How far can the Celtics realistically move up in the NBA draft?

It’s crunch time for Danny Ainge and the Celtics’ front office.
Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations, listens before responding to a reporter's question during an end of season media availability at the NBA team's practice and training facility Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Waltham, Mass. –AP

COMMENTARY

Trade rumors continue to run rampant with the 2015 NBA Draft approaching, and many of those whispers mention the Boston Celtics as a potential trade partner.

On the surface, the rumors make sense. Boston has four draft picks at their disposal (Nos. 16, 28, 33, 45) in 2015, and not enough roster space to accommodate those bodies. The Celtics already have nine players signed to guaranteed contracts next season, and that doesn’t even include free agents like Jonas Jerebko or Jae Crowder, who are candidates to re-sign.

“It probably wouldn’t be great for us to have four rookies on our team next year,’’ Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge admitted at a draft workout earlier this month. “We are exploring options for guys who would play in the D-League, play in Europe, trades. All of these things are possible with the number of picks we have.’’

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So what are the Celtics interested in doing with these picks, if they go the trade route? There’s an array of possibilities, according to various reports.

Citing unnamed league executives, the Los Angeles Times reported the Celtics could attempt to move up to the No. 3 pick in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers potentially involving Marcus Smart. SheridanHoops.com has Boston interested in jumping up to the No. 4 pick in a trade with the New York Knicks. ESPN’s Chad Ford has floated the possibility Boston could deal with the Charlotte Hornets at No. 9. Real GM indicates the Celtics are targeting Texas’ center Myles Turner by trading into the lottery. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

What reports should you believe? That’s always tough to tell, but there are some trade scenarios you can rule out based on what we’ve learned from draft night trades in past seasons. Let’s take a look at those recent moves and piece together some takeaways.

(All trade info via Basketball-Reference.com)” class=””>Basketball-Reference.com)

2014: Orlando Magic trade the No. 12 overall pick (Dario Saric), a 2015 second round pick and a future protected first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 10 pick (Elfrid Payton).

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2014: Chicago Bulls trade No. 16 (Jusuf Nurkic) and No. 19 (Gary Harris) and a 2015 second round pick to the Denver Nuggets for the No. 11 pick (Doug McDermott) and Anthony Randolph (small salary dump).

2013: Minnesota Timberwolves trade No. 9 (Trey Burke) to the Utah Jazz for No. 14 (Shabazz Mohammad) and No. 21 (Gorgui Dieng).

2013: Celtics trade No. 16 (Lucas Noguiera) to Dallas Mavericks for No. 13 (Kelly Olynyk) and two 2014 second round picks (Boston and Brooklyn selections).

2013: Philadelphia 76ers trade Jrue Holiday and rights to Pierre Jackson (No. 42) to New Orleans Pelicans for No. 6 pick (Nerlens Noel) and a top-5 protected future first round pick (which ended up being No. 10 in 2014).

2012: No major first round trades.

2011: Indiana Pacers trade No. 15 (Kawhi Leonard) and No. 42 (Davis Bertrans) to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill.

2011: Three-team trade between Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings.

Bobcats trade: Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston, No. 19 pick (Tobias Harris)

Bobcats receive: No. 7 pick (Bismack Biyombo)

Kings trade: No. 7 pick (Bismack Biyombo), Beno Udrih, John Salmons

Kings receive: No. 10 pick (Jimmer Fredette)

Bucks trade: No. 10 pick (Jimmer Fredette), Corey Maggette

Bucks receive: No. 19 pick (Tobias Harris), Beno Udrih

Lessons Learned

1. The Celtics likely don’t have the assets to acquire the No. 4 pick in a trade with the Knicks. It takes a lot of capital to move that high in the draft, and Boston doesn’t have the future top picks or proven talent. None of Boston’s future first-round picks are guaranteed to be in the lottery in upcoming drafts, so throwing a bunch of mediocre ones at Phil Jackson won’t move the needle. The truth is top-five are rarely traded these days anyway. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2007 to find a team that traded away a top-five pick. Celtics fans should remember that one fairly easily, as Jeff Green was dealt away by Boston to Seattle for Ray Allen on draft night in a win-now move for the franchise.

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2. It’s going to take more than Boston’s pair of first round picks to move into the top-10. Depending on the mock drafts you read, you may have got the sense that the Celtics could jump as high as No. 7 merely by packaging four picks from this season. As trades from the last few years show us, that’s just not a realistic scenario.

NBA picks are not like NFL picks. There is no trade value chart that indicates two picks at No. 16 and No. 28 may be more valuable than one pick at No. 7. In the NBA, elite talent is what matters, and that means a high price tag must be paid to get into the top-10. The Celtics have the assets to do it, but they are going to have to dig deep into their stash of future draft picks and/or take on some overpaid players in a deal to make it happen. Whether the prospect the team is targeting is worth that high price will be a tough decision for Ainge to make.

3. Proven veterans are some of the best trade chips in the draft. This is a reality that does not bode well for the Celtics. In many deals in the past few years, solid starters on reasonable contracts (George Hill, Jrue Holiday, Stephen Jackson) served as the anchors for trade packages that allowed teams to move up in the draft.

At this stage, the Celtics don’t have any players (outside of maybe Isaiah Thomas) that you could characterize as reliable pieces. There is plenty of potential and youth, but few sure things up and down the roster. Ainge will need to hope his other assets (future picks, ability to take on salary) will outweigh those drawbacks in any upcoming trade discussions.

The bottom line: Ainge is no stranger to making trades on draft night. He’s moved first-round picks in nearly half of his drafts since joining the franchise in a management role in 2003. Look for the Celtics to be active on Thursday night, but make sure you keep realistic expectations about what the team can pull off with their maneuvering.

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