The NBA East, lately terrible, just saw two of its members fortify themselves. The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics swapped draft picks, leaving the Sixers positioned to take the point guard they didn’t have and the Celtics to add a wing to their collection of guards.
To go with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Jahlil Okafor — though one of the latter two could be traded soon — Philly will get Markelle Fultz. There’s no assurance the Sixers will become a great team or even a good one, but this is among the most impressive arrays of young talent the NBA has seen since … well, since ever.
The Celtics figure to add Josh Jackson (or Jayson Tatum) to a team that has Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder on the perimeter, Jaylen Brown on the wing and Al Horford doing the stretch-4 thing. Boston just finished first in the East — though it never looked the part once the playoffs commenced — and should be better next time. Will it be good enough to take down LeBron and Cleveland? Maybe not yet. But that’s not quite the point.
The point, as mentioned previously, is to be the Eastern power post-LeBron. Both the Sixers and Celtics, albeit to differing degrees, have undergone times of retrenching. If you’d like to call it tanking, feel free. But tanking doesn’t look so bad now, does it?
Philly has a top-three pick for the fourth consecutive season and consecutive No. 1s. Boston could have — pause for effect — seven first-round picks over the next three drafts. If you’re an Eastern team and you’ve spent nearly a decade being blunted by LeBron, you can’t feel good today: The heirs apparent just stepped forward.
The Atlanta Hawks play in the NBA East. In a conversation with esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore, new general manager Travis Schlenk said the team might be outbid for Paul Millsap. The only way that could happen is if they don’t offer a max contract. If that’s indeed their choice, it would seem the local franchise is in line to do a spot of rebuilding itself. Which it should.
The Hawks have the No. 19 pick in Thursday’s draft, five spots out of the lottery. The only lottery pick they’ve made in a decade is Taurean Prince, who went No. 12 overall last June, and they had to trade Jeff Teague to net him. There seems little for Schlenk to deal: Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent as of July 1; Tim Hardaway Jr. will be a restricted free agent; there’s little chance Kent Bazemore would draw even a low Round 1 pick in return, and nobody wants Dwight Howard.
As it stands, the only way for the Hawks to hook a prime lottery pick anytime soon is to miss the playoffs next season. (They’ve made it 10 seasons running, which isn’t always a good thing.) The Celtics’ retrenching saw them miss the postseason just once — in 2014 — and that draft brought them Smart, the No. 6 pick. They banked Brown of Wheeler High, No. 3 overall last year, due to the trade of July 2013 that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn. That windfall remains the gift that keeps on giving: Brooklyn’s pick turned out to be the No. 1 in this year’s draft and is now Philly’s; next year’s Nets No. 1 also belongs to the Celtics.
In a league driven by superstars and constrained by a salary cap, teams that don’t have the former must be aggressive and creative. Sometimes the most aggressive step is a backward one. Here endeth the lesson. (But not before this visual aid.)