“Danny Ainge fleeced Elton Brand.”

“Danny Ainge got one over on us again.”

“Brand is too inexperienced for a championship franchise.”

I’m still sweating from the post-draft hot takes. The Sixers went into the 2019 NBA Draft with five picks including three in the top 35 and came away with one player, a 2-way candidate, and a handful of future seconds and cash. Sixers’ fans were convinced the Sixers were cheap and hopeless while the savvy Celtics led by their brilliant general manager would make everything work.

Oops.

The Draft Night Narrative

As the story goes, the Celtics figured out that the Sixers wanted Thybulle and extorted the #33 pick to force the Sixers to move up to take him. The Celtics then used the #33 pick to take Carsen Edwards, who the Sixers were set to take at #34. The Sixers then panicked, sold off #34 for some future seconds, dumped the rest of their 2nds for cash and cap considerations, and declared “Mission Accomplished!” while everybody looked on confused.

In the aftermath, Elton Brand assured everybody there was a plan that required every dollar of cap space and every roster spot, and therefore they simply couldn’t make those other picks. Nobody believed him.

The Draft Night Known and Unknown

Let’s start with the biggest known: it is not a “fleecing” when you are forced to give up a second round pick. Let me repeat it louder:

YOU CAN’T BE FLEECED OUT OF ONE SECOND ROUND PICK

You can get a high second round pick for a couple of future seconds and/or cash every year. It’s simply not a fleecing to lose out on one second round pick. The Sixers practically give them away every year anyway. It’s like being upset that somebody else saw a penny on the ground first.

Anyway, we know now that the Sixers were the team that shut down Thybulle right away and promised to draft him. We know that he didn’t work out for any other teams and did not attempt to improve his draft stock at all in a weak and unsettled draft. We don’t know how high he might have risen had he not shut it down. While giving up a pick to move up seems bad, it would’ve been worse if he was drafted by an unexpected team or if the Sixers had to move up higher to get him. Just because the Sixers were forced to trade up as a result of their interest, it does not mean that not showing interest would have had a better outcome.

Drafting a player in the NBA is not as simple as simply declaring “we draft him” – many players try to influence where they go. It is more prevalent in the second round than the first, but it does happen. It is possible that the Celtics called Thybulle, he advised that he was promised by the Sixers and would prefer to play there, and Boston worked out a deal as a result. Why would Boston agree to do that if they liked Thybulle? Well, Thybulle and Jaylen Brown are represented by the same agency. Damaging relationships with agents over the #20 pick in the draft is generally not a good long term strategy.

But whatever the reason, the Sixers traded up to ensure they got their man. The Sixers didn’t take a single other player for the 15 man roster. Elton Brand didn’t hide the ball, he stated openly that the Sixers did not intend to take any further players because of the lack of roster and cap space. Given how free agency has gone, Elton Brand was not lying – they needed every penny of cap space and the roster only has a few spots left and a few needs left.

So what about Carsen Edwards? While he was a Sixers’ Twitter favorite, there’s been no indication whatsoever that the Sixers were ever interested in him in any way, and the construction of their roster with not a single player under 6’4″ further cements that he was never in the plans. The Sixers were never going to make that pick. It would’ve been just another pick shipped off for future seconds and cash. It was frustrating watching the Sixers do what they did on draft night, but they did it knowing the plan that the fans did not. By some reports, the Horford and Butler deals were already in place before the draft. Sixers fans were impatient. The Sixers knew what they were doing.

On Boston’s side? Memphis traded up ahead of them immediately and took Brandon Clarke. While it hasn’t been confirmed that Clarke was their target, Boston spent the entire clock before drafting another PF. Boston’s lust for another asset may have cost them a player they were interested in. Sometimes wringing out every asset has its drawbacks. If they took Edwards to keep him from the Sixers, they look foolish now. Not only were the Sixers extremely unlikely to draft him, he has no clear path to playing time on a Boston squad heavy on guards and scorers and light on legitimate big men.

All this is a really long way of saying that we know that the Sixers entered the draft with a plan to draft Thybulle and nobody else, and they executed that plan. Regardless of what you think of the players involved, that was the Sixers’ plan. If they had to give up a 2nd to make it happen rather than give it up for more future seconds, so be it. What was Boston’s plan? Who knows.

Sixers Free Agency

The Sixers shortened their rotation to seven men in their heartbreaking seven game series against Toronto. Five of those seven players were free agents after the season. Backup C clearly needed to be a priority. Overall depth needed to be a priority. But most importantly, the Sixers needed to re-sign or replace those five men.

Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and James Ennis have already re-signed. Jimmy Butler was traded for his replacement in Josh Richardson and roughly $18M in immediately usable cap space. JJ Redick was replaced by Al Horford, which solved the backup C problem at the same time. The depth, well, the depth will probably still be an issue, with functional rookie Zhaire Smith and actual rookie Matisse Thybulle likely to be counted on for immediate minutes and Kyle O’Quinn representing just a moderate upgrade over Boban. But when you have the starting lineup the Sixers have, depth will always be an issue.

Celtics Free Agency

The Celtics shortened their rotation to seven men in their relatively un-competitive five game series against Milwaukee, though one of those was an injury fill-in. Three of the other six were free agents after the season. The Celtics needed to get bigger, and they needed to find players who could defend bigger players.

Kyrie Irving is gone. Al Horford is gone. Marcus Morris is gone. The Celtics failed to re-sign any of their free agents. The Celtics added Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie Irving. While Walker is a good replacement, he is not quite on Irving’s level. The Celtics added…checks…nobody to replace Al Horford or Marcus Morris. The only notable player the Celtics added this offseason was Enes Kanter, a nice backup center option to replace Aron Baynes, but not a good enough defender to survive as a starter.

If the Celtics were close last year, this would be a disappointing offseason taking a step backward and not addressing critical needs. Given that the Celtics weren’t particularly close, it’s fair to ask what was Boston’s plan? Who knows.

Sixers Roster and Assets

  Starters Reserves Bench
PG Ben Simmons Shake Milton  
SG Josh Richardson Zhaire Smith  
SF Tobias Harris Matisse Thybulle James Ennis
PF Al Horford Mike Scott Jonah Bolden
C Joel Embiid Kyle O’Quinn  

Embiid, Simmons, Horford, and Harris are all under contract for the next 4+ years. Richardson and Scott are under contract for the next 2 years. Thybulle, Smith, Milton, and Bolden are under contract for 3+ years. Only Ennis and O’Quinn could be free agents after this season, with Ennis holding a player option.

The Sixers have traded their 2020 1st round pick and 2022 2nd round pick, and the Rockets have the right to swap 2021 2nds. The Sixers will receive the Thunder’s 2020 1st if the Thunder are a top 10 team, which should be quite close. The Sixers also have Atlanta, New York, and Dallas’s 2020 2nd round picks, New York and Denver’s 2021 2nd round picks, Toronto’s 2022 2nd round pick, and a 2023 2nd round pick from a team to be determined.

The Sixers will probably trade or sell most of those second round picks. It happens.

Celtics Roster and Assets

  Starters Reserves Bench Deeper Bench
PG Kemba Walker Marcus Smart Brad Wanamaker  
SG Jaylen Brown Carsen Edwards    
SF Gordon Hayward Semi Ojeleye Romeo Langford  
PF Jayson Tatum Grant Williams Guerschon Yabusele  
C Enes Kanter Robert Williams Daniel Theis Vincent Poirier

Almost everybody on the Celtics is expiring in two years. Walker and their 2019 first round picks have 4 year contracts, Smart and Williams have 3+ year contracts, and Jaylen Brown hits RFA after this season. They will have no practical cap space in 2020 unless they renounce Brown and move a few other contracts, so the Celtics are stuck in this configuration for this year and next, absent a big trade. They have a big decision to make next year, as giving Brown a big extension will significantly impact their cap situation in 2021-2022.

Boston will receive Memphis’s 2020 1st round pick (top 6 protected) or 2021 1st round pick (unprotected). Boston has no other draft obligations in or out.

What is Boston’s plan? Who knows.

Analysis

After this year’s draft, all the talk was about how the experienced Ainge took advantage of the inexperienced Brand. How shortsighted that was.

Take a step back. Look at both rosters. I am sure Brad Stevens will get the most out of his roster. But the Celtics, as constructed, are even more desperately lacking in quality size than they were last year. They have less play-making. Even the most optimistic of projections for Boston’s young and unknown players leaves Boston trailing far behind Milwaukee and Philly in both size and talent. Stevens has made a career of over-performing with under-talented groups, but that wins you a first round series in the NBA, nothing more.

There is no guesswork involved with the Sixers. They head into the 2019 season with what is likely to be a top 2 starting lineup in the NBA. While the depth is iffy, when it’s playoff time and benches shorten, the Sixers are in far better position than they were last year. Anything less than a trip to the Finals will be considered a disappointment for this group.

Long term, the Celtics have no clear plan. They have a hodgepodge of parts that don’t quite fit right and players coming up for extension that haven’t fully established themselves yet. Most of the team will be free agents within two years, and striking out in the 2021 Free Agency could be truly disastrous. The Celtics passed up numerous opportunities to convert a few of their good players and assets into one great player and are now left with a team in desperate need of stars and no great way to get one.

Long term, the Sixers have their guys under contract. They have a few spots reserved for young guys, and there will likely be some shuffling at the bottom of the roster each year, but they are going to ride this group for as long as they can. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Conclusion

Elton Brand has been the GM for less than one year and has executed three high profile trades (Butler, Harris, Richardson) and navigated a tricky free agency coming out as a clear winner with a championship roster. Danny Ainge has been the GM since 2003. The Celtics have won one title in his tenure, in 2007-08, and made the Finals in 2009-10. Since then, the Celtics have consistently put a playoff product on the floor, but have never put together a true contending roster, largely because Ainge has been so deadset on collecting assets, he has forgotten the point of collecting assets in the first place.

So Ainge got an extra second round pick from Brand. Good for him. Ainge can have all the assets he wants. Brand uses the assets to execute a plan and a vision that can lead to a championship.

Who’s the clueless one?