Last night at the Boston Garden the Celtics dropped a tough 99-94 loss to the Detroit Pistons. The C’s came out of the gate hot and held command of the lead for a majority of the game, but failed to execute and score over big stretches of the second half. Although Isaiah Thomas did his best to will the team to victory despite a poor shooting night and some crucial misses at the free throw line, his late effort was not enough and the Celtics fell. The heart and grit of this group is displayed by their tenacious defensive intensity, but what the team lacks is a go-to scorer – someone they can give the ball to in the post and confidently say ‘go get me a bucket big man’. With an ace like that the Celtics could become elite team and a real contender in the Eastern Conference.
Trade speculation has been buzzing around big-time NBA centers including Dwight Howard, Brooke Lopez, and DeMarcus Cousins, and the Celts have been tied to almost all of the rumors. The question remains whether Danny Ainge is ready to make that kind of deal, which would undoubtedly require separating with some very valuable assets. Rumor has it that Ainge has expressed interest in such a deal, but has been unwilling to accept a trade that includes Marcus Smart or the Brooklyn Nets’ 2016 1st round draft pick that was acquired in the trade involving Pierce and Garnett. This is a fair assessment by Ainge as that selection has a chance of becoming a number one overall and Marcus Smart has shown tremendous promise. It is clear that Ainge does not consider Smart on the trade block, but that 2016 draft pick deserves some reconsideration.
The obvious top pick in this year’s draft class is LSU’s freshman phenom Ben Simmons. Anyone that watched he and the Tigers dismantle Kentucky on Tuesday got to see the superior talent level and athleticism that has NBA general managers salivating. After him on the in the top five of the mock draft board are Brandon Ingram (Duke), Kris Dunn (Providence), Jaylen Brown (California), and Ivan Rabb (California). Although all these players are certainly talented and may blossom into quality NBA starters, none of them seem to address the Celtics’ needs other than Simmons.
The chance of the Nets’ pick becoming #1 overall is 15.9% as of January 7th and the chance of it being in the top 3 is 46.9%. And keep in mind, every time the Celtics continue to lose to the Nets decreases that probability. Drafting Ben Simmons would be ideal for any team because the potential he offers, but acquiring him is far from a sure thing at this point for the Celtics and the lucky team that gets the number one overall will also need to demonstrate patience as the youngster develops.
It seems like given the circumstances and the current Celtics roster trading that Nets’ unprotected draft pick could be beneficial to the Celtics if it is dealt for the right guy. Of the three aforementioned centers on the market the easy name to cross of the list is the plague of the NBA – Dwight Howard. But both Brooke Lopez and DeMarcus Cousins are interesting and offer intriguing options that deserve some consideration. Here is a career comparison of the two.
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The two other important elements that need attention are health and character, which are both important when analyzing these two options at center. With DeMarcus Cousins the main concern is his attitude, as he has a history of clashing with coaches and quitting on his teammates. For Brook Lopez it is his injury history that includes foot and ankles problems that often become a chronic hinderance for many big men. Other than those two concerns both players statistical output have been fairly comparable over their careers, with DeMarcus having an advantage on the offensive end.
The answer here is DeMarcus Cousins. He is younger than Lopez, has not had the scary injury history, and has shown flashes of defensive ability to go along with his offensive skill set. As previously mentioned the concern is about Cousins’ character, which is a valid source of anxiety and skepticism. But the leadership role on the Celtics that Isaiah Thomas has assumed, and his friendship with Cousins that was developed during their time playing together for the Sacramento Kings offers some optimism. This relationship could harness Cousins’ potential and influence him to buy into Coach Stevens’ system. Sure it is not an absolute certainty, but the presence of Thomas along with leaders like Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley could simmer Cousins’ attitude and allow him to blossom on in team-oriented environment.
With the addition of an elite center the Celtics would be a real contender in the Eastern Conference. Brooke Lopez’ health concerns are not worth giving the Nets back their first round draft pick despite his talents, but the promise of DeMarcus Cousins would be. In either case the deal would likely also include a second round draft pick or two, and a player like David Lee to balance each teams’ salary cap. DeMarcus Cousins offers a superstar offensive skill set with defensive potential if he is surrounded by a competitive team that he gels with. This acquisition could move the Celtics one step closer to their championship aspirations. Celtics fan are waiting patiently for this team to turn the corner and although a supreme college talent like Ben Simmons is promising, it will only serve to further delay the winning process. On the other hand DeMarcus Cousins is under contract through 2018 and could propel the club to the next level upon his first day in the green and white. If Ainge wants to win in the near future he will make this type of deal, if not Celtics fans will have to continue to wait patiently for the team to become a legitimate contender for the NBA championship.