Rumors are swirling everywhere that the Sixers and Celtics are at least considering a trade that would allow Philly to move up to the first overall pick and draft Markelle Fultz. Metro Philadelphia sports editor Evan Macy and Boston sports editor Matt Burke had it out in the newsroom this week. Here’s how their argument went:
Evan Macy: Philly is crazy about Markelle Fultz even though we can’t get him. How in love is Boston?
Matt Burke: Very much in love. The last time the Celtics had a championship level team (not quite there yet), there was a 3-4 year window with Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen. The goal for the Celtics now is to be like the Patriots: in the mix for a title for 15 years. Only way that’s possible is if they can get their hands on a once in a generation talent. Fultz could be that guy.
EM: The Celtics have less of a need at point guard than the Sixers — could we interest you in Josh Jackson or Jason Tatum at No. 3? We’ll even throw in next year’s pick and Jahlil Okafor — a big, scoring center who can add pop off the bench when your Canadian sensation (Kelly Olynyk) becomes a free agent. That’s a good offer. No. 3, 2018 first rounder and the 2015 third overall pick!
MB: Danny Ainge loves small ball, going back to his days as head coach of the Suns. I really think the Celtics believe they can start Fultz and Isaiah in the backcourt (Fultz is 6-foot-4). Also, part of the reason Isaiah was so successful at scoring at the basket this year is because they didn’t have an old fashioned center clogging up the middle. Al Horford made defenders have to guard him at the 3-point line, opening up the lane for Isaiah. Okafor would be useless to the Celtics the way they’re presently constructed.
EM: But you said it yourself, Ainge is building for the long term. If you want to win titles, you have to wait until the Cavs and Warriors begin their decline (which, Eastern Conference Game 3 not withstanding, is not happening any time soon). The Sixers can offer Boston yet another lottery pick in 2018 to the Nets pick they already have. That’s two chances to get Michael Porter (the presumptive No. 1 pick next year, set to go one-and-done to Missouri). Ainge could turn one asset into three assets and still get a franchise-changing piece in the draft. How is that not a no-brainer?
MB: I think the thought is that they can knock on the door in the next two years with Fultz. When Fultz is ready to be dominant (say, Year 3 or 4), LeBron will be washed up. Important to remember that Isaiah is still just 28-years-old. And the plan right now is to sign Brad Stevens’ old Butler buddy Gordon Hayward this summer — no need for a Josh Jackson or Tatum after that. If they can sign a top level free agent (and they have the cap room) this summer or next, they can be good now, later and still keep next year’s Nets pick. I know you’re a Hinke guy, but at some point you have to “go for it.” Keeping next year’s Nets pick is enough when it comes to “future assets.”
EM: That’s sort of my point here — Philly could try to go for it by moving up in the draft. Assuming Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are the only untouchables, is there anyone Philly can entice Boston with? To move back two spots?! How about Dario Saric — the likely Rookie of the Year? Need to clear Avery Bradley’s $8 million-plus cap hit next year? We can help with that too. Even notorious Boston homer Bill Simmons is on board with this.
MB: I think you’re complicating matters. Ainge is the definition of a go big or go home GM. He’s only interested in players who can be top 10 talents. If he think Fultz can be a top 10 player in the league, he’ll take him. If he can move the pick for a top 10 player (Anthony Davis) he’d do that. Bradley’s contract is not the albatross many think it is (he’s had a very good postseason). I like Saric, but what’s his ceiling? Borderline All-Star?
EM: I miss Sam Hinke. He would get this done. I would say on the hierarchy of top contemporary NBA GM’s you have Hinkie and then Ainge, then you have 25 other GMs and then you have Bryan Colangelo. Did you know he reportedly offered Indiana their choice of Nerlens Noel or Okafor, plus Robert Covington, plus two first rounders for Paul George and they said no? I’m going to go out in a limb and guess you aren’t going to approve this trade.
MB: Haha. I think Hinke’s great too. But at the same time you basically just said an unemployed man is the best GM in pro basketball. If he’s such a genius, he would be employed by an NBA team right now. As for the trade, I think Indiana actually would do that trade this summer now that Larry Bird’s out of the picture (he should have pressed the reset button in Indy three years ago). I think the Sixers should cash in now and the Celtics and Sixers can fight over the chance to get their asses kicked by LeBron and the Cavs the next few years.
EM: At least let us agree that Boston will have a hard time guarding Joel “The Process” Embiid in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals.
MB: Absolutely. Kevin Garnett is not walking through that door, and if there’s one knock I have against Ainge it’s that he can never really seem to find capable bigs who can defend.