As we close in on the 2017 NBA Draft, the rumor mill is really starting to heat up.
We reached a fever pitch on Friday afternoon, when reports leaked that the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are deep in talks about a potential trade of the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks (plus additional assets headed Boston's way).
The deal was't consummated as of Saturday morning, however, leaving most NBA fans wondering just how the top of the 2017 draft lottery might play out come June 22.
And as we see it, there are five distinct scenarios taking shape with less than a week before this year's big day.
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The Celtics and Sixers make the trade, and everything goes according to plan
A simple series of events logically follows from Friday's reports about the mutual interest in a trade between Boston and Philly:
The trade gets consummated, probably sometime next week after the Celtics have a chance to listen to any outstanding offers. The Sixers happily take Markelle Fultz and pray that Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid can stay healthy; the Lakers pick Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick, as we all expected from the moment the lottery order was revealed; the Celtics take either Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum; and the rest of the draft proceeds from there.
Yep, that's the easy, predictable outcome from this trade kerfuffle, yet things rarely go according to plan in the NBA.
The Lakers trade up to No. 1 and take Markelle Fultz
While all the Sixers-Celtics rumors were flying, a report that Magic Johnson is "in love" with Fultz flew under the radar.
Indeed, my first reaction to the leaks out of Boston was that the Celtics are trying to drum up even more value than the Sixers are offering. Could Boston trade down to No. 2 with Los Angeles, then perhaps turn around and move that pick to a team like the Suns or Kings to fall back to No. 4 or 5?
It won't be easy for Los Angeles to tip that first domino, though. Reports indicate Boston and Philly are looking to swap just picks, with no players being moved, as taking on additional salary could jeopardize the Celtics' cap situation in the future.
The Lakers probably don't have the right stockpile of assets to sway Ainge, but if they're that enamored with Fultz, they have to make an offer.
The trade falls through, and the Celtics pick No. 1
You never know when a seemingly done deal will fall apart, even if David Stern isn't around to put the kibosh on a potential move. (Sorry, Lakers fans. I didn't mean to bring up bad memories.)
The Celtics could get cold feet, or Philly could balk at Boston's asking price, and Ainge could be left on the clock come June 22. In that scenario, there are three potential subplots:
1. The draft goes as we expected prior to Friday, with the Celtics taking Fultz, the Lakers taking Ball, and the Sixers taking the next best player available;
2. Ainge decides either Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum is his guy and picks one of the top forwards at No. 1 — to hell with the criticism;
3. Ainge tries to outsmart everyone by taking Ball with the first pick and looking to move him to the Lakers, only for Los Angeles to happily take Fultz No. 2 and leave the Celtics trying to figure out how Ball and Isaiah Thomas fit together.
Seriously, though, don't discount the possibility Boston keeps this pick. Floating trade rumors only to back out at the last minute is a classic Celtics move.
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Lonzo Ball falls all the way to No. 5
Ball is a consensus top-two pick — unless he's not.
There's a highly unlikely yet still plausible scenario where Ball falls all the way to the Sacramento Kings with the fifth pick, if not further.
How do we get there? First, the Celtics and Sixers make their swap, meaning Fultz goes No. 1 to Philly. The Lakers then shock the world by taking Josh Jackson at No. 2, followed by Boston's selection of Jayson Tatum.
At No. 4, the Suns decide they'd rather roll the dice on Jonathan Isaac's defensive upside than enjoy the UCLA point guard's services (and the LaVar Ball Experience), giving the Kings a chance to snag the superstar point guard they so desperately need.
Of course, because we're talking about Sacramento's unpredictable front office, there's a possibility the Kings take De'Aaron Fox over Ball, opening the door for the Magic to snatch him up.
And hey, Disney World is almost the same thing as Disneyland, right?
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The Bulls (or Pacers) trump the Sixers' offer for the No. 1 pick
There's every reason to think the Celtics will have more moves to make if they complete their trade with the Sixers, with Boston likely looking to flip any extra assets acquired in that deal for a star wing like Chicago's Jimmy Butler.
Here's the thing, though — if they're going to part ways their All-Star, why wouldn't the Bulls try to make their own deal for the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick rather than using Boston as a middle-man?
That same logic holds for the Pacers and Paul George, although Indiana seems a little more committed to PG-13 than Chicago is to Butler. Still, if the Pacers finally realize George isn't coming back after next season, they could throw their hat in this pre-draft trade ring.
That's exactly what Ainge wants, after all. The more bidders for his stockpile of assets, the merrier the Celtics GM will be.