This year’s NBA Draft will surely be a busy one for the Celtics.
With center Anthony Davis already off the table, All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford rumored to be on the move, and multiple draft assets available for wheeling and dealing, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have several decisions to make Thursday night.
Ainge’s actions should provide more clarity on the team’s direction for the upcoming season.
Here are four options:
1. Embrace the youth movement.
The Celtics hold the 14th, 20th, 22nd, and 51st overall picks this year, which means they have the ability to add four rookies to their roster next season.
Among the names that have been linked to the No. 14, 20, and 22 spots are Kentucky’s Tyler Herro, PJ Washington, and Keldon Johnson; Purdue’s Carsen Edwards; Oregon’s Bol Bol; USC’s Kevin Porter Jr.; and Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said earlier in June the organization had already hosted 70 players for workouts. Even Wednesday, the day before the draft, the team reportedly worked out a crew of seven prospects in Boston, each for the second time.
If Horford and Irving walk, and the team drafts at all four slots, there will be only four players — Gordon Hayward (9), Marcus Morris (8), Aron Baynes (7), and Marcus Smart (5) — on Boston’s roster with five or more seasons of experience. Morris, an unrestricted free agent, also has the power to sign elsewhere, which would only skew the numbers even younger.
Although the Celtics are undoubtedly adequately prepared to utilize their quad of selections if need be, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reiterated the team is not interested in having three rookies on the roster next season.
One avenue that would allow the Celtics to use all of their picks but avoid the influx of first-year talent is to “draft and stash,” meaning select an international player but have him stay with his club overseas. The team can then decide when would be an appropriate time for the player to transition to the NBA.
2. Make a trade.
Instead of making all four of their picks, the Celtics could wield them in a trade to either move up the draft board or acquire a more established player.
One spot they reportedly have their eye on is No. 4, which currently belongs to the New Orleans Pelicans. There is competition, as ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported Tuesday, with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves also interested.
Should the Celtics pursue the fourth overall pick, forward Jaylen Brown is likely on the trading block. The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach said Wednesday “some teams near the top of the draft are wondering” about Brown’s availability. Other assets the Celtics could package include any of their picks in this year’s draft or, more importantly, the 2020 top-six protected pick they own from the Memphis Grizzlies.
At No. 4, Boston could draft Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland — a potential replacement for Irving. It’s possible the Celtics could also flip the fourth overall pick in an attempt to trade for a player like Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, Houston Rockets center Clint Capela, or Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon. Perhaps that step isn’t even necessary and Boston could strike a deal with its current trove of picks.
Beal is the most high-profile of the bunch, which means he also carries the highest price tag. Capela could be a feasible alternative. SNY’s Ian Begley reported Tuesday night the Rockets and Celtics recently “checked in” about a potential trade involving the 6-foot-10 center.
3. Sign a free agent.
If both Horford and Irving leave Boston, the Celtics could also free up enough cap room to sign a decent free agent. They likely won’t be a landing spot for a player like Charlotte Hornet point guard Kemba Walker, but other impact players — like restricted free agents Malcolm Brogdon and D’Angelo Russell as well as unrestricted free agents Kevon Looney and Ricky Rubio — could be in play.
By renouncing Morris, point guard Terry Rozier, and the team’s remaining free agents, the Celtics can generate $28 million in cap room. If they also trade away or “draft and stash” their three first-round picks, they can create $32.7 million. (“Draft-and-stash” players do not count against the salary cap or the roster limit.) The $32.7 million is enough to afford a max-level free agent.
4. Run it back.
Until the departures are made official, there is always a chance — however small it may be — that the Celtics could retain Irving and/or Horford.
On Irving: Wojnarowski indicated on “Get Up!” Wednesday morning that the Brooklyn Nets, the consensus front-runner to land Irving, may not be interested in acquiring him as “a solo act.” According to Wojnarowski, the Nets are hoping Irving can recruit his friend, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, to join him in Brooklyn, though that notion has been complicated by Durant’s ruptured Achilles.
If a second star is unable to join Irving, Wojnarowski suggested the Nets may re-sign restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell at a lower cost. Where would that leave Irving? Other destinations that have been floated as possibilities include the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Given Irving’s capricious personality and change in representation, however, it’s difficult to anticipate his next move.
While the Celtics are preparing as though Irving is leaving, they will likely offer him the five-year, $189 million max contract that only they can, should he decide to stay. Irving’s presence in the locker room is a conversation for another day, but he is by far the most talented option Boston has at point guard. Keeping him is still a viable recourse after a disappointing year.
On Horford: The Celtics are also preparing to be without Horford, who is expected to command a contract worth more than what Boston is willing to offer. Potential suitors for Horford include the Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, and Indiana Pacers. Wojnarowski reported Tuesday night that talks are not expected to restart between Horford’s agent and the Celtics, but perhaps Ainge can make a move, as well as render enough money, that will entice the 33-year-old veteran to stay.