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What if Ainge had kept No. 1 pick in Jayson Tatum draft and never made trade with 76ers?

November 15, 2018 - 9:35 am

By Evan Marinofsky

Danny Ainge is the best executive in today’s NBA. At this point, there’s almost no disputing it. It feels as though every trade he’s made in recent memory has gone right. Trading peanuts for Isaiah Thomas hit the nail on the head. Trading nonsense to land franchise cornerstone Kevin Garnett was a home run.

Trading washed up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets to rob them of any future was genius.

Ainge is as close to Bill Belichick as humanly possible: no matter what the decision is, he turns out right in the end.

One of the most prominent trades that’s affected today’s Celtics is the one that landed Jayson Tatum at No. 3 in the 2017 NBA Draft. That year, the C’s got the No. 1 pick (thanks, Brooklyn) and then traded down to the third slot.

The trade sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for the No. 3 pick and the 2018 Los Angeles Lakers draft pick if it fell between the No. 2 and No. 5 pick in next year’s draft (it didn’t). Now, the Celtics can expect either the Sacramento Kings’ first round pick in 2019 or the 76ers’. If either is first overall, the Celtics will receive the other.

The Celtics selected Jayson Tatum at No. 3 and the 76ers selected Markelle Fultz. You already know how that’s turned out.

But what if the Celtics kept the pick and drafted first overall? There are two scenarios that would’ve played out – one is good while one is very bad.

Best-case scenario: Celtics stay at No. 1 and pick Tatum

If this were to happen, it’d be good for the Celtics but for this column, pretty boring. And that’s all that matters right?

Not much would’ve changed at least in the immediate future. Ainge would’ve missed out on the draft pick haul he got but no one would’ve criticized him for it. He would’ve been an NBA GM utilizing his No. 1 pick.

Nothing out of the ordinary there.

Tatum would’ve still gone on to have the year he ended up having. For the Celtics, the results on the floor would’ve been the exact same. Expectations for Tatum might’ve been a bit higher, but his play last year still would’ve surpassed them.

On the other end of the deal, the 76ers wouldn’t have looked as bad picking Fultz. They would’ve done it with the No. 3 pick and the wheel of excuses for picking him could’ve been broader.

If this scenario were to play out, as viewers of the NBA, we wouldn’t be able to make fun of the 76ers as much.

Key words: as much.

Worst-case scenario: Celtics stay at No. 1 and pick Fultz

Disclaimer: I fully understand the Celtics had no plans to take Fultz and were all in on Tatum. Bear with me.

This would certainly be more interesting and more cause for debate. Imagine a Celtics team with Fultz and without Tatum? That’s how much Tatum has ingrained himself into the Boston sports culture.

For one, Ainge would have a real blunder on his hands. Drafting a point guard who can’t shoot to save his own life would pose a problem from day one. There would be criticism directed at him for making a bad, terrible, horrible draft pick.

Obviously, Tatum’s presence would be missed. Without him, you’d be missing his ability to step in for Gordon Hayward. You’d be missing his ability to average 18.5 points per game in the playoffs. There is no chance on this Earth, round or flat, that Fultz would be able to have even half of the impact that Tatum had last season.

Now to Fultz on the Celtics.

If Fultz was drafted by the Celtics, the Kyrie Irving trade never would’ve taken place. I know it’s a very strong statement but it’s also a very true one.

It’s been a while and there’s a couple of things to consider. To start, the Irving trade was because things were going south between him and Cleveland. The Celtics never really had plans to move on from Isaiah Thomas – he was supposed to be a cornerstone of the franchise. Like with Garnett, Ainge capitalized on a bad situation and improved his team.

But if the Celtics drafted Fultz, the team would’ve had a lot of solid point guards: Thomas, Fultz and Terry Rozier. With his bad hip, Thomas would sit out the beginning of 2017-18 and mentor Fultz. The long-term plan would be to have Thomas as the bridge to the future when Fultz would become the starting point guard. Once back, it would be I.T. and Fultz sharing the starting point guard duties.

The one thing that could’ve saved Fultz from melting down in a Celtics uniform would be Brad Stevens. Could Stevens’ magic fix that God-awful shot?

Thankfully enough for the Celtics, they’ll never have to find out.