NBA Twilight Zone: The Rebuild That Never Was

It is a dimension of space and as timeless as a copyright violation. This is the dimension of imagination. Welcome to the NBA Twilight Zone. Here we explore timelines that never came to pass in the recent NBA and explore the ramifications of those actions. We’ve all heard about the vetoed Chris Paul trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m sure that’s done before, so let’s do something else. In this series, I’ll be exploring more recent NBA What Ifs.

In this episode of NBA Twilight Zone, we’ll be exploring The Rebuild That Never Was. That is, the Boston Celtics trying to trade a total of six picks to the Charlotte Hornets in the 2015 NBA Draft for a chance to select Justise Winslow. We all know what happened (do we?): The Hornets took Frank Kaminsky and rejected the Celtics offer. This turned out to be very profitable for the Celtics and very unfortunate for the Hornets.

Kaminsky has been a fringe rotation player his whole career and was even rumored to have nearly been waived after the trade deadline this year. Even Justise Winslow, who was taken with the next pick by the Heat in that draft, has been a solid player at best. But what if the Hornets had taken that deal? What would the league look like? What would the Hornets look like? What would the Celtics look like? Let’s imagine.

Charlotte’s Rebuild Goes Right

Since the 2015 draft, the Hornets have made the playoffs once and are currently 10th in the conference with only a few games to play. Their second-leading scorer averages 15 ppg on 12 shots per game.  According to Sportrac, they have the least amount of cap space available for this offseason, which means they won’t be able to drastically improve their roster. They have one All-Star, Kemba Walker, who they will likely be maxing this offseason, further capping them. Despite picking in the lottery the three out of the past four years, they have had no rookies on either All-Rookie teams in any of those four years.

They have over $80 Million committed to Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, and Marvin Williams. Yikes. The Charlotte Hornets are one of the most mediocre teams in the league and have one of the top 3 worst futures ahead of them. But what if they had taken that trade?

Before we start, some asterisks. All we know is that the Celtics offered six picks in total and that two were first-rounders. We don’t know what picks, whether they were their own or other teams, or what kind of protections these picks had. Similarly, we don’t know what players the Hornets would have taken with these picks (they did take Kaminsky after all). But this is the dimension of imagination. So we’re going to go the fun route.

I think it is very plausible to say that at the very least the Hornets would have gotten the Celtics 16th pick in that 2015 draft. That pick turned out to be Terry Rozier. Rozier has had his ups and downs but has been a lethal point guard during those ups. If the Hornets pick him, they can play him alongside Kemba or have him run the second unit (Charlotte’s bench is atrocious). They would also likely not be paying Tony Parker $5 million a year if they had Rozier.

For the sake of fun, let’s say that they got at least one of those big Nets picks. One of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. And hell, let’s make it Jayson Tatum. He is one of the brightest young forwards in the game. He would be a great second option next to Kemba. To be fair, let’s say the two second-round picks and one of the other first-rounders were busts. I think the 23rd pick in 2016 (Ante Zizic) is a solid bet for a pick they would have thrown in. So the Hornets have two really good young players on rookie-scale contracts and a solid young center.

In this dimension, the Hornets don’t spend so feverishly on average players because they have a bevy of young players and draft picks. They save their money for a very good player to bring over. Their starting lineup has real firepower next to Kemba Walker. They make the playoffs at least one more time than they actually do and have one of the brightest futures in the NBA.

The Celtics Rebuild Goes Wrong

The Celtics quick turnaround has been one of the most impressive in league history. They went from a teardown rebuild to a borderline contender in two years. They have perhaps the deepest draft pick chest in the league and have been using it to their advantage. They have selected Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum with picks they got from the Nets. They both made an All-Rookie team during their rookie years.

They used picks to trade for superstar Kyrie Irving last year. They are rumored to be planning to use their resources to try and trade for top-five player Anthony Davis this summer. Their bevy of young players has allowed them to spend money to fill holes they need, like a max contract for Al Horford. They have made the playoffs all four years since the 2015 draft and have clinched for this season. They made it to the Conference Finals last season and were a game away from the Finals. Things are going pretty well for them. But what if the Hornets had taken that deal?

We’re just going to run through all the possible consequences of the Hornets taking that trade. First, the Celtics have Justise Winslow instead of Terry Rozier. In all fairness, in Brad Stevens’ system, Winslow could have been a very good player. The Celtics don’t get Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum and even if they do have those picks they likely take a guard seeing as they already have Winslow on the roster.

They don’t have the resources to trade for Kyrie. They’re forced to give a max contract to Isiah Thomas instead. They certainly don’t have the resources to trade for Anthony Davis. This roster looks entirely different and the Celtics probably resort to overpaying free agents to be competitive.

Obviously, this is described in a lens that is a best-case scenario for the Hornets and a worst-case scenario for the Celtics. But these are certainly possibilities of what could have happened? And that’s the point of this series? Thank you for stepping into this dimension with me, until next time.

Music that sounds vaguely similar to the Twilight Zone theme but just different enough to avoid a lawsuit plays as an outro.

Agu is a Junior at Marquette University pursuing a Business Management Major with a Spanish Business Minor. He is a Milwaukee native and somehow survived 10 years of mediocrity from his hometown team, the Milwaukee Bucks, and is now writing about them in the midst of their best season. He is new on the scene with no credentials but hopes to have a light Wikipedia page in the future.

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