Saw a tweet from a well-known NFL reporter yesterday weighing in on the relative lack of hype for the NBA Draft compared to the NFL Draft. To that I say: where you been?
During the NFL Draft, analysts weigh in on hundreds of players who may or may not be a fits for NFL teams. Some of them will pan out, most of them will not. Some of the players drafted don’t even play football (“he plays Rugby! what a steal!”). Even the top ten picks in the draft could be irrelevant within two or three seasons.
For Patriots fans, the draft is usually a chance to complain about Bill Belichick taking six players you’ve never heard of. Heck, the best player in Patriots franchise history was taken at pick No. 199. Saying the NFL Draft, which now spans an entire weekend, is anticlimactic is like saying Belichick likes football a little bit.
In the NBA Draft, the results are tangible. You can see them. You pick a LeBron James or Kevin Durant and you immediately improve your franchise. Our Stats Driven blogger, Andrew Mooney, did a great job calculating just how much an NBA Draft pick is worth in terms of win shares. The results are clear. You draft the right player, you make your team better. And that player doesn’t need to be picked in the top 10. Rajon Rondo was the 21st pick in the 2006 draft. Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol was the 48th pick in 2007. Indiana’s Danny Granger was picked 17th. The stakes are high for every one of the draft’s 60 picks.
All that’s at stake for the Celtics tonight and this weekend — when free agency begins — is the entire future of their franchise. They’re not drafting fourth-string running backs and depth on the offensive line. They’re looking for players who will be stars in the near future. And if they don’t think those players will be available when they pick at Nos. 21, 22, and 51 tonight, they’re looking to move those picks to get players who can make a big impact right away.
The Celtics currently have four players under contract for next season: Rondo, Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley, and JaJuan Johnson. The first three are a great start, but there’s not a championship team there yet. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has to rebuild 3/4 of his roster. What the Celtics do in the draft and free agency will determine if they win 40 games or 60 games next season.
Boston’s big question marks in free agency are Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Jeff Green, and Brandon Bass. All four players matter, and the Celtics need to consider the status of each of them when drafting tonight. If Garnett doesn’t return they’ll absolutely need a big man, and probably more than one. They could even take three. If they don’t bring Green back, a replacement for Pierce becomes an immediate need.
The Celtics also have secondary question marks from last year’s team: Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic Mickael Pietrus, and Greg Stiemsma are all free agents, though none of them is really a game-changer. It’s doubtful Ainge will be thinking of these players during the draft when he can fill out his final roster spots later this summer.
The timing of the draft juxtaposed with the timing of free agency creates for a wild weekend. Ainge said he expects to hear from Garnett concerning his plans for next year sometimes before Saturday. That would help, because free agency opens Sunday. But it’s not going to help Ainge tonight, where he’ll need to operate on his gut feeling on Garnett.
On top of all of this, players fall. Ainge has scouted the players he’s interested in and has ranked them. If a player he ranks high slips, Ainge will pick him, position be damned. It’s about getting the best players, not filling out some imaginary 15-man roster in June. The Rondo pick should be all the evidence you need that Ainge isn’t afraid to be unorthodox.
There are plenty of good fits for the Celtics tonight. You can see who I think are some good ones here. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show tonight. There’s a lot at stake, but that’s what makes it fun.