With March Madness starting up in a couple days, college basketball hype is ramping up. So are mock drafts, big boards, etc. But the burning question, maybe even more so than who will be picked 1st, is whether or not the Celtics will trade their top pick for a star. They didn’t last year, they didn’t at the deadline - so everyone has bookmarked June 22nd as the day Danny Ainge shall become king of Boston. But… is that realistic?
Well, let’s look over the last 10 drafts for big draft-day trades for stars, specifically ones which involved top-5 picks (seeing as the biggest rumor last year involved Jimmy Butler for pick 5 and Zach LaVine, and the Celtics seem to view Jimmy Butler as a prime target). Trades outside the top 5 for stars were likely based around players with picks as side dishes rather than the main meal. So, without further ado…
(*Trade-Up, doesn’t apply to final count)
Grizzlies get: Pick #3 (OJ Mayo), Marko Jarić, Antoine Walker, Greg Buckner
Timberwolves get: Pick #5 (Kevin Love), Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins
Does trading a few assets (Miller, Cardinal, Collins) to move up 2 spots really count as trading for a star. No, not really, as it is more a case of an asset swap than an asset give. Anyway, this trade was one that in hindsight had a clear winner and loser. Kevin Love is a 4-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA, and an NBA champion. OJ Mayo, on the other hand, never got more than an All-Rookie team appearance and was recently kicked out of the league for “hard drug use”. He can apply for reinstatement in 2 years’ time, but until then, he isn’t helping his case.
Yes! Finally, a trade for a superstar that doesn’t come with an asterisk!
SuperSonics get: Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, pick #5 (Jeff Green), 2008 2nd-rounder
Celtics get: Ray Allen, pick #35 (Glen Davis)
The Celtics, while building up their big 3, traded a top-5 pick for a star. Exactly 10 drafts ago, Danny Ainge had a history with trading a pick for a star! He started with Allen, then traded for Garnett. Could this be what Ainge will do again, trade a top pick for a star and then acquire another just a few days later? History says no, that that is incredibly unlikely, but hey, he has done it before and is great at making trades that turn out better than anyone could ever imagine. He got Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder for next to nothing, got a 1st-round pick for Rondo, this man may be THE best GM in the NBA, and just might pass Red Auerbach (probably not, though) for best all-time if he manages to pull this off.
Yet again, a two-pick trade-up.
Bulls get: pick #4 (Tyrus Thomas), Viktor Khryapa
Blazers get: pick #2 (LaMarcus Aldridge), conditional 2nd-round pick
This is widely regarded as one of the worst trades of all time. A player with 4 All-NBA appearances, 5 All-Stars and an All-Rookie team selection was essentially traded for a player with nothing more than an All-Rookie selection. Aldridge is currently the second-best player on a championship contending team, while Thomas has played just 2 games since the 2012-2013 season, both in 2015 for an injury-depleted Grizzlies squad.
For the most part, only top-5 picks traded on draft night were included here. This is because the consensus is that if the Celtics trade for a star, it will be on draft night. Below will be listed some examples of pre-draft or non-top 5 trades, though they are just a select few. There are others, but these are the notable ones.
1. Gerald Wallace (2012)
Blazers get: Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams, 1st-round pick (became pick #6)
Nets get: Gerald Wallace
For those of you who don’t remember, getting Boston to take on Wallace’s bloated contract was one of the big motivations for the Nets giving away their future. But he was pretty good in Portland (13.3/6.6/2.7 on 53.3% shooting), so when they gave up their pick in 2012 at the deadline, they were hoping that Wallace would lead them to the playoffs instead his percentages plummeted from 53.3% to 42.7%, and despite the uptick in points, rebounds, and assists, his VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) dropped from 1.6 to 0.5, mainly because of his defense. His defensive BPM dropped from 1.5 to 0.2, a staggering drop in production. He wasn’t really a star anyway, and it wasn’t as if this was even a draft-day trade, it took place at the trade deadline a few months prior.
2. Chris Paul (2012)
Hornets (now the Pelicans) get: Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, MIN 2012 1st-round pick (#10)
Clippers get: Chris Paul, two 2nd-round picks
Another deadline trade that, in essence, is the reason I shortened this to just top-5 picks. If a star is traded for a non-top-5 pick, either there is an outside interference or they aren’t really a star (cough, Nets and Gerald Wallace, cough). In this scenario, it was pressure from multiple fronts. CP3 wanted to go to a contender in a (preferably) big market (His wish list included the Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, and Magic, likely in that order). When your best player demands a trade, as a small-market team, you don’t really have much of a choice. But when (former) commissioner David Stern has veto power and declines a trade that you manage to put together for said disgruntled star, you’re kind of backed into a corner.
Now there are really only a few teams with a chance at him, fewer that he wants to go to, and fewer still who are willing to negotiate for hours and put together a deal just to have it shot down by the league commissioner. It’s not even as if the pick was that valuable, as Austin Rivers was the selection and he ended up in LA with his dad anyway. This was a deadline trade, so it doesn’t count in our calculations, but the Red and Blue did get the trade to go through and for nothing more than Eric Gordon and a bag of chips.
3. Randy Foye/Mike Miller (2009)
Timberwolves get: pick #5, Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, Oleksiy Pecherov
Wizards get: Randy Foye, Mike Miller
Keep in mind that Foye was 25 and a pretty good player on a rookie deal (just finished year 3), averaging 16.3/3.1/4.3. Even this, though, was a down year for Foye, the year before he had put up more rebounds, 0.8% better on twos, 5.2% better on threes (36%, down from 41.2%).
So as you can see, there isn’t exactly a huge sample size for us to pick apart in regards to top-5 picks traded on draft day for a player, not a similarly positioned top-5 pick. In total, there were 5 top-5 picks traded on draft night. 4 of those were either trading up or down, all with each other. And the only data point that we have that wasn’t a trade up or down? Well, let’s just say that Danny Ainge is very familiar with it. That’s right, the only top-5 pick traded on draft night purely for a star in the past 10 years is the Ray Allen trade.
The sharpshooter was, as I previously stated, traded for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, pick #5 (Jeff Green), and a 2008 2nd-rounder. The Celtics have a historical precedence for their current goal-trading for a star wing player via a top 5 pick, of which the Celtics have a 100% chance of getting. In fact, they are currently guaranteed a top 4 pick, giving them an even better chance of getting a star than that fateful day in 2007.
So it all comes down to this: Will the Celtics trade for a star? Well, after all of my careful research, I have come to the definitive answer that: The Boston Celtics will NOT trade for a star during this NBA Draft. Now, before all of you Celtics fans yell at me, hear me out. Of the top-5 picks in the last 10 drafts, 2% of them were traded for a star. TWO PERCENT.
Obviously, the sheer amount of variables situations of each trader, assets of each trader, coaches, stars, strengths, weaknesses, good/bad contracts, how good/bad other contenders are (for the top or bottom), LeBron, superteams, how willing other teams are to trade their stars, how many assets the receiving team is willing to give up, the star in question’s contract, the star’s happiness (or not) in his current situation, want (or not) of cap space, goal of a future trade, draft class quality, and on and on and on, make it difficult to accurately gauge the odds. But 1/50 is a pretty good sample size, and there’s one more problem too that we haven’t accounted for perception.
You see, with his history of DESTROYING teams in trades - Rondo for a high 1st-rounder and Jae Crowder, Marcus Thornton and a 1st-rounder for Isaiah Thomas, old versions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for roughly the entire Brooklyn franchise, etc. This makes other teams leery of trading with this man, because they think that he may know something that they don’t. Additionally, his asset-hoarding. Now, don’t get me wrong, Boston having all of these assets is amazing. But when most teams might have been able to get Jimmy Butler for just, say, Brooklyn’s 1st-rounder this year - Boston can’t.
Other teams see hoe desperate they are for a star, and ask for more than their player say - Jimmy Butler is worth. “Oh, they have another Brooklyn pick? And Jae Crowder? And Avery Bradley, and Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, and…” The list goes on and on. Could they, in theory, trade for a star? Yeah, they have the assets to put that deal together. But can they find a team that is willing to trade a star for equal or lesser value, where Boston doesn’t give up more than it receives? As I think you are about to see, that could be a problem.
Danny Ainge does not seem like one to settle for bad trades for example, standing pat at the deadline but has shown a tendency to get his heart set on guys and not let go. For example, he offered Charlotte a reported 6 picks including a whopping FOUR FIRST ROUNDERS for pick 9, so that he could pick Justise Winslow. Michael Jordan turned him down, picked Frank Kaminsky, and well, let's just say Ainge dodged a bullet on that one. But could (and should) he put that aside and trade for a star? Yeah, they have the assets to put that deal together. But can they find a team that is willing to trade a star for equal or lesser value, where Boston doesn’t give up more than it receives? As I think you are about to see, that could be a problem.
For the Bulls, trading Jimmy Butler would result in a rebuild. This is great for the franchise and all the fans that want the wheel of mediocrity to end, but there is a problem. We have seen GMs like Mitch Kupchak do desperate things before to save their jobs (SEE: Mozgov, Timofey and Deng, Luol), and with the whole “Fire GarPax” thing going on, the Bulls don’t seem like a great candidate to try to get bad.
On the Pacers’ side of things, Larry Bird has been shockingly unwilling to discuss Paul George, even to a fault. Or, it could go down like this: As it becomes seemingly more and more likely that he will sign with the Lakers next offseason, the pacers realize that they will not be able to build a winner around George and want to trade him as soon as they can to maximize the assets that they can bring back. Because, as he gets closer and closer to unrestricted free agency, his value will drop like a stone.
However, in this scenario, the Celtics are just as concerned about his pending free agency, and won't offer near enough to get him. The only way I could see him going to Boston is if Indiana is concerned about the Lakers and the Celtics aren’t. But if the ever stubborn Larry Bird is convinced that Los Angeles is a threat? Well, you better believe that Ainge does as well.
So, what do YOU think? Go to Twitter.com/AceHoops (@AceHoops) and vote on the pinned poll there - WILL the Celtics trade for a star? This article will be updated one week from the day of it’s posting with the details and analysis. I’ve made my case. Now you can make yours.