Owning the No1 pick in the draft comes with a certain amount of pressure; namely that you’re expected to recruit a franchise-altering superstar.
But for every LeBron James or Tim Duncan, there’s a Kwame Brown or Anthony Bennett.
Having earned the right to pick first on June 22, however, the Boston Celtics are in a position where they almost can’t go wrong.
Firstly, consensus opinion deems this the strongest draft class since 2003, when James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade made up four of the first five picks. The fifth was the spectacular bust by the Detroit Pistons of choosing Darko Milicic at No2, ahead of some modern day greats.
But given they can set the agenda, how the 2017 draft pans out with Boston will be fascinating as they choose from a guard-heavy class with a roster already possessing three excellent players in that position in Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley, so the need to find ‘a superstar’ isn’t as great. Unlike the team picking at No2, the LA Lakers, and it’s very clear who they want: Lonzo Ball.
The 19-year-old is a California native and UCLA alumni who has made his feelings clear that if it comes to the crunch, Los Angeles is where he wants to play.
Father LaVar has, predictability, gone further, declaring: “That’s all we’re working out for is the Lakers. Just the Lakers. There’s nobody else that we need to work out for.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have carefully honed a genuine collective at TD Garden. Thomas is ‘the star’ but that’s largely been through accident, rather than design. They are a team in the purest sense, hence why role players like Kelly Olynyk are able to make series-defining contributions.
A player like Ball, as wonderful as a talent as he is, bring potential headaches for an organisation with all that surrounds him: namely, LaVar who never mind already saying his son only really wants to play in LA, will make his feelings known very publicly if his boy isn’t earning superstar minutes straight away.
Consequently, one of three scenarios is likely to play out:
– Boston pass on Ball, and take either forwards Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson; the type of players they definitely need. Or they go for the ‘best prospect’ in Markelle Fultz as back-up to Thomas, allowing him to learn from IT and provide insurance should his expected max contract prove too much of a financial hit.
– Or, they take Ball, recognising he’s a generational talent and a long-term franchise cornerstone, all the time bracing themselves for Lavar.
– Or, they decide to play the Lakers by leaning towards Ball but prompting Magic Johnson to get on the phone and offer to trade up in the draft.
The Lakers clearly really, really want Ball and the feeling is mutual. It’s a situation that is likely to blind Johnson, by no means experienced at the negotiating table in the NBA, into offering a significant amount just to get the deal over the line.
D’Angelo Russell will almost certainly be prepped, as Ball’s best attributes clash with the 2015 No2 selection, while there could be more picks and maybe even a Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson.
Russell doesn’t exactly add that much to Boston either, but who’s to say a trade with Chicago – in dire need of a franchise point guard – couldn’t be reached for All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler?
If Ainge is willing to work this situation he could end up with, in theory: whoever they really want in the draft, one of the Lakers’ young talents, picks plus Butler through a trade for Russell.
The Lakers, meanwhile, get Ball at No1 and everyone is happy. But while LA try to build around a teenage point guard who’s dad loves being on television, Ainge has turned already one of the top five rosters in the league into a definite championship contender.
The Ball is firmly in their court.