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Celtics With More Tricks Up Their Sleeve

By Charles Jay 

So the hot rumor is that the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are going to be swapping picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, with the objective, supposedly, for Philadelphia to get its hands on Markelle Fultz, the terrifically talented guard out of the University of Washington, who was the bright light in an otherwise dreary season for the Huskies.

The Sixers are probably the most numbers-centric team in the NBA, and their model kind of resembled that of the Houston Astros, in that they were just fine with losing big for a few seasons while stockpiling young talent. But some of those plans went adrift with injuries to players like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel.

Embiid finally got to play this season, and he emerged as one of the game's next superstars. Noel got traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Simmons has yet to hit the court in the NBA. But there's already been a documentary made about him, appropriately entitled "One and Done."

One of the concerns you've got to have with the likes of Simmons and Fultz is that they played for teams that couldn't even make it to a post-season tournament, and when we say that, we don't just mean the NCAA. There was no NIT; not CBI.

If you are a college program and bringing in someone who is supposed to have the kind of impact Simmons and Fultz are supposed to have, you'd seem to have a right to expect that they would be "transformational" types, but if that's the case, we didn't see evidence of it.

And so the kind of thing that scouts and some members of the media refer to - "making your teammates better" - is something for which the jury is still out. Keep in mind that Simmons is being looked at as a guy this offense will flow through, while Fultz is actually considered a point guard. The Sixers, who are woefully thin in the backcourt and overloaded up front, are obviously looking for some answers back there.

Boston is not as knee-deep in the world of analytics as Philly or, say, the Houston Astros, but they are doing something all of the Harvard MBA-types would applaud, which is to stack the deck with draft choices and hope that some of them come through in a big way.

That is how the Eastern Conference regular season champs got this #1 selection - in the deal with the Brooklyn Nets, who paid dearly to get Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce so they could be in "win now" mode. They won a little, but the Celtics stand to win a lot. They have a forward-thinking coach in Brad Stevens, and Danny Ainge, who heads up the basketball operation, is not known to be a dummy.

Ainge has people in the backcourt already, including a point guard who can score a ton (Isaiah Thomas), and he is said to be enamored with Josh Jackson, the "one-and-done" kid from Kansas, who, in a draft that seems to have a lot of guys at the "1" spot may indeed be the best player. He is "athletic," as they say (I figured they're all pretty athletic), but is also versatile, and teams like his potential as an NBA defender. The Celtics could also use somebody at the forward spot who can supply a little offensive punch. There is supposedly some interest in free agent Gordon Hayward, who played for Stevens at Butler, but the Celts may not be able to swing that, especially with Utah's ability to offer more.

So Jackson would be the guy who serves Boston best. Why wouldn't Ainge take him anyway with the #1 pick? Well, he might be tempted to do that, but this can't become an obvious thing, because the Sixers would just sit back and wait for Fultz to come to them, operating on the assumption that the Lakers are going to pick Lonzo Ball.

Remember, this is a great deal for the Celtics if they can pull it off, since they get an extra first-round pick out of this - perhaps one that Philadelphia was able to get from the Lakers - and still wind up with the player they want.

Does this sound too good to be true? Maybe it is - but then again, so did a deal to build the future in exchange for two players (Garnett and Pierce) who are now retired, and another (Jason Terry) who is now 39 years old.

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