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June 18, 2017

Grading the trade: Sixers acquire top overall pick Markelle Fultz from Celtics

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While trying to gather my thoughts on the blockbuster trade that will allow the Sixers to draft University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz with the No. 1-overall pick of Thursday’s NBA Draft, I tried to step back and look at how the Sixers got here. Not the whole Process, just the two major moves that allowed the Sixers to move up and someone who just last night expressed his affinity for Belly Fillers at Larry’s Steaks.

So, I went back and reread the trade grade columns for the deals that originally landed the Sixers what became the unprotected 2018 Lakers pick and the unprotected 2019 Kings pick. Even if some of the predictions were way off-base — I didn’t anticipate the Lakers navigating the draft lottery over the years like the Night Fox handles that laser field — the positive grades I gave the Sixers at the time of the deals have stood up fairly well.

Looking back at those Sam Hinkie specials, they were layups. Anyone who heavily criticized the Sixers for those deals at the time (and there were more a few people happy to do) had an agenda and weren’t going to give them credit for anything. Their benefits were apparent immediately.

Those deals are totally different from the trade Bryan Colangelo made over this weekend. Hinkie, still in asset collection mode while the Sixers piled up losses, simply used the cap space he was hoarding and a toolsy point guard with a broken jumper to acquire valuable draft picks and other future assets.

Those assets have now been at least partially cashed in for a 6-foot-4, 195-pound point guard named Markelle Fultz, which is why it’s even harder to make a snap judgment. But what fun would it be if I didn’t make a snap judgment?

First, let’s take a look at the reported deal.

The Trade

Celtics receive: No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, 2018 Lakers first-round pick (protected 1, 6-30) OR 2019 Kings unprotected first-round pick

Sixers receive: No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (Markelle Fultz)

Credit our guy Derek Bodner for the reporting on the pick protections.

Why the Celtics did the trade

Since the lottery, I believed that drafting Fultz was somewhat of a no-brainer for the Celtics, a long-term piece who provided them with a level of upside that the rest of their roster simply doesn’t have. Well, I thought wrong.

The decision could be motivated by one of two things:

1.    The Celtics don’t view Fultz as the top player in the draft and felt comfortable picking up some compensation along with whoever they will pick at 3.

2.    The Celtics want to use that extra draft pick to sweeten the pot in a trade for an established vet (Jimmy Butler?), who they could then turn around pair with one of their free-agent targets (Gordon Hayward?).

Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Fultz certainly isn’t on the LeBron or even Karl Towns tier of top overall picks, but I do think his performance makes him worthy of the designation. And if this is a simple difference in player evaluation between Danny Ainge and Bryan Colangelo, it’s not the Sixers who are going against the grain. Fultz is a very talented lead guard:

Many evaluators feel there’s a decent gap between Fultz and the rest of the field, too. Ainge clearly doesn’t, so he’ll draft a player at 3 (Josh Jackson, perhaps?) and add one more pick to his war chest of assets. Or Boston will keep it moving and trade those picks for an established veteran:

Whatever the reason for the Celtics running away from the top pick, the Sixers are going to have the rare number one pick who might feel a tad disrespected and play with a chip on his shoulder. They even had Fultz take a photo op with the banners! Not the banners!

Why the Sixers did the trade

The Sixers’ opinion of Fultz is clearly more in line with everyone else’s (myself included!). They even got Fultz together for a pic with their other core players with the exception of Dario Saric.

To the Sixers, a Fultz in the hand is worth two in the bush, or something like that. Here is their thinking! Right on social media! This is it!

The Sixers felt that moving up two spots in the draft was worth giving up one of their two valuable lottery tickets. But before we go any further, we have to discuss the goofy protections on that pick. This is NBA negotiating at its most detailed/absurd and I love every single part about it.

Specifically, THE DONCIC CLAUSE is the best. For the uninitiated, that is the Top-1 protection on the Lakers pick which protects the Sixers from missing out on a potential generational talent in Slovenian teenager Luka Doncic:

Both teams are protected, though, because Boston can’t go any lower than five or they receive the unprotected Kings pick in 2019 instead. I personally think the Lakers are going to stink in 2017-18 but that is a subject for another day. If the Lakers are awful, though, the lottery will be pretty nerve-wracking in both Boston and Philly.


Colangelo is the one in charge, but I support the process behind this move. I believe Fultz is the best player in this draft class and is also a great potential fit running next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Colangelo was also able to protect himself from missing out on Doncic while surrendering only one of his two golden lottery tickets. As far as the decision making is concerned, I give Colangelo and the Sixers an A-/B+ on this trade.

As for the results, though? We’re going to have to watch Markelle Fultz and the other lottery picks play some NBA basketball before we can even start to formulate a guess on that front.

There is no verdict, not yet anyway. For the Sixers, we finally get to judge more than The Process. And that's an encouraging step.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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