red card means the pick “pans out.”

Markelle Fultz is a really good prospect and his deck is stacked, almost like trying to draw a red card from a deck that has all the clubs removed. But no draft pick is a sure thing and there would still be 13 black spades in that deck mixed along with the 26 diamonds and hearts.

The Boston Celtics have essentially traded that stacked deck of cards for two decks that have all 52 cards in place. They’ll now have two chances to draw a red card out of the deck and it’s also possible that both cards wind up coming out red, which would make this trade a steal no matter how Fultz works out.

There is an obvious risk involved with trading the top pick when there is a clear cut top prospect like Fultz, but it’s not like Fultz is one of these heralded “can’t miss” guys that come around every few years. Think back to one year ago when Ben Simmons was taken first overall, he had been at the top of draft boards for well over a year and people tuned in all year to watch that crappy LSU team just get a look at Simmons. We’ve also seen players like Anthony Davis and John Wall be wire-to-wire consensus number one picks, there’s even already a steady movement for 18-year old Slovanian guard Luka Doncic being the slam dunk option for next year’s top draft choice.

Fultz was never that, he just happened to emerge from a deep draft as the best guy available. While you knew going into the year that Fultz was going to be a top five pick, nobody assumed it would happen with guys like Josh Jackson and Dennis Smith both starting the college basketball season as options for that spot as well.

Danny Ainge is letting the rest of the NBA fire up their grills for some burgers and dogs in pursuit of team’s like the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, but this trade shows that the longtime Celtics shot caller is content with dropping a bunch of delicious pulled pork in a crockpot to slow cook this roster for a barbecue five or six years down the road.

The Warriors are built around two 28-year old stars in Kevin Durant and Steph Curry; Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are both even younger. We just witnessed Boston fall epically short of the Cavaliers and a fast tracking a roster with a core of 31-year old Al Horford and 28-year old Isaiah Thomas probably won’t win you many titles against those teams anytime soon.

How many players that are currently owned by the Celtics do you realistically see on the team five years from now? Jaylen Brown is probably the easy answer and 20-year old Croatian center Ante Zizic – the 23rd overall pick from the 2016 NBA Draft – would probably be the second name you come up with. Fultz would have been a third name to add but now you just switch him out with somebody like Josh Jackson to go along with the second pick that the Philadelphia 76ers are giving you. Boston also owns all of their own first round picks starting next year, the Brooklyn Nets first round pick next year, the 2019 Los Angeles Clippers first round pick (top 14 protected, becomes two second round picks otherwise) and the 2019 Memphis Grizzlies first round pick (top eight protected in 2019, top six protected in 2020, unprotected in 2021).

Go back to that deck of cards. Ainge gets to draw more than anybody else and they’ll all be just about to enter their primes when the Warriors and Cavaliers are ready to give up their spots at the top.

This trade isn’t something you can really hate on right now. Maybe a string of bad luck and poor drafting causes you to not have success down the road, and then you can talk about this being a bad move. But for now, it’s pretty easy to see how this is the logical move based on how the league is currently set up today.


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