Celtics' future is brighter than Sixers'

The Celtics' Isaiah Thomas drives past the Sixers' Hollis Thompson. Thomas is a young player who Boston can rely on but doesn't count much against the salary cap.
The Celtics' Isaiah Thomas drives past the Sixers' Hollis Thompson. Thomas is a young player who Boston can rely on but doesn't count much against the salary cap. (MICHAEL DWYER / Associated Press)
Posted: March 20, 2016

There was a time, not too long ago, when the 76ers' future appeared brighter than that of the Boston Celtics.

Smart decisions over an extended period of time by the Celtics combined with the Sixers' focus on acquiring assets over much-needed players have proven otherwise.

And it might be a long time before the Sixers can reach the Celtics' level unless they're lucky.

While the Sixers (9-60) felt it was best to extend their tank job into a third straight season, the Celtics (39-30), as of Friday night, had the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The top eight teams advance to the playoffs.

But here's something some folks in Philly might not know about the Boston squad that will face the Sixers Sunday evening at Wells Fargo Center: At this moment, they'll have the most picks of any team in June's NBA draft and plenty of cap space to go after A-list free agents to pair with all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas.

"They are in a great position," said a league executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "If they want to make a trade, then they have a lot of picks to make a trade to get a good player.

"Meanwhile, everything has to go perfect for the Sixers to have a chance. They have to get the No. 1 pick this year. Joel Embiid has to be a star player. They have to get the [Los Angeles] Lakers' pick. They have to have [Dario] Saric as a great player and [he] has come over. So everything has to to be perfect basically for the Sixers."

With 13 games left, they have a five-loss cushion over the Lakers (14-55) to finish with the league's worst record. The last-place team will get a 25 percent chance to win the first pick at May's draft lottery.

The Sixers would also get the Lakers pick if Los Angeles falls out of the top three at the lottery. The Sixers are also expected to receive protected first-round picks from Miami (top 10) and Oklahoma City (top 15). The Heat pick would have been 23rd and the Thunder 26th had the NBA regular season concluded Friday night. The Sixers would also have the right to swap first-round picks with the Sacramento Kings. So if the Kings get the first pick, the Sixers will take it.

However, the Sixers will send their lone second-round pick, expected to be 31, to Boston due to their being a lottery team.

The Celtics will also receive the Brooklyn Nets', the protected Dallas Mavericks' (top seven) and Minnesota Timberwolves' (top 12) first-round picks in addition to their own.

The Nets had the league's fourth-worst record heading into Saturday's matchup with the Detroit Pistons.

The Celtics would also pick 15th for the Mavericks and 21st for themselves if the regular-season ended Friday. With the league's fifth-worst record, Minnesota would keep its pick.

In that instance, the Celtics would get a second-rounder from the Timberwolves in June and next summer.

This summer's second-round from Minnesota would be the 35th pick. The Celtics would also receive the 43rd, 53nd (Miami) and 58th (Cleveland) picks of the second round.

So in addition to being 30 games ahead of the Sixers, they have more assets to take the team to the next level.

And this is just the beginning.

Boston has the rights to swap first-round pick with Brooklyn in 2017. The Cavs and Los Angeles Clippers will also have give up their 2017 second-round picks to the Celtics.

In 2018, they get Brooklyn's pick and the protected Memphis Grizzlies pick (top 12) in the first round. The Celtics also will get second-rounders from the Detroit Pistons (2019) and Heat (2020).

Boston also only has around $34 million locked up in guaranteed salaries for next season, allowing it to go after top-notch free agents this summer. The Sixers will have around $24.5 million tied up. The salary cap for NBA teams could reach $90-92 million next season.

Having $9.5 million more available than the Celtics is nothing when you take into account that Boston will pay shooting guard Avery Bradley around $8.27 million next season, Thomas $6.59 and Jae Crowder $6.30.

Those three are solid players to build around, while the Sixers have yet to seriously construct a team outside of having a logjam at the center position with Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. And Embiid has yet to play due to two right foot surgeries since being drafted third overall in 2014.

But one can argue that Thomas and Crowder were steals. They both were backups at their previous stops, Thomas in Phoenix and Crowder in Dallas.

Boston received Crowder, Brandon Wright, Jameer Nelson, a first-rounder, and a second-rounder as well as a $12.9 million trade exception in exchange for Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell on Dec. 18, 2015. The Celtics signed Crowder to a five-year, $35 million deal in the offseason.

Two months after trading for him, the Celtics sent Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round draft pick they previously acquired from the Cavs in exchange for Thomas at the 2014-15 trade deadline.

The Sixers, however, haven't traded for a player to help the team on the court. They focused instead on taking in bad contracts to also receive future assets.

But they acquired Noel and a first-round pick that turned out to be Saric (2014) from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for former all-star point guard Jrue Holiday during the 2013 NBA draft.

They are high on Saric, who plans to get out of his contract with Anadolus Efes of the Turkish Basketball League this summer.

The Sixers believe that the Celtics were able to be in a position to acquire Crowder and all their first-rounders comes after acquiring the types of players that have trade value when its time to rebuild.

A prime example is their being able to receive the Brooklyn picks in exchange for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry in July 2013.

"Boston has a really good season, so far, and has positioned themselves well to try to take advantage of opportunities," Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie said. "But one of the main ways they've done it was by making high qualities decisions over a long period of time.

"We are thinking about players that helped them now that they drafted Avery, [Jared] Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart. I think people forget about all the good draft picks they made a decade ago like Perk [Kendrick Perkins], Rondo, Gerald Green and Delonte West, and Ryan Gomes and how all those types of things live on [via trades for new talent or draft picks] in today's Boston team as well."

Perhaps.

But the Sixers are way behind the Celtics in the standings and in the rebuilding process.

kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

www.philly.com/Sixersblog

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