Mailbag: Sixth Sense (Part II)

The questions kept pouring in after we finished up Thursday's Celtics Mailbag, so we decided to tackle some more of your letters:

Q: You put my question up, but avoided answering it. -- Miles, @Bird33Ward

A: Technically, you’re right, Miles. We kicked off Thursday's mailbag with your question about who I’d pick at Nos. 6 and 17, then used it to launch into a discussion about Boston’s potential to maneuver around. Ultimately, I suggested I’d try to trade down from the sixth spot with the hope of getting someone like Croatian forward Dario Saric (or Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart) a little lower, while adding a pick to Boston's surplus.

But you asked who I'd pick at No. 6, so let’s assume the Celtics are on the clock next month and no one is biting on a trade offer. The Big Four -- Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum -- went in the top spots, so, depending on who Utah takes at No. 5, Boston will likely be looking at a group helmed by a power forward-heavy collection of Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, and Aaron Gordon (and you can include forwards Saric and Doug McDermott, along with Smart, in the conversation there, too).

There’s a little something intriguing about all six of those potential draftees. As we discussed at length on Thursday, it’s shortsighted (and dangerous) to look past any of the power forwards simply because Boston is fairly well stocked at that spot after using recent top picks on Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.

We love Randle’s NBA-ready body and his rebounding ability, but his closest comp is Brandon Bass (without the consistent mid-range jumper or the defensive versatility). We love Gordon’s athleticism and defensive talents, but many are leery of his shooting and overall offensive potential. Vonleh’s ability to rebound and stretch defenses is intriguing, but he’s also a bit raw and needs time to develop (which could be alleviated if Boston remains in rebuilding mode).

Meanwhile, you’ve got a tank of a guard in Smart; a 6-10 overseas import with unbelievable court vision and ball-handling skills in Saric; and an elite shooter with good size in McDermott.

One of those guys will be gone, but for sake of this hypothetical, let’s say all six were available to Boston at No. 6. I think my fictional Celtics big board at that point would read: Gordon, Vonleh, Randle, Smart, Saric, and McDermott. But you could honestly shuffle that deck and I'm not sure I'd disagree with how you stacked them (some may not be as convinced about Saric and McDermott, but they have the sort of skills that should help them make an immediate impact at the NBA level). There’s seemingly such little separation between those players that you can make the case that there's equal value in the range from picks No. 5-10.

What’s tough to know is if any of these players have (or will) distinguish themselves more than what we've seen via the private interview process or team workouts.

So, Miles, to (finally) answer your question: I’m leaning Gordon at the moment, but I’m still intrigued by the idea of moving around (and if Smart impresses in workouts, he could wiggle into that conversation, too). Put it this way: I'm not sure anyone knows exactly who will have the best NBA career in that group, but you get the sense that they all have the potential to be very good.

Best-case scenario for Boston at No. 17 is to have a scorer slide, but there should be no shortage of intriguing options at that mid-first-round spot. If someone like a Zach LaVine or Nik Stauskas was still available, that could be a steal for Boston.

Q: Could Aaron Gordon possibly play small forward for the Celtics if they draft him? -- Devin (Morgantown, W.V.)

A: Part of the intrigue with Gordon is his ability to guard multiple positions. The whole argument about "best player available" aside, we keep thinking about Boston's needs after last season and coach Brad Stevens’ desire to establish a defensive DNA. While Boston certainly needs a rim protector, and the lack of pure centers in this draft doesn't help the most glaring of needs, there's great value in having a versatile forward like Gordon that can switch on wings (particularly if Brandon Bass isn't in the team's long-term plans).

Q: Chris could you explain the "stretch" provision and how the C's could use it with Gerald Wallace’s contract? -- Mike (Chicago)

A: Starting July 1, the Celtics essentially have a two-month window in which they could waive Wallace and enact the stretch provision, whereby the remaining salary on his contract would be paid over a five-year window (two times the remaining years on the deal, plus one season). Wallace is owed $20.2 million over the next two seasons, which means Boston could part ways and pay him a little more than $4 million per year through the 2018-19 season.

In my eyes, there’s little reason for the Celtics to muddy up their books over the next five years to simply save $6 million in salary this season and next. Boston doesn’t need that immediate savings as it navigates the transition process. Boston appears better off swallowing hard on the $10.1 million hit this year while hoping his deal becomes more palatable as part of a trade package at some point over the next two seasons.

Is Wallace overpaid for what he brings to the table at this stage of his career? Absolutely. But he was an excellent veteran presence for a young Celtics team last season. The extreme optimist hopes that surgery on his knee and ankle helps him give a little more production on the court next season. But, if nothing else, it’s prudent to remember that taking on his contract during this transition process helped Boston secure picks from Brooklyn that could help Boston build a sustainable contender in the near future.

Q: If the C's are unable to land Kevin Love or Omer Asik via trade, what else could be done with the $10.3 million trade exemption generated in the Brooklyn swap? Would taking on the last year of a bad contract like Carlos Boozer in exchange for one of the Bulls' first-round picks make sense to Danny Ainge?? -- Mike (Chicago)

A: Interesting thought. If I'm doing my math right, I don't think the Celtics can work a deal for Boozer because of his bloated salary ($16.8 million) next season, but your head is in the right place. The Celtics have until mid July to utilize that exception and we'd be surprised if they didn't find a way to parlay it into additional assets (it was one of the hidden treasures of that Brooklyn trade). Remember that Boston doesn't necessarily have to use all $10.3 million of the exception, it can use just a chunk to facilitate a move. The idea of using it to take on the final year of a bad contract isn't a bad thought if the Celtics could get a pick out of it (the player would also become a sign-and-trade asset the following summer).

Q: The Celtics have two trade exceptions this year, right? How do you think they will use them in getting a big-time superstar or just to improve the team for the upcoming season? -- Timmy (Waltham, Mass.)

A: Boston technically has three trade exceptions available valued at $10.3 million (Paul Pierce/Brooklyn trade), $2.1 million (Courtney Lee/Memphis trade), and $283,000 (Fab Melo/Memphis trade). The latter of that trio isn't of much help, but the other two could help Boston take on salary. The $2.1 million exception doesn't expire until January 2015, so there's no tremendous rush to use that. It's the Brooklyn exception that expires in the second week of July that will encourage Boston to move quick with it as the moratorium lifts.

Q: What are the Celtics' chances of ending up with Doug McDermott? He doesn't seem to be the fit at either of the Celtics' two draft spots, but there's also the possibility they trade up or down. -- Phil (Edgewater, N.J.)

A: The guess here is that Boston is more likely to trade up from 17 than move back from 6 to get a player like McDermott. But this is why having all those extra picks in upcoming drafts is so helpful for Boston. If the Celtics really like another late lottery guy after picking at No. 6, they most certainly have the assets to help them climb if they see a potential target available.

Q: There are many mocks that have Julius Randle going very high in the lottery... Do you feel that his defensive issues are overblown? I'm having trouble with the idea that the C's might draft him over Gordon with a "best player available" mindset. -- Wes (East Hampton, N.Y.)

A: Randle is a bit of a mystery to me. Here's a guy who was in the conversation to be the No. 1 pick when the college season tipped, now he can seemingly go anywhere between No. 5-10. You watch him in action and you understand the hype, particularly because of his NBA-ready body. but the competition at that power forward position is crowded. If Randle does slide a bit because of concerns, one team in the mid-to-late lottery is going to be thrilled. You almost wish we had that NBA time machine to jump forward five years and see how these guys develop as pros to better understand where they should go in the draft.