By Jackson Daignault ’18
Coming off a Game Six loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the number one seeded Boston Celtics were left facing an internal question, “Now what?”
This season was always considered a rebuilding year, featuring a team that was “one player away.”
However, the Celtics played well beyond expectations, clinching the number one seed led by an All-NBA second team point guard in Isaiah Thomas. The franchise was also able to make its best free agency signing in its history with the acquisition of former All-Star Al Horford, a key piece of their offense throughout the season. These gritty Celtics were always considered underdogs, but after making a push to the Eastern Conference Finals, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. Then Lebron James happened.
The past month was a whirlwind of emotions for Celtics fans. First, they won the draft lottery and were granted the number one pick. A few days later, the Celtics won Game Three off of an Avery Bradley game winner, inspiring hope for the Celtics to compete against the contenders. A week later, the Celtics’ last glimpse of hope was destroyed as they were eliminated by Lebron James.
What else could they have done? They had played beyond expectations, stealing a game in Cleveland, but still felt short to the star powered Cavaliers.
Now, the Celtics are faced with a crossroad: attempt to stockpile talent and contend with the Cavaliers of the world, or attempt to build through the draft?
The Celtics’ best option would be to embrace the youth movement and draft Markelle Fultz, the 19-year-old standout guard from Washington.
Fultz was a bonafide stud on a struggling University of Washington team, where he averaged 23.2 points and 5.9 assists per game. Fultz is the consensus number one pick, and has superstar upside. Fultz fits the bill for a long and productive NBA career.
Fultz and Thomas have both been vocal about their desire and ability to play together, so there is no argument in terms of fit. Pairing the two of them will allow the Celtics to dominate on the offensive side of the ball with two scorers, as well as develop their young talent. While Thomas may be a liability on defense, the 6’4 195 pound two-guard should be able to make up for some of Thomas’ issues on the defensive side of the ball, along with help from All-NBA defender Avery Bradley.
While trading for a proven star like Chicago Bulls guard, Jimmy Butler, or Indiana Pacers forward, Paul George, makes the team better in the immediate future, Lebron James is not getting any younger, and any path to the finals is blocked by him.
Trading for a player of either of their calibers would be a hefty price, one that would probably include the 2017 number one pick, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and/or one of their draft and stash players. Giving up those three incredibly valuable assets for a single player harms the development and depth of the team.
Jaylen Brown, the number three pick in the draft, has superstar potential and the Celtics would have a difficult time parting with him. Showcased by plays like this, Brown had a strong rookie season and will look to grow as he works into his second year. Brown is only 20 years old, and has the frame to be dominant in the NBA, coming in at 6’7, 225 pounds. Coming out of college, Brown’s jump shot was often criticized. However, Brown worked on his jump shot before and during the season, and he was a strong finisher for the Celtics in limited playing time. When Avery Bradley went down with an injury for a few weeks, Brown stepped into a starting role and played well. While Brown was inconsistent as a 20-year-old rookie, more playing time will benefit him and his development as a player. As a result of Brown’s great size, he often was given difficult assignments, such as Lebron James in the playoffs. While Brown by no means locked down James, he was able to get in his face and cause him some discomfort. If Brown is able to utilize his athletic ability to become a lockdown defender, he will have a great NBA career. The Celtics organization has high hopes for Brown, and he figures to be an untouchable franchise cornerstone.
On the other hand, Marcus Smart is in a world of his own. When Smart was drafted with the sixth pick of the 2014 draft, Celtics fans were left scratching their heads.
Another guard? That can’t shoot? What about Rajon Rondo?
But boy those critics have silenced. The positive impact Smart has on games cannot be measured in statistics. Smart puts his body on the line every time he steps on the floor, and plays with a ton of heart, a characteristic the city of Boston adores. While Smart is an inconsistent shooter (35.8%), he has shown what he is capable of, single handedly torching the Cavaliers in Game Three. The 29.1% three point shooter, Smart poured in seven three pointers, and made hustle play after hustle play to propel the Celtics to victory. Smart stepped up big in the absence of Isaiah Thomas while giving a glimpse of the future for the Celtics. Time after time, Smart has been the X factor for the Celtics, making winning plays by showing heart and throwing his body around the court. Smart could not have landed in a better place than Boston, a city that embraces his blue collar, bulldog mentality.
The Celtics also have two draft and stash prospects from last year: Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele. Zizic, the 20 year-old, 6’11 250 pound center has gained lots of national attention playing for multiple teams in Europe. According to a report from Sportingnews.com, an anonymous general manager believes that if the Celtics had not drafted Zizic with the 23rd pick in the 2016 NBA draft, he would have been selected in the top 10 of this year’s draft. The Celtics have struggled rebounding the ball this season, and Zizic figures to be the Celtics’ replacement for Amir Johnson on the glass. Developing a rebounder of Zizic’s talent will have a huge impact on the future of the franchise.
The other prospect, Yabusele, otherwise known as “the Dancing Bear”, played in China for a bit before arriving in America to play for the Celtics D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. The 16th pick in the 2016 draft, Yabusele averaged 12.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in Maine. Yabusele has a large frame, but also has a good jump shot. Yabusele has gathered Draymond Green comparisons, and if the French product can carry out that comparison, the Celtics will be thrilled. Yabusele figures to fit in the middle of the rotation, where he will continue to grow and develop.
The front office seems to be very high on both of these young exciting prospects, and expect both to be suited up at TD Garden next year.
Simply put, it would not make sense for the Celtics to give up any of these four assets for one of those two players. While adding Butler or George would allow them to better compete with the Cavaliers, the road to the finals has never been more difficult, with Lebron James showing no sign of slowing down. It does not make sense to mortgage the future of the franchise for a handful of years of contention. Boston is no stranger to winning, and will expect to maintain the winning ways of their 2008 Celtics team.
By keeping and developing their young talent/picks, the Celtics will be able to keep their championship window open for years after Lebron James finally hangs up the sneakers. A core of Isaiah Thomas, Markelle Fultz, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele, as well as former All-Star, Al Horford, and All-NBA defender, Avery Bradley, will be strong for not only now, but also the far future.
Embrace the youth movement, Danny Ainge. Let’s get Banner 18.