In the end, the Celtics did not improve their position in the NBA Draft on lottery night, which saw the Timberwolves win the No.1 overall pick. But, according to executives around the NBA, it might not matter—the Celtics could be active in looking to move this pick.
The Celtics stayed put with the No. 14 pick from Memphis, a product of their 2015 trade that sent Jeff Green to the Grizzlies. Boston had higher hopes for the pick in recent years, with the Grizzlies struggling as an organization. The pick was protected for the Top 8 last year when Memphis won the No. 2 pick and chose guard Ja Morant.
The pick was protected for the Top 6 this year but with the Grizzlies’ surprisingly strong season, the Celtics had almost no chance of moving up without losing the pick altogether.
In addition to the Timberwolves getting the top pick, the Warriors were awarded pick No. 2 and the Hornets were No. 3.
The Top 3 picks are expected to be some combination of guards Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball, with center James Wiseman in the mix, too.
But the Celtics remain one of the most intriguing teams in the daft, holding the No. 14 pick as well as No. 26 (their own pick) and No. 30 (from Milwaukee, through Phoenix as part of the Aron Baynes trade last summer).
“They love their young players, every team loves their young players, but Boston more than most,” one general manager told Heavy.com. “They love their two-way guys, Tacko (Fall) and (Tremont) Waters. But they can’t fit all these guys on the roster. They’re going to have to make some tough decisions, they’ll be very active on the trade market. It is hard to see how they are going to go forward with all the young players on the roster and then add three first-rounders.”
That sentiment has been common among execs around the league. The Celtics do not have their own second-round pick, but will have the No. 47 overall pick, from Brooklyn.
Celtics Loaded with Rookies This Season
Including Fall and Waters, the Celtics have seven rookies on their current roster. Grant Williams, who averages 15.1 minutes, has been the most productive. The team expected more from Romeo Langford this season, but persistent injuries sapped his development.
Carsen Edwards, Javonte Green, and Vincent Poirier have played bit roles this season.
Waters and Fall would need NBA contracts to stay on board next season and the team seems inclined to grant them. Williams, Poirier, Edwards and Langford are already signed for the year. Green is the only member of this year’s Celtics’ rookie class that does not have a guaranteed deal next season.
Certainly, it makes sense for the Celtics to keep the young guys in place, because the two franchise cornerstones—Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown—are young, too. Tatum is 22 and Brown is 23. The team wants to put players of similar age round those two, to allow the group to grow together.
Roster Space Will be Limited for the Celtics Next Year
But there will be a limited number of spots available on the Boston roster. The biggest question is the future of oft-injured wing Gordon Hayward, who has a $34 million player option for next season. He is likely to exercise that option and stay put unless he can work out a long-term deal to stay in Boston at a reduced rate.
Center Enes Kanter has a player option, too. Semi Ojeleye has a team option on his deal and both Green and center Daniel Theis have non-guaranteed deals for next year. Guard Brad Wannamaker can be a free agent in the offseason.
At most, that could free up six roster spots. But Hayward is likely to come back and Theis is a near-certainty to return, too. Room on Boston’s roster will shrink quickly once the offseason starts. Dealing away picks in this draft will look more like an imperative as the Celtics pick which players from the current roster to keep.
There’s also the matter of the overall weakness of this draft. There are some high-upside players who might be worth a gamble for the Celtics—center Daniel Oturu from Minnesota, guards who were top recruits but disappointed last year like Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton or Josh Green, or a polished veteran like junior Tyler Bey of Colorado—but there’s little chance the Celtics will find use for all of the youth they’ve been accumulating.
Keep an eye, then, on the trade market.
“I don’t think they’re going to make some blockbuster deal,” the GM said. “But they could look to bail out on some of these picks and try to push them into picks for the future.”