By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- And just like that, the NBA Draft is pretty important for the Boston Celtics once again.
Quite a lot has changed for Boston's basketball team over the last few weeks. As expected, Kyrie Irving is going to sign elsewhere at the end of the month, with all signs pointing toward Irving joining the Brooklyn Nets. But that was expected, and lots of fans are offering to help Irving pack his bags and load up a U-Haul.
What wasn't expected was Al Horford could also be leaving town, as was reported Tuesday evening. Horford opted out of the final year of his deal that would have paid him $30.1 million for next season, and the thought was he'd work out a three-year deal to stay in Boston long term. That is not the case, as Al has a four-year contract waiting for him somewhere.
It's not exactly an ideal way to follow up a disappointing season that saw the Celtics get bounced in the second round of the playoffs. All of that has put them in an interesting spot, and Danny Ainge has to move on to Plan B -- though we're more likely in Plan M or N territory. The days of being a title contender, or at least an Eastern Conference favorite, are over. There will be no Irving-Gordon Hayward-Horford Big 3, and Boston will now look to build around their young core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It's not a terrible position, but it isn't great either -- and it certainly isn't the one we all expected Boston to be in when Ainge traded for Irving two summers ago.
And so we enter another offseason of the great unknown. The soft rebuild for Boston starts at Thursday night's NBA Draft, where they own three first-round picks.
No. 14 (from Sacramento)
No. 20 (from L.A. Clippers)
No. 51 (second-round)
The Celtics received Sacramento's pick to complete their 2017 trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, where they sent the No. 1 overall pick (Markelle Fultz) to Philly for the No. 3 overall pick (Tatum). The pick was No. 1 overall protected, but the Celtics were hoping for much better than the No. 14 selection.
The No. 20 pick comes from the Clippers via the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis initially acquired it in a 2016 deadline day deal that sent Jeff Green to the Clippers, and then sent the pick to Boston as part of a draft night deal for the draft rights to second-round selections Deyonta Davis and Rade Zagorac.
Fittingly, the Celtics have a future first-round pick from the Grizzlies (top-6 protected next year, unprotected in 2021) from a 2015 trade that sent Green to Memphis. That future asset looks a whole lot better after Memphis sent their best player, point guard Mike Conley, to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.
This isn't viewed as a particularly strong draft, and the Celtics aren't expected to use all three of those first rounders. Ainge will likely look to turn two of those picks into a better selection. But for now, here are some options to become Celtics players of the future (or present):
PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky
6-foot-8, 228 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 15.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 52% FG
Washington may be gone by the time the Celtics select at No. 14 -- if they select at No. 14 -- but he would slide in nicely as a developmental Horford replacement. He can play multiple spots on the floor, a big plus in today's position-less game, and can score in the paint and pull down some boards. He also shot 42.3 percent from three-point land in his sophomore season.
Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
6-foot-6, 216 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 16.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 45% FG
Langford is a big and athletic shooting guard who can finish at the rim in a number of ways, though he struggled from deep in his only season with the Hoosiers, hitting on only 27 percent of his attempts. But he's versatile and owns a 6-foot-11 wingspan, so if the Celtics believe that he can eventually fix his jumper, they may call his name Thursday.
Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga
6-foot-8, 215 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 16.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 69% FG
Clarke is an undersized big man who will be 23 before he plays in the NBA, but he can defend multiple positions and has a lot of upside. He's got a high motor, can defend the paint and finish at the rim.
Goga Bitadze, C, Georgia
6-foot-11, 250 lbs
2018-19 Euroleague Stats: 12.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 55% FG
The 19-year-old big man from Georgia (the country, not the school) is a skilled low-post player who played in Serbia last year. His draft stock has risen in the months leading up to Thursday night thanks to his low post prowess, excellent passing and developing three-point range. His size is also important on the defensive end, as he averaged 2.3 blocks per game last season. As with any international player, there are questions on how he'll adapt in the NBA, but he would be an intriguing option for Boston if he's around when its their turn on the clock.
Nassir Little, F, UNC
6-foot-6, 220 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 9.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 48% FG
Little wasn't a stud and came off the bench in his only season in Chapel Hill, but he's an athletic wing who could blossom in the NBA (or be a big bust). He has the frame to be a good combo forward, but never found his three-point range in college, hitting just 27 percent from downtown.
Tyler Herro, G, Kentucky
6-foot-5, 195 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 14 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 46% FG, 36% 3-PT FG
Herro is seen as one of the best shooters in the draft, which is something the Celtics could certainly use on their team. He's limited defensively, but teams are willing to overlook those deficiencies because of his shot-making abilities.
Kevin Porter Jr., G, USC
6-foot-6, 218 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 9.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 47% FG, 41% 3-PT FG
Porter is a gifted offensive player, but maturity issues caused his draft stock to fall. He could be a steal or he could be a big bust, but is worth the risk if the Celtics hang on to their three picks and Porter is still hanging around in the low 20s.
Bol Bol, C, Oregon
7-foot-2, 235 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 21 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 56% FG, 52% 3-PT FG
There is a whole lot of buzz around Bol, who is a uniquely talented scorer in both the paint and beyond the arc. The kid is supremely gifted on the offensive end, and not just because he takes all his shots from within a few feet. And given he's the longest player in the draft, he can also protect the rim pretty well.
But a stress fracture in his foot ended his only season as a Duck after just nine games, and there are a lot of questions about his work ethic. This would be a high-risk, high-reward type pick for the Celtics.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech
6-foot-5, 205 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.0 APG, 47% FG, 37% 3-PT FG
Alexander-Walker is a versatile guard who can play either backcourt position, going from the two to the point in the middle of last season. He's also ambidextrous and can finish and shoot with either hand, which is kind of neat.
Talen Horton-Tucker, G, Iowa State
6-foot-4, 238 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 11.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 41% FG, 31% 3-PT FG
One of the youngest players in the draft, Horton-Tucker could become a great pick for a franchise that has time to let the 18-year-old develop. (He won't be 19 until November, so imagine how much fun Celtics fans could have by constantly reminding the world of his age.) He can handle the ball well and can defend multiple positions, Horton-Tucker he has some work to do in his offensive game. He put up plenty of threes last season, averaging 4.5 attempts per game, but only hit on 31 percent of those tries.
Nicolas Claxton, C, Georgia
6-foot-11, 220 lbs
2018-19 Stats: 13 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 46% FG
Limited offensively, Claxton is a solid rim protector who averaged 2.5 blocks per game last season.
No one expects Danny Ainge to sit on his hands and make all three first-round picks, as he did three years ago when Brown, Guerschon Yabulsele and Ante Zizic were all drafted by the C's. Ainge is going to be working the phones and trying to deal away at least one of those selections, potentially moving up to get higher in the lottery, or moving down and out to secure more assets for the future.
Boston has been mentioned in a handful of rumors since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers over the weekend, and that should increase now that draft day has arrived. One of the more intriguing rumors came from ESPN's Jonathan Givony on Tuesday, when he reported that Boston is among the teams looking to trade with the Pelicans for the No. 4 pick in hopes of drafting Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Garland after he played just five games before tearing the meniscus in his left knee, ending his college career. But the five-star recruit is still expected to go off the draft board early, after he dazzled scouts and NBA head honchos by averaging 16.2 points off 58.1 percent shooting. Garland has been compared to Portland star Damian Lillard, and would become Boston's starting point guard in place of Irving, should Terry Rozier also sign elsewhere. But it would cost the Celtics quite a bit to move up, a price that Ainge may not be willing to pay.
And while we're talking about fantasy trades that will cost a lot and most likely won't happen, the Celtics have also been connected to Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal. Earlier this week, the Athletic's Jordan Brenner said Beal could be Boston's "prime option" on the trade market if (when) Kyrie leaves:
One league source suggested that Washington would need to strongly consider an offer of Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and a protected pick for Beal or that Boston could offer Smart, Jaylen Brown and two future first-rounders as an alternative trade
That's a gigantic bounty for Beal, a great offensive guard who is signed for two more seasons. But if Ainge wasn't willing to part with those pieces for Anthony Davis, why would he do so for Beal? It all seems unlikely, especially with Woj reporting Wednesday that the Wizards are looking to extend Beal, not trade him.
Want another one? Teams have reportedly been asking about Jaylen Brown.
So if the Celtics want to jump high up into the lottery, it's likely going to cost them Brown or the future Memphis pick.
It's more likely the Celtics will be looking to add an expiring contract, perhaps picking up another future asset to help a team shed some cap space for this summer. Tristan Thompson, Evan Fournier, Evan Rutner and Kent Bazemore fit that bill, and are names that could become connected to the Celtics on Thursday night or in the near future.
Though with Thursday morning's report that the Celtics are looking to dump Aron Baynes and his contract to clear cap space, maybe they won't be taking on any contracts. Boy is Thursday going to be a busy day for the Boston Celtics.
There are going to be rumors aplenty throughout the draft, as Ainge and company look to get the Celtics back on track -- any track -- after a trying few weeks. Expect some picks, a trade or two, and a whole lot of rumors flying around this draft day and night.
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