The Boston Celtics are currently locked in a battle with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, but their future is causing just as much speculation. The Celtics have decisions to make as they hold the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and have several players heading into contract years. So what should Boston do? The best option is to trade Thomas and draft Washington’s Markelle Fultz to take his place.
Many have suggested the Celtics should attempt to trade the No. 1 pick for an established veteran. I think that would be foolish from a salary cap perspective. With Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley both headed into the final year of their contracts in 2017-18, there is no way the Celtics could keep everyone on the team and stay under the cap. Especially if they want to make any moves in free agency this summer.
Fultz is the best player in this year’s draft by far and should be the No. 1 pick. There’s zero question about that. The film doesn’t lie, neither do his numbers or measureables. The kid is a stud and will be a fantastic NBA player in short order.
Meanwhile, don’t let any of this noise about Fultz being able to play anywhere on the perimeter get into your head. He’s a point guard, plain and simple. Can he play off-the-ball for stretches? Yes, but that’s not where he thrives. Fultz needs to create, he needs the ball in his hands.
If Fultz joins the Celtics as currently constructed, he’s going to ride the bench and struggle to find minutes. And if he does see starter’s minutes, Thomas will have the ball in his hands for the majority of them. Fultz’s growth will be completely stunted by playing with or behind IT4.
Thomas is 28 and just had an MVP-caliber season. But there are two things working against him right now: he’s just 5’9″ and 185 pounds, and he’s about to get really expensive. Thomas will need a new contract within the next year, and is almost certainly going to cost around $30 million a season. Can Boston really afford to invest in a wildly undersized point guard who will be on the verge of his 30th birthday? I don’t think so. The guy is going to start to break down at some point, inking him to a five-year deal that eats up a huge chunk of the team’s cap space could be disastrous. Fultz is young, cheap and ideally-sized for the modern NBA at 6’4″ and 195 pounds.
Of course, Boston could hang on to Thomas, draft Fultz and let Thomas play out the final year of his contract before making a decision. While that’s a reasonable proposal, Danny Ainge and company would risk losing Thomas for nothing in free agency. That, again, is an unacceptable scenario, especially now when his value is as high as it will ever get.
On the other hand, the Celtics could likely exchange Thomas for an All-Star level player at a position of need, while freeing up the point guard spot for Fultz. Or, they could trade Thomas for a group of picks and or young players to fill out their bench, and pursue Gordon Hayward this offseason. A team of Fultz, Hayward, Bradley, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and a collection of more young players could not only contend now, but into the future.
The best option is to try and swap Thomas for fellow pending-free agent Paul George or someone like Jimmy Butler and drafting Fultz. That would make the most sense. Again, trading the No. 1 pick and other pieces for an All-Star caliber player won’t work because it will be impossible to keep the bulk of the roster under contract once Thomas gets his massive new deal.
I realize the Celtics and their fans have an understandable emotional attachment to Thomas. The guy is amazing. But for the future of the franchise, Fultz clearly looks like the best option long-term.