The Boston Celtics at this time are having one of their best seasons in recent memories, sitting third currently in the east. After securing the services of Al Horford in the off-season, the former Hawks player adds a scoring option to the Celtics to reduce the need of Isaiah Thomas. However, if the Celtics want to compete, they need to make moves immediately that will get them an all-star.
It’s the goal of every team to contend for a title. However, for the Celtics, they sit in a very unusual position. For the most part in the NBA, teams either are rebuilding, playoff worthy or contenders. For the Celtics, they’re both re-building through acquired draft picks and young players, but are also a playoff worthy team. What makes the Celtics situational so unusual is that, unlike other franchises, they have the potential to immediately contend with a simple trade.
Danny Ainge needs to make a choice on the direction that he wants the Celtics to go in. Does he try and make an immediate splash and trade for a big name? Does he wait until the off-season to sign superstars that either are restricted, have a player option or will be highly touted? Or do the Celtics use the abundance of draft picks to build a young side and hope to peak in around 5 years when the Raptors and Cavaliers start to decline.
If the Celtics want to contend this year, they need to trade. They can either try and go for a superstar or patch their holes. The biggest hole for Boston to fill, and something they have been criticized on, is their rebounding ability. The Celtics sit 28th in the league in total rebounds, followed only by the Kings and the Mavericks, as well as 21st in offensive rebounds and 25th in defensive rebounds. As for their potential whispers, they can improve the teams rebounding numbers by either targeting veteran Andrew Bogut or young Nerlens Noel.
Choosing to go after Bogut would not only give them the much needed rebounding, but also the interior defence that will match with the on-ball defence provided by Avery Bradley. Additionally, bringing in Bogut allows the Celtics to slot him in as their starting 5, thus moving Horford down to the 4 spot, a position that many believe is where he would thrive. Suddenly, with a simple acquisition, the defence is bolstered, rebounding improved and gives the Celtics a stretch 4 option in Al Horford. What’s more, the power forward position is one of the weaker in the league compared to the centre position, allowing Horford to dominate.
The next option is Nerlens Noel, a player who is greatly disgruntled with his current position in Philadelphia. With 2 young centres and the emergence of a future star in Joel Embiid, it appears that the Sixers have given up on the Noel project. A man who at one point was considered to be the best player in the 2013 draft, is now a vocally frustrated young player wanting minutes. Considering Noel has seen a reduction in his time on the court, this may be a chance for the Celtics to snap up a young player for only little. The Sixers are in need of guards, so a trade of Rozier and a 2nd round pick would not be too crazy. Similar to the situation with Bogut, this move gives Horford a chance to drop to the 4 spot. Noel brings similar abilities in defence and rebounding, but he can be given time to develop a post game.
Now, instead of patching holes to try and make a balanced team, they have the assets to make a splash and trade for a big name. The biggest move possible is the one that has been highly discussed among many: DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings centre has disgruntled fans and front office alike with his antics, most recently going off at a Sacramento reporter. However despite the attitude problem, one thing is certain: Cousins is one of the best big men in the league. He gives the Celtics rebounding and another scoring option, and when his defence is at it’s best, he is a defensive nightmare. The Celtics risk the emotional instability of Cousins, but under control and in a winning team he could be a strong asset for them. The concern soon becomes how the ball will be distributed. Can Cousins accept his role as a post-player who won’t see the ball in his hands and under his control. Brad Stevens has geared Isaiah Thomas to be the ball dominant player the Celtics need and this will test Cousins patience. If the Kings are interested in trading Cousins, Ainge may have to give up alot. For a player like Cousins on a team like Sacramento, it is almost guaranteed that the Brooklyn 1st round pick will be included. Other than the pick, theres no player who stands out. While Thomas and Horford will stay, as well as Bradley most likely being valuable for the Celtics in the future with his offense taking leaps and bounds, Danny Ainge could see himself either playing the perfect cards or gambling it all. The risk with trading away players like Crowder or Smart is that it will weaken the defense and disrupt team chemistry. All of these risks for a player who could end up being more of a migraine than a hero is why Ainge has to be precise with his decision making.
If the Celtics are willing to wait, they may be able to strike gold in the free agency without disrupting their team. However the 2017 free agency could be a risk for the Celtics, with the higher target players such as Gordan Hayward and Kevin Durant holding player options on their contract. The Celtics take a huge risk with the free agency as they can’t guarantee they’ll sign a player. Just look at this previous off-season, where after going heavily after Kevin Durant, they found themselves with an aging Horford. Should the same happen in the 2017 off-season, the team is left with little improvement, and thus Boston continue to be a mid-level team, stuck in a neutral position
Finally, the Celtics third path to follow is to build a team through draft picks. Firstly, with the Celtics 2016 1st round that’s owned by the Nets, the Celtics could grab the #1 draft in a loaded draft class, meanwhile also picking up second round draft picks. The problem with this is that it will take several years for these young players to develop, while at the same time, players like Thomas, Horford and Bradley start to diminish. It should also be noted that Danny Ainge has copped criticism in the past for his drafting abilities. The risk in the draft is that you’ll pass up on a future all-star for players who fail to meet expectations (Johnny Flynn over Curry, Bowie over Jordan ect).
However the Celtics choose to build their team, it cannot wait. Decisions and trades need to start happening immediately to ensure that a championship lands in Boston.