I don’t pretend to know what kind of NBA careers the many players drafted by Boston last night will have (or won’t have). But it’s hard not to feel like the night was a disappointment for the Celtics, if only because they hoped to come away with an All-Star sure thing to add to a promising young team, instead of more pieces, none of whom are guaranteed to fit.
The Celtics have been stockpiling picks for years, and came into this draft with three first-rounders and eight selections overall. Those picks were priced to move, and the front office had their eyes on the likes of Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Chicago’s Jimmy Butler. The fans too: upon Boston’s selection of Cal’s Jaylen Brown at No. 3, the crowd at the TD Garden watch party booed and shouted “We want Jimmy!”
The Celtics tried.
Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said after Brown was selected that none of the offers were worth serious consideration.
“If they were close, we might have stretched,” he said. “We didn’t feel anything was close and we’d give counter offers and the other side didn’t feel it was close.”
“A lot of discussion, and no deals” despite a lot of interest, Danny Ainge said.
Their inability to make a move was a the result of a number of factors, all thwarting the others. With multiple teams sitting on a large number of picks, Philadelphia and Chicago seemed to expect a bidding war to develop and kept their asking prices commensurately high. But Phoenix and Denver wanted different things; each further from contention than the Celtics, the Suns packaged their picks to move up in the draft, while the Nuggets stood pat. Two teams who proved willing to swap quality players only wanted contributing players back, and Boston had made clear that Jae Crowder wasn’t going anywhere.
The Celtics went after Butler, the Chicago Tribune reports, but couldn’t or wouldn’t meet the Bulls’ asking price. They went after Okafor too, but the 76ers reportedly countered with a deal that included Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington, and the 24th and 26th picks in exchange for Boston’s No. 3 and No. 16. Boston said no.
By the time the Celtics had to make their pick, any deals came off the table. Both Chicago and Philadelphia reportedly wanted that No. 3 pick to take Providence guard Kris Dunn, but Boston’s big board had Brown, a talented, athletic forward with questions about his shot. With no guarantee of being able to make a trade, the Celtics went with Brown, and the Bulls shifted their negotiations to Minnesota, who took Dunn fifth overall.
With their other two selections in the first round, the Celtics nabbed two big men, France’s Guerschon Yabusele and Croatia’s Ante Zizic. Both could be stashed in Europe for a while. Maybe they’ll amount to something a few years down the line but the Celtics are not immediately contenders like so many had hoped.
Boston will have other chances at this—with the option to swap first-rounders with the Nets, they’ll likely be back in the lottery next year, and will again have multiple first-rounders in 2018 and 2019. And maybe deferring a big move until then is the way to go—in the East, there feels like nothing effective to do but wait out LeBron’s prime. Still, it sucks waiting around for your team to get good. Celtics fans will have to wait a little longer.