No, Danny Ainge's Legacy Isn't on the Line After Passing on Markelle Fultz


The Vertical’s Chris Mannix opined over the weekend that Danny Ainge’s decision to trade the first overall pick, widely presumed to be Markelle Fultz, to Philadelphia puts the Celtics’ GM’s legacy on the line. Mannix is under the impression that Fultz is as close to a can’t-miss prospect as there is:

" And yet – few think so. NBA executives seem sold on Fultz. “Flat-out stud,” one exec texted late Friday, when news first broke of Boston’s interest in trading the pick. “Transformative player,” texted another. The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks – a longtime executive with the Nets – tweeted there was a “clear separation” between the first and third picks. DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony tweeted that there is a “big downgrade” going from first to third. "

Mannix is not sold on Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum, and writes that Ainge has put all the “goodwill” he’s garnered in New England from assembling a title team and presiding over a rebuild “on the table” with the decision to forgo Fultz. He concludes:

" Legacies are defined by deals like this. Ainge’s will be, too. His executive career is now intertwined with Fultz’s playing one, forever linked. The gambling executive just placed his biggest bet, against a player few around the league would bet against. "

With all due respect to Mannix, who has roots in New England, it is farfetched to suggest that this move alone could come back to bite Ainge so hard that it define his whole executive legacy.

For one, Mannix neglected to note that sore knees kept Fultz out of six of Washington’s final eight games last year, and that he shot under 65% on his free throws. Furthermore, for Fultz to play a direct role in halting the Celtics’ advancement in the foreseeable future, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will also need to stay healthy. This is far from a foregone conclusion.

As my boss Jason McIntyre noted, Ainge has now assembled this war chest of future draft picks:

2017 #3 pick (via Philly)
2017 3 2nd round picks
2018 #1 pick of the Lakers or 2019 #1 pick from Sacramento
2018 #1 pick of the Nets (good breakdown here)
2018 #1 pick (their own)
2018 4 2nd round picks
2019 #1 pick from Memphis (good breakdown here)
2019 #1 pick from LA Clippers
2019 #1 pick (their own)

I’d be willing to bet Mannix $100 that in the next seven years the Celtics advance further than the Sixers more often than not. While it may be frustrating to some that Ainge keeps compiling chips instead of pushing them all in on a big asset, IMO it’s the smart long-term play: They ain’t beating the Cavs next year or the Warriors in the next two years so long as LeBron and Durant are still alive and well. Better to kick the can down the road and hope to assemble a superteam a few years down the road when the competition landscape is less top-heavy above them.

To say that Ainge’s legacy is on the line when he already won a title, fleeced the Nets, got back to the conference finals within four years of trading Pierce and Garnett, and is this loaded up with future assets is quite hyperbolic.