Tim O'Sullivan: Sixth pick leaves Celtics with plenty of rebuilding options
There was no good luck for the Celtics in last night’s NBA draft lottery, but there wasn’t any bad luck, either.
Boston landed the No. 6 pick, which was the most probable outcome going into the night. The Celtics had a 34.2 percent chance at No. 6, a 23.7 percent chance at No. 5 and 10.3, 11.1 and 12.0 percent chances at No. 1, 2 and 3, respectively. So the Celtics got what they deserved, unlike Cleveland, which won the lottery for the second straight year, jumping up from the No. 9 spot to No. 1.
Maybe No. 6 feels like a letdown for the Boston fans who spent the season rooting for losses in hopes of landing the top pick, or at least one in the top three. But the sixth pick in this draft is a valuable commodity, no matter what Danny Ainge decides to do with it, and history tells us he knows what to do.
This draft is so deep that the Celtics have a good chance of landing a quality player with their other first-rounder, the No. 17 pick acquired from Brooklyn in the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade. Some of the players who could still be available at 17 include athletic wingmen like Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III and Syracuse’s Jerami Grant; scorers like Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early and Kentucky’s James Young; or point guards like Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton (touted by some as this year’s Damian Lillard) and UConn’s Shabazz Napier, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
It takes a lot of talent to push players like that to the middle of the first round, and most of that talent will be there for the Celtics at No. … unless they trade the pick for a certain power forward from Minnesota, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Boston could go local with the sixth pick and take Noah Vonleh, the power forward from Haverhill, Mass., who went to New Hampton before his one college season at Indiana. Or maybe the Celtics prefer Kentucky’s Julius Randle, another bruising power forward, or maybe they’d rather have a high-flying forward like Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. Or maybe it’s Creighton scoring machine Doug McDermott, the consensus national player of the year. If they’d prefer a guard, they could take Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart or Michigan State’s Gary Harris.
No matter which direction Ainge wants to go at No. 6, he’ll have plenty of good choices, and Boston’s basketball boss has shown he knows how to navigate a draft.
Trading up to grab Kelly Olynyk at No. 13 last year looks like a pretty good move so far. Stopping Jared Sullinger’s fall at No. 21 in 2012 proved to be a wise choce, grabbing Avery Bradley at No. 19 in 2010 has panned out, and dealing for the No. 21 pick in 2006 to land Rajon Rondo was a coup. And don’t forget the first-round finds from Ainge’s first two drafts – Kendrick Perkins at No. 27 in 2003, and in 2004 Al Jefferson at No. 15, Delonte West at 24 and Tony Allen at 25.
But the best thing Ainge has ever done with a draft pick, and perhaps the most relevant in terms of the current pick, is what he did with the No. 5 selection in 2007. He traded that pick, along with West and Wally Szczerbiak, to Seattle for Ray Allen. That trade led to Kevin Garnett coming to Boston, which led to the 2008 championship. And there’s a possibility that, with a little finagling, Ainge could turn this No. 6 pick into another power forward from Minnesota, Kevin Love.
Love announced this week he intends to leave the Timberwolves when his contract expires at the end of this season. That means Minnesota is likely to trade him in order to get something in return rather than have him simply walk into free agency. There will be plenty of teams interested, but none of them can match the draft pick bonanza Boston has to offer.
If the Celtics had managed to land a top-three pick and offered it to Minnesota for Love, he may have landed in Boston this morning. But the Timberwolves know that No. 6 pick will still have plenty of value. And if they want a future first-rounder or two on top of it, the Celtics have seven of those suckers from 2015-18 to throw into the deal.
Boston would probably have to include Sullinger or Olynyk in a trade for Love, and that’s fine. Love is more than worth it, and he would be taking most of their minutes anyway. He’s not perfect (mediocre post defense), but he’s a top-15 player in his prime coming off a season where he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. If Ainge can land him with a package that includes the No. 6 pick, and sign him to a contract extension, it would be a no-brainer.
It will take Boston longer to rebuild if it can’t land Love, but that No. 6 pick will be a good place to start the process. The Celtics may not have won the lottery last night, but they didn’t lose it, either.