When the Celtics made their blockbuster trade with the Nets two summers ago, even then C’s fans knew the move was something of an emotional steal. It was sad watching captain Paul Pierce and fellow future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett – both now former Nets – leave Boston for a new home and new colors but, man, those draft picks were a fantasy in waiting for president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
As we’ve all not so patiently sat back and watched the clock tick to the 2016 NBA Draft, Ainge has turned Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry, and player exceptions into a potential All-Star in Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Zeller, and James Young (who, while disappointing thus far, is still just 20 years old). In a related move, they picked up key contributor Jae Crowder as well. If you’re wondering how in the world that happened, here’s a helpful chart from RedsArmy.com.
But not even the magician Ainge could have fathomed quite how instrumental those picks could become in helping the Celts back to championship contention.
Nearly 12 percent into the young year, the Nets are one of just two winless teams in the league at 0-7.
ZERO. AND. SEVEN.
It’s entirely possible, as Ainge, coach Brad Stevens, and their unified group of role players builds toward the future, Brooklyn’s unprotected 2016 draft selection could turn into one huge chip for Boston: A first overall pick.
But what if there’s an alternative?
In a recent podcast, noted Celtics diehard, HBO’s Bill Simmons, floated an intriguing debate. Suppose the C’s could deal this year’s Nets pick for disgruntled Kings superstar DeMarcus Cousins (plus someone like David Lee to make the money work), should they do it? Would they do it?
There’s no easy answer to this question. Think about it.
On the one hand,Cousins is a proven top-10 caliber player in the league, someone who’s not only a young (barely 25) all-world talent with the potential of averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds, but someone who instantly slots in as a starting center and shifts Amir Johnson to the bench with pick-and-roll partner Isaiah Thomas – who’s heading back there once Marcus Smart returns, anyhow. Plus, as we know all too well here in Boston, there’s no guarantee that Brooklyn pick turns into a No. 1 choice (ehem: 1997, 2007) or even a top-3, nor any assurances the guy pans out if it does (Greg Oden, Michael Olowokandi, and Kwame Brown are just a few of the horror stories).
On the other, Cousins is, to this point in his career, a coach’s nightmare; a total head-case with effort and maturity issues who George Karl is reportedly desperate to get out of 1-and-7 Sacramento, a franchise in disrepair. His attitude could outweigh his talent and he could completely disrupt the on-and-off-the-court continuity Stevens and Ainge have worked so hard to grow. Plus, suppose those ping pong balls finally do bounce the Celts’ way and, well, you know…
LSU’s Ben Simmons won’t be LeBron James, Tim Duncan, or Shaquille O’Neal, but the Aussie projects to be awfully good. Or maybe Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere is the guy.
You get the idea. It’s one potential building block versus another, with unpredictable circumstances on both sides. Either outcome could end in championship prosperity or lottery regret.
Forced to decide, I wouldn’t make that move. I’d gamble on the lottery. But, as I’ve discussed in the past, that’s more of an indictment of Cousins than a credit to Simmons. Ben, not Bill. Ainge, however, I think he’d jump at the chance to acquire the instant game-changer, but it’s impossible to know if that’s the best way to maximize the asset.
The Celtics still have the opportunity down the road to swap draft picks with the Nets in 2017, and then they’ll claim the selection outright once again in 2018, but this next choice might be the shiniest piece of gold in the treasure-chest. It’ll be fascinating to see how Ainge elects to use it.
Photos: The biggest Celtics draft busts