Evan Macy, Metro Philadelphia sports editor: Even though Ben Simmons missed half his record-setting 24 fourth quarter free throws Wednesday night, he’s still a no-brainer Rookie of the Year. Matt, I’ll welcome your Boston-loving pro-Tatum dissent now.
Matt Burke, Metro Boston sports editor: No argument here. Simmons is the ROY. He’s the best player on the Sixers. Better than Embiid. I’ll bow down to Simmons if you can bow down to Danny Ainge and admit he fleeced the Sixers this past summer in the Fultz for Tatum & lottery pick swap.
EM: So here is what I struggle with. Had the pick swap not occurred, would Boston have selected Tatum at No. 1? Because I hadn’t heard any musing about Fultz being a bust — and with an injury and barely any evidence to go off of I am not ready to make that claim yet — and up until the trigger was pulled on the move Fultz was the consensus No. 1.
MB: There was buzz Ainge was not convinced Fultz was “the guy” in the days leading up to the trade. I think they were prepared to trade the top pick for something else – Paul George, Jimmy Butler at the time.
EM: It’s hard for me to stand here and say I am not worried. Fultz is sort of the missing piece of the puzzle for this Sixers team to really explode. I mean look at what they are doing without him? Fifth best record in the East with the hardest schedule so far in the NBA. If Fultz doesn’t return and become a 17 point, 7 assist guy at the very least it will be a major disappointment. I am not quick to anoint Ainge as “da gawd” for this move though. The compensation and the overall strength of the draft class suggested it was the right move for both teams. Ainge isn’t superman.
MB: At the time Philly acted as if they fleeced Ainge. Its clear it’s the other way around already. Ainge got the better player and a key asset they can flip at the deadline or next summer. The Celtics have the best record in the NBA and beat the Warriors two weeks ago. They’re doing this without their most expensive player in Gordon Hayward. I would say Ainge is superman. He already won a title, and four years after trading away Pierce and Garnett he has the Celtics right back in title contention. Yes, he most definitely is superman.
EM: You mean to tell me that Danny Ainge is such a genius that he spurned every single expert, who had been praising Fultz for months as a unanimous No. 1 overall pick and went rogue by himself on a secret mission to not take Fultz? He made the right move, but you are granting him this spectacular wisdom in hindsight. Fultz looked fine in Summer League. He hurt his shoulder and the Sixers’ medical staff screwed up (as they always do) and had him try and play through the pain. So somehow Ainge foresaw this injury? I guess that would make him Superman yes….
MB: When Fultz was healthy in the summer league he looked sheepish. There has been zero evidence that he’ll be much of an NBA player. Right now it looks like a total whiff. Ainge has consistently gone against the grain over the years. It would not have surprised anyone in the league if he took Tatum No 1 overall if he couldn’t have found a sucker to play his game. He gives zero shits about backlash. He was prepared to take Durant over Oden in 2007 if the Celtics got the first pick that year. Oden was the consensus number one heading into that draft much like Fultz.
EM: Here is my point Matt. Fultz’ results thus far are not due to his being a “bust” or the “wrong pick.” If, in three years he’s coming off the bench, or worse — is another Jahlil Okafor — you can slip me a shot of the Ainge Kool Aid after the Celts beat the Sixers in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals. But for now it’s one hell of an overstatement…. that your GM is a genius because he took the guy who didn’t get hurt.
MB: Even if Fultz somehow winds up as good as Tatum (not happening), Ainge also got a lottery pick from them in the process. I don’t understand how you cannot see “advantage Celtics”
EM: Which is sort of what I am saying. He is smart the way Sam Hinkie was smart in this context — collecting assets to help the team. Not picking the right guy. Sure Ainge took Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart… each are working out pretty well. But he also took Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger as first rounders. It’s a crap shoot. He doesn’t have special powers. But yes, in getting two lotto picks for one lotto pick he won the deal. Plain and simple.
MB: You don’t think one man can be a better talent evaluator than another? He also flipped Jeff Green for Ray Allen and where was Sullinger picked? Mid first round? You need to hit on every pick when you have one in the top 10 and Ainge has been flawless there.
EM: I wish Hinkie was still around. It would make for the greatest Northeast GM rivalry ever. The former player vs. Poindexter.
MB: Yup. In my opinion, the top two NBA GMs of the past 20 years.