The NBA Draft is still a few days away, but the wheeling and dealing has already begun. According to several reports, the Celtics have agreed to a trade that will send the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's draft to the Sixers, in exchange for Philadelphia's No. 3 pick, along with the Lakers' 2018 first-round pick, which the Sixers own. The 2018 pick is protected, and if it lands between No. 2 and 5, would revert back to the Lakers. In that scenario, Philadelphia would send Sacramento's 2019 first-round pick, which they also own, to Boston. Got all that?
For the Sixers, moving up in the draft means they will likely select Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, who worked out with the team on Saturday:
Hangin' with the fellas. pic.twitter.com/KNFjdoF0gN- Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) June 18, 2017
Meanwhile, the Celtics are reportedly considering either Duke's Jayson Tatum or Kansas' Josh Jackson with the No. 3 pick, or they could also be spending between now and Thursday in seeing what these additional picks could net them in the trade market, in general manger Danny Ainge's never-ending search for a superstar.
Here are five takeaways from the deal.
1. It's all about LeBron
Ainge has exercised patience through several seasons in building the franchise back up after the dismantling of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen-Rajon Rondo Celtics, adding via trade and free agency while keeping his war chest of draft picks -- most of them acquired in the worst trade in league history with the Nets -- in order to position the team for any trade should a superstar become available.
With this swap, Ainge has managed to keep the Celtics in the lottery, add to his collection of picks, and keep the flexibility of either taking a player with the No. 3 pick, or put together a package for a star who might become available on draft night or over the next few seasons. After this trade, the Celtics will own their own first-round pick in 2018, Brooklyn's first-round pick and the Lakers. In 2019, they have their own first-rounder, along with the Clippers' and Grizzlies' selections, and potentially the Kings' pick.
When asked by ESPN's Zach Lowe whether the Cavs and Warriors' dominance meant teams should just wait it out, tear it down with an eye toward contending after LeBron's prime and whenever Golden State's dynasty ends, Ainge said: "We are definitely not in punt mode. But trading away picks and promising young players for a veteran who might be five percent better is not in our plans, either."
So, if Jimmy Butler or Paul George are available, does Ainge view them as a veteran who might be five percent better, or are they players worthy of a package of picks and youngers players? That remains to be seen. Either way, Ainge is keeping all his options open, as he should after the Cavs dominated the Celtics in a five-game series win in the Eastern Conference Finals. The gap between Cleveland and the rest of the East is not closing any time soon, and it makes sense for the Celtics to build on their 53-win season, but continue to keep an eye on building a contending team in the post-LeBron era.
2. Isaiah Thomas is still the Celtics' franchise face
When the Celtics landed the No. 1 overall pick during the Eastern Conference Finals, the question immediately became: Would Fultz and Thomas co-exist as backcourt mates? Despite both players being scoring guards instead of facilitators, both players expressed a desire to play together.
Fultz and Thomas won't be teammates, and the trade means the Celtics would rather address another need with the No. 3 pick and are comfortable moving forward with Thomas -- who is coming off a 2016-17 season in which he averaged 28.9 points and 5.9 assists -- as one of their franchise cornerstones for the long-term.
Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent after next season and could command a max contract worth upwards of $200 million. One of the best offensive players in the league, there are still concerns about committing long-term to a player who can be a liability on the defensive end as he heads into his 30s. Fultz would have represented a backup plan for the Celtics to move on from Thomas, and while Ainge is still a year out from making a decision for Thomas, the trade is an indicator Boston appears ready to commit.
3. The Sixers could have best young core in league
The same questions about fit will now surround Philadelphia's backcourt, although Ben Simmons -- who missed his entire rookie season last year while recovering from a foot injury -- can be more of a traditional point guard than Thomas and won't require the ball in his hands as much. With the addition of Fultz (19 years old) to Simmons (20), Joel Embiid (23) and Dario Saric (23), and plenty of cap room moving forward, the Sixers might have assembled the best young core in the league. Health is a concern, especially given Embiid's injury history and Simmons' foot surgery. But if healthy, the Sixers will be a scary team in a few years.
Bryan Colangelo's next move will be to use cap room and assets to fill out the rest of the roster via trades and free agency. The Sixers have gone with a youth movement for several seasons now, but now that they've assembled their core group of young talent, we'll start to see them add veterans and win-now pieces as they look to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
Trust The Process pic.twitter.com/LLNzDiBWpc- Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 17, 2017
4. Sam Hinkie continues to be validated
Departed Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie's fingerprints are all over this trade. Philly landed the No. 3 pick in the draft thanks to a pick swap with Sacramento courtesy of Hinkie. The other draft picks in this trade -- the Lakers' 2018 protected first-rounder, and the Kings' 2019 first-rounder -- are also a result of transactions made during Hinkie's tenure in Philadelphia.
Zoom out further, and the entire Sixers core is a result of Hinkie's work. Embiid and Saric were drafted during his time as GM, while years of tanking for the highest lottery odds resulted in Philadelphia finally landing the No. 1 overall pick last year and selecting Simmons. Hinkie's machinations also allowed Philadelphia to acquire Boston's pick to select Fultz on Thursday.
Hinkie's vision of bottoming out and increasing the odds of putting together a young core of lottery picks is coming together, even if he's no longer around to oversee it. There's a reason why Sixers fans raised a Hinkie banner to honor him at a draft lottery party in May.
5. No way to know winner for a long time
If Fultz is a transcendent star, the Sixers won't regret giving him an additional future first-round pick in this deal. If he doesn't live up to expectations, Philly will look bad. Fultz's impact will also depend on his fit with the rest of the core group, specifically Simmons. The trade will be ultimately evaluated on whether adding Fultz completes the Sixers' transformation from rebuilding project to up-and-coming playoff contender.
For Boston, if Fultz is a superstar, then Ainge will have missed out on finding a player in the draft who could replace Thomas and bridge the gap between now and when the East is up for grabs again. But the Celtics win the trade if they grab their own transcendent talent with the No. 3 pick, or use their package of picks to acquire a superstar in the market, which would negate the impact that Fultz could have made. The evaluation remains the same in Boston: Ainge has a playoff-ready roster and plenty of assets to play with. The wait continues for whatever his final move might be to complete the puzzle.