The Celtics helped the Bulls’ rebuilding plan after all.
When the Bulls engaged for a third time in a year on trade talks for Jimmy Butler last month, the Celtics wouldn’t include the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft or either of the first-round picks from the Nets and Lakers they own, which project to be high lottery picks in next year’s draft.
Tuesday proved why. The Celtics landed a verbal commitment from All-Star forward Gordon Hayward without giving up any future assets.
True, they had to renounce their qualifying offer on Kelly Olynyk, who is now an unrestricted free agent. And they may have to move another salary from one of Jae Crowder, Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart to make Hayward’s four-year, $128 million deal work.
But in reuniting Hayward with Brad Stevens, his former college coach at Butler, and keeping future first-round picks while grooming recent high lottery picks like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics project to remain among the Eastern Conference elite for years to come. They should even challenge LeBron James and the Cavaliers next season for Eastern Conference supremacy.
In the short term, this is good news for the Bulls’ full rebuild, during which they hope to net high first-round picks in at least the next one or two drafts. And with so much talent migrating from the Eastern to Western Conference thus far this offseason, the Bulls weren’t alone in their rebuilding plans.
Hayward is the first to go the other direction.
In an essay posted to The Players’ Tribune, Hayward unsurprisingly cited his relationship with Stevens as a significant factor in his decision. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the Jazz last season.
The most serious the Bulls and Celtics ever got regarding Butler came in June 2016. Even when the Bulls and Celtics held less substantive talks at the February 2017 trade deadline, the Celtics in preliminary proposals wouldn’t offer this year’s first-round pick from the Nets without top-one protection on it.
And when the Celtics won the draft lottery in May, that’s exactly where the pick landed — No. 1. And while most assumed Celtics President Danny Ainge would draft Markelle Fultz, he instead traded the pick to the 76ers for this year’s No. 3 pick, which became Tatum, and a future first-round pick.
On Tuesday, that gamble is looking good. On Tuesday, Ainge landed Hayward.
Butler is in the Western Conference with Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves and the Bulls are plowing forward with a rebuilding effort centered on the haul from that trade — Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen.
Maybe one day they’ll be where Hayward and the Celtics are now.