Fans are emotionally invested in the game. Most of us don't put in nearly the same amount of hours as front office executives of NBA teams do when it comes to watching, analyzing, and planning, but we do invest plenty of time, energy, more time, and emotion into the game of basketball.
For that reason, the boos last Thursday night when the Boston Celtics selected Jaylen Brown with the #3 pick were completely warranted even if they were based on unsubstantiated reports. General Manager Danny Ainge usually comes off as sincere, so when he came out and said that the Celtics didn't really come close to any deals for a star (just expensive role players), I believed him. What he and Wyc Grousbeck (majority owner of the team) have to understand is that while they're actually inside the war room and on the trade calls, fans get a completely different picture. They discuss names like "Gorgui Dieng" (not a rumor; just an example) while we hear names like "Jimmy Butler." After hearing that the Celtics were "controlling the top of the draft" fielding trade calls from both Philadelphia and Chicago, it's just mildly underwhelming to walk away with just Jaylen Brown.
What we have to understand is that 90% of media reports (especially trade negotiation reports) either simply aren't true, or they happened three to four weeks before being reported. The latest tweet notification from your favorite sports analyst without the last name of Wojnarowski (and even he doesn't shoot 100%) probably doesn't contain details of anything being discussed currently. Obviously in the heat of the moment between tweets, it's extremely easy for fans to get their hopes up. Seeing Jimmy Butler and Nerlens Noel mentioned in rumors immediately raised fan expectation. Boston not even picking the guy that both Philadelphia and Chicago wanted (Kris Dunn) felt like a sign of defeat, and the fans let Wyc Grousbeck know when he came out to announce the pick.
Here's the thing, though: Celtics fans at the Draft Party weren't booing Jaylen Brown. In post-Draft media availability, Ainge expressed his disappointment that fans were booing Brown, urging us to give him a chance. Brown's metrics are terrible, he wears his shorts entirely way too high, and he showed poor decision making at times at California, but Celtics fans are willing to give him a chance. The boos Thursday night represent disappointment at what we perceived to be deals that were right in front of Ainge. He saw the ball, swung for the fences, and missed. That's what we think happened, but that's not what actually happened.
As for what actually happened, the Celtics actually did pretty well for themselves. Jaylen Brown, while statistically terrible, is a high-upside pick who's already an athletic two-way player who can play the power forward position in small ball lineups. This is a big deal because as the league shifts more towards a smaller style of play, versatile forwards in this vein are going to be at a premium. That's why it's important to have guys like Jae Crowder who are willing to play the four position (looking at you, Paul George). That's why Harrison Barnes is about to get a significantly hefty pay raise this summer despite a disappointing Finals series and an "eh" season as the fourth option on a historically great Warriors team. Brown as he is right now is valuable because it represents the Celtics accepting the evolution of the league.
Brown in the future could be even more valuable as he shows that his poor shooting at Cal was an anomaly and the result of poor offensive scheme and spacing. He's very self-aware as a prospect, citing poor decision making as one of his target areas of improvement. Much has been made of his intelligence, and although some foolishly think that's a problem, I prefer that than the alternative.
While the Celtics did well with drafting Brown, I can't help but feel that they took him off the board too early. Brown easily could have fallen down to Sacramento at #8, and we all know how willing they were to do a deal. That's one problem that has put a damper on Ainge's drafting record. The Celtics tend to overly rely on their own Big Board of prospects without considering the field. If the Celtics had drafted RJ Hunter at #16 and Terry Rozier at #28 last year, there's likely less outrage. If Boston takes Guerschon Yabusele at #31 instead of #16, there's likely little outrage there as well. Obviously, NBA teams all have their own draft boards, but I'm sure there's some merit in considering the field as well. The truth is likely in the middle.
By standing pat and not overpaying in a trade for an expensive role player, the Celtics allowed for more teams to mock their assets, but it's honestly for the best. The Celtics picked up good value for the sum of their six picks, regardless of where those players were picked. Boston honestly walked away with six good players. After things are a little clearer this summer, it'll be easier to see who can fit onto the final NBA roster in October. Another result of holding back at the trade deadline is the fact that Boston is now the only team meeting with Kevin Durant that can offer two max contracts. They're also the only team that doesn't have to significantly alter their roster to sign him. Although the odds of Durant signing in Boston are slim, they'd be slimmer if Boston had done something hasty at the Draft. Jimmy Butler was never coming over, so standing pat was smart.
Although it's easy to look at what was reported and think of what could have been, the reality is that what was reported never was going to be. It's easy to sit and mock Ainge for not being able to land a star, but even if the Celtics don't they're still in great position; they will continue to be for a while with all of their young pieces. There will be a big move eventually, but Ainge will undoubtedly wait for the perfect pitch to swing for the home run.