Ever since the conclusion of the Big Three era, the Celtics have made a point of stockpiling draft picks. They added three first-round picks initially when dealing away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the summer of 2013 to Brooklyn. From there, they have slowly added to that collection periodically by dealing away other rotation pieces (Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo) or leveraging some of their draft selections into additional first-round choices (Jayson Tatum trade).
As the start of the 2019-20 regular season approaches, the Celtics’ surplus of first-round choices is on the verge of coming to an end. Let’s take a closer look at what is left in the asset cupboard following a summer in which the Celtics elected to use four draft picks to fill out the bottom half of their roster.
The crown jewel
The Memphis first-round pick
Protections: 1-6 in 2020, unprotected in 2021.
Acquired via: Jeff Green trade in 2015
Analysis: This remains the most valuable first-round pick in the league not owned by its respective team. Memphis itself didn’t have a bad offseason from a long-term perspective but they should be among the bottom-six teams in 2020. They are primarily in asset accumulation mode, picking up first-round picks from Utah (Mike Conley trade), Golden State (Andre Iguodala). They added a couple of young players on solid value contracts in Tyus Jones and Jonas Valanciunas, while adding Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke in the draft.
There is some potential for growth under new head coach Taylor Jenkins (former assistant with Milwaukee) but it’s still safe to project that this team will be in the basement of the standings against a loaded Western Conference.
Like the Sacramento pick last year, the Celtics will have to make a calculated gamble on the risk/reward of keeping this selection over the next two seasons. The addition of a win-now player in Kemba Walker this summer who is approaching the tail end of his prime at age 29 makes holding onto it a risky proposition. The Grizzlies have enough talent where they could be on the upswing in 2021 as the Kings were last year, turning a potential top-5 selection into the No. 14 pick by draft night. The Kings pick losing so much value over nine months of surprise success by Sacramento could be a warning sign to Boston to sell on this selection while the value still projects to be high.
On the flip side of the coin, the problem remains finding a player that’s worth moving it for. Outside of Bradley Beal, there are no All-Stars expected to hit the trade market in the next 12 months. Moving this choice for any other type of player would potentially be selling low given the possible upside of the pick. Monitoring the trade market and Memphis’ progression this season will be essentially for Boston’s brass to ensure they maximize this asset. Some of it will come down to luck but Danny Ainge can certainly mitigate some of that risk by being proactive with it.
The extra first-rounder