The 2015 NBA Offseason officially kicks into gear with tomorrow’s NBA Draft. Boston Celtic fans were disappointed that the fireworks cited by Owner Wyc Grousbeck never materialized last offseason but are hopeful that their patience will be rewarded this year.
Celtic GM Danny Ainge has spent the past couple of season stockpiling draft picks while adding young players that coach Brad Stevens can mold into viable NBA talents. After a surprising second half of the regular season that led to an unexpected early return to the NBA Playoffs, the franchise is faced with a pivotal offseason. The rebuild has gathered some momentum and the NBA marketplace will be especially volatile this offseason as teams prepare for significant changes to the Salary Cap and Luxury Tax thresholds. Ainge has worked to diligently to be prepared with the assets and flexibility needed to capitalize on the opportunities that the environment this offseason should present.
The team can potentially free up north of $40M in salary cap space and has the positional flexibility to target virtually any player that hits the market. They have young players of varying NBA pedigrees on relatively low dollar deals; Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller and James Young. Most importantly, they have the league’s deepest treasure trove of draft picks over the next 5 years including a couple with high lottery potential.
While the draft itself won’t make or break the offseason, it could provide some insight into the shape that the offseason will take on once the Trade and Free Agent marketplaces kick into full gear. Here are some specific things to look for:
Can the Celtics move up in the draft?
The Celtics hold the #16, #28, #33, and #45 picks in tomorrow’s draft but hardly anyone expects them to be making all four of those picks. Ainge has come right out and stated that, at this point in the team’s development, quality is more important than quantity. Multiple reports have indicated that the Celtics are the most aggressive team in pursuing trade up options and they have been mentioned in relation to picks as high as Philadelphia’s #3 pick. The Knicks #4 is potentially in place and every team from #7 (Denver) on down to #11 (Indiana) is apparently open to moving their pick.
The potential to move up is there, the question is at what price, and for whom? Celtic fans are nearly unanimous in their affection for Kentucky center and impact defender Willie Cauley-Stein but there are several intriguing talents that could be available in the 7-11 range including Justise Winslow, Mario Hezonja, Kristaps Porzingis and Stanley Johnson.
If they do move up, the other relevant question is ‘why?’ Does Ainge envision one of these prospects as a critical piece to the next great Celtic team and if so, how would that impact their targets in free agency and trades? Or, is it possible that Ainge’s end game is to acquire a top-flight talent to package them in a deal for an impact veteran as Cleveland did with last year’s top pick?
What happens with the 28th pick?
Their second first round pick comes at the tail end of the first round and is unlikely to yield anything better than a long-term project. Players like Christian Wood of UNLV, Chris McCullough of Syracuse or Jordan Mickey of LSU have potential but are a couple of years away from being contributors to a playoff team. The Celtics would not appear to have much room on their developing roster to harbor a long-term project.
The 28th pick could certainly be part of a package to move up in the draft, but the value of late first round picks is almost negligible in these scenarios. In any event, it’s unlikely that the Celtics want to use this pick. How aggressive are they in trying to move it? The willingness to give this pick away for little or no return would be a significant indicator that the team is going to be very aggressive in free agency and wants to maximize cap space at all costs.
What about the 2nd round picks?
Similar to the line of thinking above, the disposition of the #33 and #45 picks will be a sign of the team’s intentions in free agency. Cap holds and roster spots for a couple of second round picks that are fliers at best compromise the team’s flexibility in free agency. The #33 pick and the lack of guaranteed money that comes with a 2nd round pick has some potential value in trade scenarios. Another possibility to consider here is to use one or more of these picks on “draft and stash” players. Creating a reserve, future potential influx of talent by drafting a young European prospect that is either constrained to or willing to spend a couple of years overseas would be a wise investment on Ainge’s part. Some prospects that fit that profile include; Cedi Osman of Turkey, Mouhammadou Jaiteh of France, Arturas Gudaitis of Lithuania, and Nikola Mulitinov of Serbia.
All eyes will be on the draft tomorrow night, but it’s really just the start of what should be an interesting offseason across the NBA, and hopefully for the Celtics in particular. Hopefully Celtics fans will get some clues as to how things will unfold once the dust settles on draft night. After that, the next significant indicator is the opening of the free agency period and the question of whose cell phone does Danny Ainge ring first!