In the NBA, when it comes to rebuilding, if you’re not close to winning a title most teams burn it all down and start over. The Pacers and the Celtics are largely in the same position of the Eastern Conference pecking order. Both teams made the playoffs in the East. Both were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. The Pacers won 45 games and the Celtics won 48 games. Neither are close to matching up with the Cavs.
Heading into last night’s draft, the public perception of the teams was that the Celtics were on the verge of contending in the East if they could add a proven All-Star. The Pacers were seen as mired in the no man’s land cycle of barely making the Playoffs and losing early, or missing them altogether.
In less than a week, that perception has been flipped directly on its head. Celtics GM Danny Ainge foolishly pinned his hopes on a weak draft. He saw his meticulous plan to accumulate three first round draft picks (3, 16, 23) and leverage them for a veteran star blow up in his face. Jimmy Butler’s name had been thrown around as a player the Celtics were targeting.
It turns out Ainge’s collection of draft picks was about as valuable as a collection of Beenie Babies. The Celtics had the misfortune of having the third pick in a two man draft. They couldn’t find any takers for the #3 pick, and couldn’t move up to one of the top two spots to take Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. Ainge had to eat the pick.
Pacers GM Larry Bird wasn’t burned by the subpar draft. He had the foresight to make pre-draft trades for point guard Jeff Teague and forward Thaddeus Young. The moves vault the Pacers from the middle of the pack to the top of a weak Eastern Conference, and all he gave up for the haul was George Hill and a the 20th overall pick.
Today in The Herd, Colin said that Bird’s shrewd acquisitions have turned the Pacers from afterthoughts into the second best team in the East. Nobody saw it coming.
“The reason Larry Bird had a great night, because Larry Bird knew this is a weak draft. And the Indiana Pacers are now the second best team in the East. Why? Because they got Jeff Teague. Unlike Boston and Philadelphia, Indiana didn’t want to bottom out. They wanted to win games, reward their fans, and remain viable.”
The Pacers now have a core group of Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young and an emerging Myles Turner. The Celtics were forced to use the third pick, and took Cal swingman Jaylen Brown. Even if he turns out to be a decent player, he won’t do much to help the Celtics contend next year.
The NFL absolute truth that accumulating draft picks is always the best way to rebuild a team doesn’t equally apply to the NBA. Just ask Danny Ainge, he’s still looking to trade the third pick.