The NBA rewards teams for being bad. It’s an inevitable effect of the current draft system that gives the bad teams the best chance to add high draft picks. What’s great about the Boston Celtics’ current situation is that they’re being rewarded for the Brooklyn Nets being bad. When the Celtics traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, they received picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 as well as the right to swap picks in 2017, and none of those picks came with protections.
The Nets mortgaged their future trying to add pieces in the present, and because they were so eager to do so, they’ve given the Celtics far more than they intended. Brooklyn had hoped the trade would make them good enough to challenge the rest of the East and compete for a championship. If the gamble had paid off, a few lean years would’ve been worth it. Unfortunately, the Nets only mustered one playoff series win, and their veteran team became an aged team in an instant.
Unprotected draft picks are rarely traded. Teams that are likely to end the season high in the lottery don’t trade their draft picks, and better teams still add protections to the future picks they trade away as an added precaution. That the Nets didn’t try to negotiate in these precautions shows how little they considered the ramifications the trade could potentially have on their franchise’s long-term success.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have timed the Nets’ downfall perfectly to reap the benefits of their losing ways over the next three years. Sitting at 3-11, the Nets look pretty dismal. Only the 0-16 Sixers are worse in the East, and that team is trying to fail. Pierce and Garnett have both moved on, Deron Williams is in Dallas and Joe Johnson is 34 and looking downright terrible. The team has cap space next year, but so does everyone else. There’s little reason to think an impactful free agent would go to Brooklyn when they could go literally anywhere else, and without a first-round draft pick until 2019, the Nets have few avenues to add players and get significantly better.
The Celtics own the Nets’ next three drafts and are in a great position to make the most of those picks. Usually, the top prospects go to bad teams and often struggle to flourish or develop bad habits when they’re drafted to less than stellar environments (see Cousins, DeMarcus). The Celtics will be drafting at the top of the draft board for the next three years, but they’ll still have a good environment for those rookies to come in and develop.
Ben Simmons is looking great in college right now, and thanks to the Nets, the Celtics have a good chance of adding him to a roster with a lot of solid pieces already in place to help him grow to his full potential. If the Nets had asked for any sort of protection to those picks, it wouldn’t be possible. It’s better like this Brooklyn; you’d probably just screw the kid up anyway.