Maybe the Celtics have a Bigger Plan.
If what you need is a Power Forward..
The Brooklyn Nets gave the Celtics every… ok, yeah that’s overplayed. By now any semi-casual fan understands that Billy King conspired with the city of Boston- in conjunction with Russian Interference- in order to make the Celtics Great Again. Armed with a treasure trove of assets, including next years unprotected Nets prospect-bomb (a top heavy 2018 draft), possibly the Lakers 2–5 selection (TOP HEAVY DRAFT), two existing top five picks in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and you have three years with potentially four top-end prospects. All for a team that just finished first in the Eastern Conference.
We can debate for hours whether Danny Ainge selected the right guys with those consecutive third overall picks (it would be wonderful if you could stick Brown and Tatum in a lab to combine their games, unfortunately though, there is only one Lebron), or why he traded down this year, but it is undeniable that both players would be better served on teams without the depth and resulting rotation complications of the Celts. The same goes for guard Terry Rozier, who undoubtably benefited from the culture and coaching he received in Boston, but probably needs a new home court to thrive. The biggest issue with the Celtics current construction is that you only have 48 minutes in a game. The second biggest issue is that basketball has five positions, and PF is one of them.
Under Brad Stevens the Celts have zapped everything out of a number of players put in perfect conditions to succeed; Smart, Crowder, Bradley, IT, even Olynyk, got the most out of their respective games thanks to a coach who is the undisputed master of the inbounds. They play hard, they have an edge and they win games. Unfortunately that can only get you so far, particularly in a league with five or six transcendent superstars (two on one team) and the greatest player ever- without his own logo where the swoosh used to be. If you want to win a championship, you’re going to need one of those 5 or 6 guys. In a landscape of recency bias its easy to forget that in basketball, unlike other major sports, this is almost always true. Take away the 2004 Pistons and the ‘almost’ disappears. Don’t forget how dominant the original IT was, or if you want to- because he has made it easier and easier- just ignore the Pistons entirely. After that, its back to the 1979 Sonics, where Celtics fans would admit Dennis Johnson was alright. Or the 1977 Blazers, where Bill Walton won league MVP the following year. You don't win in the NBA without superstars, and true superstars don't come around often.
Over the past four months Celts fans and basketball pundits have critiqued, dissected, grown frustrated, become confused, withheld judgement, judged, and just generally become apathetic to the ongoing question of ‘what is Danny Ainge doing?’. It seems however, that he might be on to something, that he might be smarter than the rest of us. All signs point to the fact that Danny Ainge only wants to trade for one player, and that player is Anthony Davis. After coming close, then closer, then close again, to acquiring one of Paul George or Jimmy Butler, he never budged on the price, and that was smart. Neither of those guys is or ever will be a superstar, stars yes, superstars no. When Butler was eventually traded to Minnesota, it was a good story for the Wolves, but quickly expectations tempered into hopes of a 4-seed, at least for next year. Thats not what a superstar does, a superstar makes a league worst Cavs team into a title contender. A superstar makes the greatest regular seaso.. Never-mind. The point isn’t that George and Butler aren’t great. The point is, if you can get an All-Star at the same position, who played with- and was recruited by- your teams head coach in college- for nothing in free agency- why pay for them.
The Celtics can’t rebound, have a glaring liability on defence at point guard (who is also by far their best offensive player and demands the ball), and struggle to protect the rim. Only one player fixes all those issues, he also happens to play on a team friendly contract with four years of control. The Pelicans would be rightly hesitant to make this deal. They tried to bring in another star last season, forgetting you need guards to play basketball. They have no immediate solution for their talent issues other than to overpay
(Quincy Pondexter is not the answer). And Cousins, despite his temperament and resulting limitations, puts up elite numbers for his 16 million/year contract.
What makes the whole scenario so fascinating is, because Boston so diligently hoarded assets, they might have enough ammunition to make a mutually beneficial trade for arguably the leagues most untradeable player. Here are two close-but-distinct trade scenarios, one which might benefit Boston more in the long-run. The other which makes winning a championship more realistic next season (still rests on Hayward signing in free-agency).
Anthony Davis, Alexis Ajinca, 2019 2nd Rounder
To New Orleans
Jayson Tatum, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Terry Rozier, Tyler Zeller, 2018 Nets unprotected 1st, 2018 Lakers protected/2019 Kings 1st.
- the other option is to swap Crowder for Brown, which could be more appealing to the Pels and also keeps a guy in Boston who is the backbone of the teams toughness, and is more likely to succeed in a supporting, sixth-man role.
At face value this trade is tough to swallow, despite being successful on the ESPN trade machine, it holds that Boston would gain 10 wins and NO would lose 16. In reality however, that doesn't seem true, or important. Despite how dominant Davis has been to start his career, the Pelicans are almost entirely devoid of assets. The Davis, Cousins, and nothing formula equates to a whole lot of future first round picks between 14–20 (a gaggle of Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine, John Henson, Shabazz Muhammad, Kelly Oubre types.. Giannis is the exception here, not the rule). In this scenario they would get an elite on-ball defender (Bradley), a scorer with major upside (Tatum), a former first round project in Rozier, another albatross-white-big-contract in Zeller (see Asik, Omer) and one of Brown/Crowder. That is the shell of a decent starting line-up when paired with Cousins, without taking into consideration the value of the Nets pick and the ever growing likelihood the Lakers are just the right amount of shitty next season. Within two years the Pelicans could have a functioning NBA roster, with the possibility of 2–3 star-potential players. The trade for Cousins was always awkward, but the Pelicans undoubtably fleeced Sacramento. By virtue of that trade, leveraging Davis doesn’t have to be considered a total rebuild.
Danny Ainge has done such a tremendous job acquiring assets that somehow he could get a 24-year-old superstar, and still make the team he left feel hopeful. In this scenario the Celtics would retain Marcus Smart (the choice of keeping him over Bradley is a tough one, but, although Bradley is the better player, Smart is more adept at handling back-up point guard duties and saves Boston 4 million to bring in additional weapons off the bench/resign Thomas), one of Crowder/Brown, IT and Horford to pair with Hayward and Davis (as an aside the Semi Ojeleye pick was a major coup, he’s NBA ready, fits the Boston formula and is probably better suited to contribute as a rotation guy than Tatum). On paper that roster looks like a major hurdle for any Lebron led team, which probably adds to the LA fuel next summer.
Considering the pressure to make moves, this feels like Bostons only play- other than to build at a slow burn- which has obvious problems, as most of the guys included in this deal either need regular playing time to develop or are awaiting major raises. If you bring in any other available player, many of Bostons warts remain. Even Blake Griffin, the best available PF, does nothing to help Bostons most glaring issues. Davis fixes all of them. He is the perfect complement to Thomas and Horford, and still allows a player like Hayward to create for himself by providing spacing and elite offensive rebounding. Paul George doesn't do all those things, Jimmy Butler doesn’t do all those things. Nobody in the NBA does all those things, nobody except Anthony Davis.