A week and a half ago, it was reported that Markelle Fultz would work out only with the Celtics, that he said he "felt like he belonged" in Boston. He went on to work out with the Lakers and Sixers, and now, just five days before the NBA draft, he’s Philly-bound. The NBA: Where that happens.
On Saturday, after a three-hour car ride from his hometown, Fultz, wearing a black Sixers hat, showed up to work out for the team at its practice facility in New Jersey — the Sixers’ final formality before agreeing to the deal with the Celtics. It was more than a workout. The event felt like a soft opening to a luxurious — and expensive — new restaurant. The Sixers invited all media, allowing them to watch all of Fultz’s drills and later ask questions of the top prospect, and the team also promoted him and the event heavily on social media, even livestreaming it. All the while Joel Embiid hinted at the foregone conclusion that Fultz would be his new teammate.
Less than an hour after the media availability with Fultz wrapped up, the inevitable was confirmed.
By adding Fultz to a core that already includes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric, the Sixers have fulfilled the process started by now-internet deity Sam Hinkie, whose seeds reap rewards in his absence — and even though it may not be to his liking. Barring injury, the Sixers are bound to have a competitive core for years. They’re like the young Timberwolves team we’ve been expecting, but if they added yet another piece. Get excited.
The reported deal includes a pick swap this year between both teams, with the Sixers acquiring the rights to the no. 1 overall pick in the draft, and the Celtics obtaining the no. 3 pick; the Sixers will also be sending next year’s first-round pick via the Lakers with specific protections (it goes to Boston if it falls between two and five) — if it falls outside of those protections, Philly’s 2019 first-round pick via the Kings will be conveyed. Regardless, this means Boston currently has eight first-round picks in the next three drafts. That’s almost three first-rounders per draft, and while the protections are what’s important, there are reports that the Celtics are hoping to reroute the picks to net them the superstar they need.
Given that the Celtics are likely not done dealing, we can’t declare a winner of the trade yet. But the Sixers essentially gave the Celtics only two first-round picks, suggesting they stood their ground and got Fultz while keeping one of their valuable future first-rounders.
For Danny Ainge and the Celtics, this trade decides their future in many ways. If Fultz becomes a transcendent superstar, it’s an incredible swing-and-miss. If they eat their dozens of picks and continue their trend of almost-trades, it’s an even bigger indictment of the asset-collection strategy. The outcomes that would justify this move are if whoever they take at no. 3 (see: Josh Jackson) becomes a franchise player, or if they flip their picks for a superstar — the more expected outcome. Paul George? Jimmy Butler? Anthony Davis in a year?
There’s little precedent to a trade of this magnitude, but history says the team that gives up the no. 1 pick in the draft typically fares pretty well. The luck of the lottery already favored the Celtics. Now, it’s about turning that luck into action, and though there’s no doubt this is a risky first step, it could also be a historic one.