The Captain May Be on His Way Out of Boston, Chances Danny Trades Youth for DeMarcus Cousins?
When I immediately began composing this, I had simply planned for it to be a short reply to a couple of reader's comments on the DeMarcus Cousins trade speculations article posted by Jeff recently. This is because, after having been a near-daily reader of CelticsBlog for over 5 years, I had finally decided to voice my opinion, and created an SB account. As such, I could not create comments until the next day (Dec. 30), as is procedure, restricting me to the reply function for the time being. Regardless, I knew that I had to post something in the unlikely case that my thoughts were in some way ironically foretelling of a trade that might tragically (for my bragging rights, anyways) occur over that night without me having posted it - simply because I wouldn't be able to prove that I had, in fact, called IT.... (Yes, as a sports writer, athlete and altogether athletics fanatic in general, even my brainstorms are doomed to be competitively angled in nature).
However, once I started proposing a possible trade for DeMarcus Cousins of my own, I of course changed my entire opinion on the subject, which all of a sudden lead to me having written a lengthy speculation-driven report on the current state of the "Green Team." While most readers were focusing on either Danny Ainge's tendencies as a GM, the trade value of the team's disparate pieces or simply their personal dispositions towards their favorite youngsters that are soon to inevitably be dubbed "trade bait" until they have completed the current 6-week gauntlet known as the dwindling time leading up to the NBA trade deadline (Feb. 21), I decided to take a different angle.
Equipped with the knowledge of previous decisions made around the trade deadline by the every-curious DA, plus the very targeted moves he made this summer, I realized that this year is actually quite unlike any that we have faced recently around this time, even if it admittedly feels like the second coming of last year's Celtics - you know, minus that whole lock-out thing.
With that said, I think most people are undoubtedly correct in the assumption that DA would be one to pull the trigger on such an opportunity as this, but a lot are also forgetting the fact that he has continually made clear his mission to prevent the club from slipping into decline once again. As such, this has also led him to continually place Boston's older stars on the trade block to further that end...
So as far as us trading BOTH AB and Sully for Cousins as some have projected... I'm sorry, but I certainly don't see it... It's hard for me to picture any scenario in which our mad scientist, Danny, would be willing to give up a talented and sure-fire future for what? MAYBE one last immediate championship before KG decides to call it quits? It would seem highly unlikely, unless DC's trade value dropped to a level that would seem unrealistic considering his potential.
In fact, judging by his extreme commitment, as evidenced in his statements, I can honestly see Ainge quitting before I see him allowing such a gamble by letting go of what have turned out to be a couple of exceedingly fortuitous picks for us. Of course I could be completely wrong, and it is only a matter of time before we see our future 2 and 4 headed out of town in return for the polarizing, yet valuable Cousins. However, I will stick with my gut on this and attempt to provide adequate reasoning for this opinion based on what perhaps may be a more sure-fire trade at any rate involving a certain player who some could see on his way out, but with most never entertaining it...
Joining in the speculative fun, this "trade" in the link following that I have formulated myself on the SUPER-dubious (but fun) trade machine from ESPN is a little more of how I see DA approaching this, with obvious tweaks of course: http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=dxoag4w
This was just me tinkering around with the machine, as the Kings' owners are currently determined to keep Cousins in town- that is, until they finally manage to pull the whole team out of Sacramento (questionable) or sell- but I expect Danny Ainge to attempt a similar route assuming that the Cousins situation continues to dissolve the owner's selling price to something reasonable. This seems probable, as team officials and head coach Keith Smart continually mishandle and contradict their own disciplinary actions against the disgruntled center.
Getting back to my proposed trade however; add in some picks from Boston and maybe you have something here...ish. But beyond the actual acquisition of a franchise center, I believe one specific player dump in this deal for Boston would help the Celtics out even more than what they would be getting in return. That part? Dumping the undisputed captain: Paul Pierce. Confused? Maybe even furious? Let me explain...
Listen, we have to face the facts: Pierce just isn't what he once was, he's just not. And it's showing more than ever now. He's kind of like the long-time family dog that no one really acknowledges has definitely lost a step or two, it's just accepted. Okay, so maybe it's not quite so depressing... Unless he ended up in someplace like Sacramento of course... Oh... Wait...Awkward.... Well on the former subject however, if it helps make a point, I am almost convinced that even my own 13 year-old golden retriever has better joints than PP on some days... The captain's undeniable lack of athleticism is finally catching up with him.
And while Pierce certainly hasn't reached walker and dentures status quite yet, "skill" can really only take you as far as your body will go in the NBA. That's not to say he is completely ineffective, obviously. However, I do think he has become ineffective to the point of burden for this particular Celtics team (Don't worry, all will be explained, I promise).
Ainge should, and I believe will, try and hold on to both Bradly and Sullinger as they are slated to be 2/5 of the future rotation. I think DA values them a lot more than most might think. If he were able to keep both through dumping Pierce, along with a few others that would become expendable is this case (such as Melo), a couple of first-round picks would be negligible in my opinion (assuming the Celtics don't find themselves in a lottery position (ugh) for a truly impactful pick over the next couple of years.)
It's almost a given that upper tier teams (which we plan on being) gain very little through the draft on average. Not to mention, a couple late first rounders are well worth the gamble and investment in a franchise-center, especially considering their rarity in the league these days.
Note: Sullinger's acquisition so low in the draft was an anomaly that should not, and most likely will not, occur within the near-future for us again - we got extremely lucky with that pick. Without alleged back issues, which have apparently been kept well under control by perhaps the best training staff in the league, many analysts agree that Sully may have been a TOP 5 pick. And it just so happens that Cousins was the 5th pick of his draft and Danny, being an unmovable stickler, will most certainly argue that value to no end.
In addition, were Sullinger getting starting minutes, and should this team make a deep run into the playoffs, our rook might be in the conversation for one of the best in his class. The fact that Doc is even allowing him to play at all should tell you quite a lot - regardless of whether we are short on bigs at the moment or not. Yes, I said at the moment. Who really ever knows with this team?
With that said, I believe Ainge's plan is an obvious one: Green's contract is almost untrade-able. It's clear to us that he will be (as we're led to think) the future at SF. Unfortunately it is time for us to face DA's reality... It is almost impossible to imagine that the mad scientist the Celtics call their general manager believes that Jeff Green will ever find his role as a backup in Boston.
It would seem apparent at this point that Green can realistically only be truly effective IF and only IF he finds himself in the starting lineup, where his role will actually be a defined one, in place of Pierce. This would simply be expediting the inevitable process, which we all know DA is just fine with (Cue the "I would've traded Bird and McHale" narrative.)
And so, when you really take a look at the numbers [see below], as oxymoronic as it may sound, Pierce very well may be the impediment that is holding this team back. - Now before you call the loony-bin to take me away, just hear me out... His physical capabilities are all but gone without a week of rest in between games (especially during the latter rounds of the playoffs should we get there), his shooting couldn't be streakier, and his minutes are alarmingly high!
This is problematic because Danny acquired (and brought back) a great deal of young offensive firepower that currently sits confused and paralyzed in a jumbled back-court. It's nearly impossible for players like Green and Lee to get going when Pierce is still the undisputed captain and workhorse of this team.
This was more than apparent in the preseason (and I know, I know, it's just the preseason, but it still shows us a lot about unfamiliar players in our system). Jeff Green showed us that he was much more apt to be a dominant player when given the minutes. And I'm sorry, but whatever Pierce may have in terms of knowledge on the defensive end, Green can certainly make up for with athleticism and increased playing time. Same for Lee (although I'll admit the inclusion of the latter towards such a trade for Cousins might be necessary, even if only to somehow retain Bradley).
Just take a look at the numbers: http://www.nba.com/celtics/stats/2012
Apart from assists, when you adjust the numbers to minutes averaged, Green hasn't been all that much different from Pierce (and that includes his many streaky performances coming off from the bench!). For having played only 2/3 of the minutes Pierce has on those ticking-time-bomb, creaky-old-legs of his, Green is nearly just as effective. And I'm not convinced he is incapable of adequate defense given additional playing time considering the progress Pierce has made in his later years on that side of the ball since the Big Ticket came to town...
Now I'm quite sure that DA is more than aware of all of this. I'm also sure that he realizes the problem an older player like Pierce poses to the effectiveness of the team as a whole. He didn't just bring in these pieces to concede shots to Pierce. The only player even close to the number of attempts he has taken this season is KG, who still has 84 less. This should not be the case, especially when Doc has made a vocal effort to the team to pound the ball inside (not to mention you can make a very good argument that KG is our best shooter).
What is currently happening is that both Pierce's extra minutes plus shot attempts, combined with his declining athletic ability, are actually stunting the team's growth as a coherent unit. As it turns out, youth does not always mix with experience (oldies) when that budding potential is sitting confused on the pine.
Just like Big Baby (sorry, the opportunity was too good to pass up) had to find his role to mesh with those teams before him, so too does Green now. And it just so happens that that will likely only take place when he is actually given the responsibility of being an assertive player. I think that much is obvious when comparing his former starting role in OKC to the one he has now in Boston, mixed with the positive results shown when given the minutes that Pierce is currently taking away from both him and all of the other younger pieces on this team.
Though this team is one very much based on loyalty, and that most definitely includes Doc as well, I propose that the only way we will be able to move on from the on-court mess that we all see night in and night out is when we finally pull the trigger on a trade such as this and actually start allowing the team to grow into the youthful, and successful, one we all envisioned before the season began.(By the way, I don't mean that to attack Doc in any way, as he is clearly still one of the best at his job). Only then will players like Green, Lee and Bass be able to find themselves within the system again.
I can only hope that AB's return will not be effective enough, as we all hope, to mask this glaring issue until it is finally, and fatally, exposed again in the playoffs, such as it was last year. It's obvious that the team has to nip this in the bud ASAP before it comes to that point, because I, like many others expect the Celtics to at least make it to the playoffs. I think their play will logically, and inevitably, improve by a certain amount as a result of increased effort in the second-half of the season such as it did last year. - We can't blame veteran players for taking advantage of the way the season and league are designed (i.e. San Antonio). But that just strikes up the debate over an operational flaw within the league and its scheduling, which is an entire different argument in itself - appropriate for another time perhaps.
All in all, I think it's safe to say that if us fans - okay, I admit I may be the only heretic here... But regardless if we have taken notice of these issues, than it is reasonable to think that good ol' DA must be going crazy over how much PP may or may not be reminiscent of Bird and McHale's twilight years at this moment in time. It's no secret that, had he gotten value in return before last year deadline, both Paul and Ray Ray might be who-knows-where-else right now walking into the metaphorical basketball sunset...
And though Ray may have run, or limped, in the opposite direction of the aforementioned "light" (Oh c'mon, you have to admit the irony, for the sake of this argument at least, that the talents of South Beach are represented by flames), the positive effects on the team as a whole from his benching last year in favor of AB were undeniable. And unfortunately, I just don't think Pierce will work out in a bench role here, even if just out of the fear that he assuredly breaks down come playoff time again.
That is why Danny needs to finally go with his gut and get something back for Pierce while he still can. He's talked-the-talk. Now he must walk-the-walk if the future of this team is to be preserved (yes that includes the rest of this season as well). We simply have too much to gain and a whole lot to lose. The sooner may be the better as to avoid the "Post-Perk-Hangover" that players like Rondo and KG were, perhaps, a little stubbornly plagued by following his trade.
In all honesty, you have to take a look at this team and ask yourself who else is still here from the Celtics of even two years ago!? The answer is no one (other than Jeff Green, who had barely even gotten his feet underneath himself in his unfamiliar and unfitting role, and just a rookie in Avery Bradley. The stark reality is: This is not your slightly-older brother's Boston Celtics anymore. It is actually one with a lot of promise in truly talented youth that have simply not been unleashed to begin development yet. I believe we have the players capable of winning a championship this year, but in order to even compete, we may have to finally face the facts and put the past to rest in order to allow our CURRENT most critical pieces to gel together and form an identity of their own.
Danny brought in a very commendable and surprising amount of talent over the summer. I think it's inherently obvious now that they MUST be the ones running the show and shouldering responsibility to fully reflect that. This isn't "Rondo's Team", or even KG's team right now... This is a group of guys who are trying desperately to figure out how to FORM a team.
Don't get me wrong however... Kevin Garnett will still ultimately be the engine that drives this club. Time has been surprisingly forgiving to him due in part to excellent time management and the fact that he was once an athletic freak in all meanings of the term, and that will indubitably become apparent down the stretch up to and through the playoffs once again as it did last season. However, I think it is inherently obvious that Pierce does not fit into this same category anymore, even despite his heroic, yet bipolar, clutch-ness that may have pushed us through a certain recent early-round playoff series *cough, Atlanta, cough*.
The fact is, we have added a slew of offensive players who are a lot less susceptible to breaking down over time due to youth. They just need some of that currently non-vacant time to show it. This will get even tougher unfortunately when Bradley comes back on the 2nd (crossing my fingers). And contrary to popular belief, dumping Courtney Lee is most definitely NOT the solution to THIS issue. That much would be all too apparent come playoff time I'm afraid... Lockdown perimeter defense is invaluable against teams like Miami. Can you imagine a defensive backcourt rotation of Rondo, Bradley and Lee all playing within the flow of each other and their athletic abilities?
For instance: No one will forgot the epic playoff duels between Pierce and Lebron of a couple years ago, but we also can't forget the fact that he's just no match anymore. Lebron is even much improved from his dominant play in Cleveland and his first two years in Miami. Should we meet him in the playoffs (assuming we make it there, of course) we will need none other than Jeff Green to be playing to the best of his abilities.
It is, realistically, our only chance - not even DeMarcus Cousins will change that - at taking down the champs. Pierce stood no chance at defending, or even keeping score with Lebron last year. Being perfectly honest: Injuries or not, 34 would have been entirely overmatched no matter what.
THAT is the reality that faces this team. Yes, we need another capable big man, that much is incontestable. - Why Darko! Whyyyy! - But without also completely immersing Jeff Green and our other younger players that, in actuality, now form the core of this team believe it or not, we stand no chance against Lebron and company.
There is a reason DA gave Jeff Green the contract that he did. We must remember that he was once a player himself as well. He should understand better than anyone the current mindset of JG and what it will take for him to flourish in this system. Unfortunately for fans, that very thing might be standing in the way of our beloved number 34 retiring as a Celtic - or at least before he returns on a one day contract to do just that.
Regardless, Pierce's jersey is unquestionably destined to hang from the rafters of the Garden, as no one could ever forget what he has done and what he has been through for this team. And as sad and as blasphemous as the next few words will read (I cringe a little when I write this)... The real "Truth" is that if Danny has the slim chance to get some value, such as Cousins, in return for Pierce and other non-future-threatening assets as discussed, he has got to go for it. And the additional "Truth" is that he inevitably will should such an opportunity present itself.
Danny Ainge cannot sacrifice our youth and I think he, more than anyone, obviously knows just how valuable the pieces that he has amassed really are... For now however, we can only hope that our Mr. Cousins continues to find himself waking up on the wrong side of the bed - a really, really big bed.