As I sit here watching the Al Horford introductory press conference, I can’t help but feel giddy about the upcoming season. Save for 6 games a few months back, I’ve been a big fan of Horford dating all the way to his Florida days under Billy Donovan and alongside Joakim Noah and co. Is Big Al a superstar? In my opinion, no, probably not. However, the way the salary cap is now, with nobodies like Timofey Mozgov getting $16 million per, Horford is a “max” guy and should be a seamless fit in Brad Stevens’ system. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s sound defensively, he’s mobile and he can stretch the floor. What else can you ask for?
That all being said, is he enough? Of course not, especially taking into account the “Avengers” team that has been formulated over in the Bay State, but it’s a solid first step. Danny has admitted himself he’s not satisfied with the roster as currently constituted, and many of the same problems still remain: shooting, rebounding, and flat-out scoring. The good news? The Pierce/KG trade is the gift that keeps giving, and the mutilation of the Nets’ future will continue until 2018. The Celtics are a 48-win team that just added an all-star, have cap space for another max player, and own two projected lottery (top 3?) picks over the next two years. The future looks bright, but until these aforementioned assets are used in a way that makes this team a legitimate contender for Banner 18, they are null and void. What could be up Danny’s sleeve next? Let’s go over his remaining options…
Option A: Trade
This is option A for a reason. Ainge has ample artillery for a blockbuster trade and there are several names that seem to be available on the trade market. Just yesterday on Felger and Mazz, Wyc Grousbeck (Celtics’ co-owner) said the front office has had trade conversations with another team about a “difficult” player that morning and that the price of acquiring that player was already down since the night of the draft. Hmmm… Two names that immediately come to my mind: Demarcus Cousins and Jahlil Okafor, two uber-talented big men with maturity issues and awkward fits on their current rosters.
Okafor 20 years old, 17.5 PPG, 7.0 RBG, 1.2 BPG
Cousins 25 years old, 26.9 PPG, 11.5 RBG, 1.4 BPG
All things equal, Cousins is the guy. He can do more than Okafor. He stretches the floor, handles the ball a little and is slightly more mobile defensively. That being said, it would require a “Godfather offer” to pry him from Sacramento, likely taking a bomb to the core we’ve grown to love (Smart, Bradley, Crowder). On the other hand, Okafor sticks out like a sore thumb in a congested Sixers’ frontcourt, and is said not to be in their plans moving forward. If Philly budges on their asking price, and the Celtics can keep the core together while adding a force in the paint, sign me up. If the Kings and Celtics can somehow agree on a deal for Cousins, expect Sacramento swingman Rudy Gay and his expiring contract to be in these talks as well. Gay could be an independent target too, but I believe Danny has his sights set a bit higher.
The acquisition of either of the two big men would allow Horford to move to his more natural power forward position and would make for an impressive, multi-dimensional frontcourt for the foreseeable future.
Option B: Stay the course/sign a depth free agent or two
Now that the free agency pool is essentially dried up (does overpaying for Wayne Ellington or Jordan Hill really excite anyone…?), the only other option seems to be riding the wave and letting the youth fill in whatever holes this roster may have. Amir Johnson’s and Jonas Jerebko’s team options were picked up for $12 and $5 million respectively (very affordable numbers in the new salary cap), so they will be back to presumably fill similar roles as they did last season. Last year’s draft pick point guard Terry Rozier has shown a great deal of promise during the Summer League games in Utah, taking the momentum from his effective performance in the playoff series last season. Rozier looks to be a Marcus Smart-lite, and could take over much of the 2nd unit ball handling after the departure of point forward and Stevens favorite Evan Turner.
RJ Hunter and James Young are two wings to watch as well. As was blatantly obvious in the playoff series, the C’s desperately need shooting, and that happens to be what these two were drafted for. Both of these guys have flashed in the Summer League, but need to continue to physically mature and be more assertive on the offensive end to make any difference when the regular season starts.
With the expected departures of both Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger, the C’s will need some big man depth behind Horford/Olynyk/Johnson and Jerebko. Jordan Mickey (last year’s second rounder) and Ben Bentil (this year’s second rounder) are two guys with different skill sets that could help. Mickey is known for his rim protection and athleticism, Bentil for his offensive savvy and shooting. Both skillsets are certainly needed and I could see one of these two earning a spot in the rotation, especially if no more frontcourt depth is added.
Overall, the offseason is far from over, and DA has his work cut out for him. Chances are, this roster could look very different come time for opening tip-off next season. Can’t wait to find out.
Buckle up everyone, this ride isn’t over.
In Ainge we Trust.