Nearly six years removed from the infamous Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade, the Boston Celtics’ treasure chest of assets nearly is empty. All that remains is a future first-round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies.
However, the value of that pick, once viewed by many as one of the most attractive trade chips in the NBA, is depreciating at an alarming rate.
Before we go any further, let’s explain the complicated nature of the pick, which the Celtics acquired in the 2015 Jeff Green trade.
It was top-eight protected in the 2019 Draft. Since the Grizzlies landed at No. 2 in the lottery, the pick conveyed to 2020, when it will be top-six protected. If Memphis lands in the top six in the 2020 draft, the pick will convey to 2021, its final destination, when it will be unprotected. So, if the pick lands outside the top six next year, the Celtics must take it, wherever it is. But if it conveys to 2021, the Celtics will take it without any protections.
Translation: There’s a chance the Celtics wind up with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NBA Draft. That’s the obvious pie in the sky if you’re a Green Teamer.
Hours before the 2019 draft, the chances of that scenario coming to fruition seemed relatively good. At worst, Boston seemed primed to land a top-five selection in a couple of years. The Grizzlies were a day removed from trading franchise guard Mike Conley, the first step in what should be a lengthy rebuild.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, what’s happened since that point should be cause for concern.
First of all, the Grizzlies drafted point guard Ja Morant, a player who has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook. The Murray State product has a chance to form a great one-two punch with power forward Jaren Jackson Jr., whom Memphis selected with the fourth pick in last year’s draft.
But the Grizzlies didn’t just draft a potential face of the franchise and call off the rest of the offseason. Check out this list of players they’ve added — via trades, free agency or otherwise — in the three weeks since:
(This includes the players acquired in the Conley deal, which wasn’t made official until last Saturday.)
— Grayson Allen
— Jae Crowder
— Dwight Howard
— Andre Iguodala
— Brandon Clarke (No. 21 pick in 2019 draft)
— Josh Jackson
— De’Anthony Melton
— Solomon Hill
— Miles Plumlee
— Tyus Jones
Now, there’s more to this list than meets the eye.
Multiple reports indicate Memphis intends to trade and/or buy out both Howard and Iguodala. Similarly, the Grizzlies reportedly are exploring a sign-and-trade involving restricted free agent Justin Holiday. They clearly want to acquire more assets.
(Also worth nothing is the re-signing of Delon Wright, an underrated backup point guard who averaged over 12 points per game last season.)
Obviously, none of the aforementioned players are going to make Memphis a contender overnight. The reality is that the Grizzlies are at least a few years away from making the playoffs, meaning the Celtics probably will land a lottery pick in either of the next two drafts.
But a top three pick in two years? A legitimate, blue-chip asset? That fantasy is in danger of remaining just that.
This has been a sneaky-good offseason for the Grizzlies. They’ve surrounded Morant and Jackson with strong culture guys in Crowder and Plumlee, added young, talented guards in Jones and Allen and acquired Josh Jackson, the No. 4 pick in the 2017 draft.
Again, these aren’t players who will put the Grizzlies on the playoff doorstep anytime soon. But if this group comes together, and Morant proves to be legit, they could be better than expected, thus accelerating the rebuild. This could be a team that finishes with something like the 10th worst record in the NBA.
And that’s problematic for Boston, which needs Memphis to be terrible.