• Matt Chin

The Celtics Will Likely Have to Wait for Additional Tatum Compensation

Lost in Boston’s successful season is fact that their long-time rival is playing too well for Celtics fans to have a total pie-in-the-sky outlook regarding the long-term future.

If you’re in the camp that truly believes that the Celtics had Jayson Tatum at the top of the 2017 draft board, then chalk up another bold genius move for Danny Ainge. While the Celtic rookie is flourishing in a starting role on a contending team, top-pick Markelle Fultz has appeared in only four games, and continues to be haunted by one of the most bizarre shooting mechanics narratives in recent memory.

It’s too soon to definitively conclude that Tatum will be better than Fultz, but stealing an additional draft pick from an emerging and dangerous Philadelphia 76ers team is icing on the cake, especially because it comes from the rivaled Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers are currently slotted to select at the 11th position, which is well outside of the 2 through 5 protection that Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo placed on the draft pick. Don’t expect that outlook to get much better. The teams behind Los Angeles aren’t motivated to win, and the Lakers have no incentive to lose since they don’t control their draft pick anyway.

Macro-perspective Boston fans are familiar with the Twitter handle @DidTheLakersWIN. For East Coast night owls or West Coast green teamers, browsing late-night Twitter for nightly updates on LA’s lottery spot was supposed to be fun. @DidTheNetsWin was able to provide joyful sentiments over the past few years, but rooting against the gold and purple hasn’t yielded the same results. Unfortunately, Boston fans are seeing more Laker wins than preferred, and with only 19 games left in their season, the chances that the Celtics will select in this summer’s lottery appears bleak.

If the season ended today, the Lakers pick would have only a 2.9 percent chance of falling inside of the top-3, so Celtics fans should be pessimistic about the the likelihood of being able to select in June’s lottery.

Lost in the multi-layered aspects of the draft pick conveyance is the ironic fact that current Lakers Isaiah Thomas has a degree of control in forcing the Celtics to wait another season for their compensation. Thomas, who is launching as many shots per game as any Laker since the trade deadline, seems more comfortable after leaving the drama-laden Cavaliers. As he continues to grow within his newfound role, IT is killing two birds with one stone by improving his free agency stock while simultaneously sticking it to Ainge by padding the Laker win column.

For the Anthony Davis-to-Boston enthusiasts, the Lakers success can be spun into a good thing.

In 14 games since Demarcus Cousins tore his achilles, Davis has put the Pelicans on his back by posting per-game averages of 32.6 points, 13.3 boards, and 2.4 blocks on 49.7 percent shooting. New Orleans is all in for a playoff run. In bringing in Nikola Mirotic, the Pels were one of the only teams willing to part with a 2018 first-round pick at the trade deadline, an asset that carries inflated value given the lack of available 2018-2019 cap space around the league. At 36-26, they’ve ascended to 4th place in a crowded Western Conference (though they’re just two games out of 9th place). Assuming that they make the playoffs, GM Dell Demps will probably offer Cousins a max-level salary. It is a risky proposition given the history of big men recovering from torn achilles injuries, but the prospect of displeasing Davis because the Pelicans can’t surround him with talent would be debilitating.

In other words, New Orleans looks poised to give it another ride in 2018-2019. Yes, that means another season of waiting for them to blow up the roster, but Boston may be better positioned to make a run at Davis in the summer of 2019 anyway. If the Lakers/Kings pick doesn’t convey this year, then the C’s could have as many as four first-round picks in 2019, including two lottery picks, a baseline package that should blow away any other offer for Davis in theory. For New Orleans, it may be more appealing to control your own draft picks than to take on another team’s developmental player. By Summer 2019 Gordon Hayward will be back to full-strength, and Klay Thompson could leave Golden State, meaning that Davis’ opinion of Boston’s championship outlook could be even more optimistic.

Of course, the Celtics would prefer to retain the draft pick this summer. There’s a distinct benefit in receiving it this year rather than next. Time equals value. Getting $100.00 in your pocket today is worth more than getting that $100.00 next week. It offers greater flexibility by allowing sooner control. As sweet as it would be for the “BEAT LA” fervor of Celtics nation to take the Lakers’ draft pick, fans will instead probably have to book another season of quietly rooting against a California-based team, one that is six hours north of Los Angeles on Route I-5. In the meantime, Boston fans will have to resort to enjoying compilations of Duke commit Zion Williamson dunking over child-sized high school opponents.

All statistics are accurate as of games heading into March 6, 2018. All non-cited statistics are from Basketball Reference or NBA.com

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