This week's mailbag focuses on DeMarcus Cousins and the internal improvements we've seen from the Boston Celtics. You can read previous editions of the mailbag here. If you want to submit a question for a future mailbag use this form here or tweet me @KevinOConnorNBA.
Q: Kevin, Celtics fans are all getting very excited by the chance to have a top three pick in this years draft, but with there being no obvious superstars available, do you think that Danny Ainge may try to trade the pick for an already established talent such as DeMarcus Cousins near the trade deadline? -- Tom (London)
A: Tom, I think Danny Ainge already answered this question himself in last week's interview on Toucher & Rich. Ainge said: "Listen, we consider all talented players. But what is the price? Who are the players that we have around to support?" Steve Bulpett also published a column stating that the "risk, price tag" is too high for Cousins. At the moment, I'd agree with that: the price tag is too high. But like Ainge said, he considers all talented players.
The price needs to be considered for all players, but especially for a guy like Cousins, who comes with huge question marks about his character. The Celtics have developed a team chemistry that is one of the best in the league. Could Cousins, a polarizing personality, potentially hurt that? Both Cousins and Marcus Smart have also butted heads, could they have issues with each other that creates tension in the locker room?
On the other hand, maybe Cousins' personality is similar to former NFL running back Corey Dillon, who was called a "cancer" during his time with the Cincinnati Bengals. Dillon was in the worst organization in sports, then came to the New England Patriots, a winning team, and became a winning player. What if Cousins is a true winner stuck in a losing organization? What if Cousins just wants to break free?
I tend to land on that side: Cousins is a winner stuck in a losing organization that lacks leadership and direction. The Celtics have one of the best coaches, they have a strong locker room full of genuinely good people, and their front office and ownership is amongst the best in the NBA. Cousins has also matured over the years with Sacramento; maybe he'll continue to with a winning team.
But that doesn't change the fact the Kings likely want an outrageous amount just for Cousins. For the price, I'd rather the Celtics trade for a guy like Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari, a player I mentioned as "potential corollary move" in July, and was rumored as a trade target one week later. If the Celtics were to acquire Gallinari -- who would give them a second late-game scorer alongside Isaiah Thomas, with a team-friendly contract -- they'd still likely retain the 2016 Nets pick, and they'd still have enough assets to make a push for a superstar in a trade or free agency.
Q: Let's pretend the Celtics do acquire DeMarcus Cousins. Do you think Danny Ainge (equipped with a top head coach, a star big, a game-changing defensive PG, and a deep team of above average role players) has the guile to make a case for Kevin Durant next summer? -- Jason (Los Angeles, CA)
A: Jason, you're never gonna take the hottest girl in your school to prom unless you try. Sometimes it takes more than just talking to her, too. Maybe it takes presenting yourself in a better way. Maybe that means changing up your hairstyle or buying some new clothes. Similarly, the Celtics need to make themselves an attractive organization for any potential free agent targets, and I don't see why they wouldn't include Kevin Durant -- because who the hell wouldn't want Kevin Durant? But the chances are obviously slim.
Q: What is your opinion about Jared Sullinger? -- Haralabos (Cyprus)
A: Haralabos, Sullinger is a good overall player. I love his ability to score in different ways. This year he's starting to shut up the doubters who shouted that he should stop shooting threes. Sullinger's one of the best mid-range shooters in the league, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise he's now splashing threes. His improved conditioning has also helped him defensively so far. It's nice to see him also taking on a more "junkyard dog" role, by playing aggressive inside, doing the little things, instead of trying to be "the man" on offense. Overall, it's encouraging. He's doing a lot to help his value in trades and in the open market as a free agent.
Q: As I write this, Golden State is 11-0. How long do you think their winning streak will go? -- Tomas (Brighton, MA)
A: Tomas, I think it'll be this week, with games against the Raptors, the Clippers, and Bulls. But if they get past these teams, then I think they'll go undefeated for the month, which means they'd be 19-0 entering December. That's also what the Patriots' record should be after they win the Super Bowl.
Q: I believe it is well past time to re-assess Kelly Olynyk's defensive abilities. Do you agree? -- Thick And Thin (Orlando, FL)
A: Thick and Thin, Olynyk has gotten better each year of his career, so it's no surprise to me he's even better now. Olynyk does a good job of "keeping in front" of driving players. Olynyk's rotations are also sharper. Bottom-line is he's not a revolving door like he was as a rookie. A lot of people are saying "Olynyk leads the NBA in Defensive Rating," which is somewhat misleading. The proper terminology is, "the Celtics lead the NBA in Defensive Rating when Olynyk is in the game." There's a difference, because no single player deserves all the credit. Perhaps a more impressive individual stat for Olynyk (and for other Celtics players) is their Defensive Box Plus/Minus. Of players to appear in at least five games, these Celtics are in the top 20: Sullinger (7th), Crowder (10th), Johnson (13th), Olynyk (16th); even that's representative of the "team," and not the "individual."
Q: At what point will they have to do something to open up a rotation spot for RJ Hunter, who already looks like a legit NBA rotation player? -- Michael (Melrose, MA)
A: Michael, I don't see why R.J. Hunter won't earn more minutes later in the year. R.J. gets better every team I watch him defensively. And offensively the shot should eventually start dropping. Stevens likely already trusts him by using him in the fourth quarter, and by keeping him after mistakes. Stevens must see his potential and that bodes well for him by the end of the year, when he could fill a more consistent role.
Q: Do you think that R.J. Hunter, Terry Rozier and Jordan Mickey will develop to be rotational players on a championship team? -- TdubisM (Adams, MA)
A: TdubisM, I think all three of those players have championship characteristics. Hunter has hit a number of clutch shots over his career, he's a team-first player, he plays hard, and he's trustworthy with the ball in his hands. Rozier could become a tenacious defender and can really change pace on offense. Mickey is a unique rim protector and I look forward to seeing him develop. If his three-point shot is for real, he's going to exceed everyone's expectations. So, yeah, I think these guys can be rotational players on a championship team in a few years.
Q: Hi Kevin, first off I would like to thank all you guys from CelticsBlog for the exquisite and extensive coverage, it's a lonely life as an NBA fan in soccer-crazy Western Europe. I've been wondering what you would do roster-wise if you were Danny Ainge, based on what we've seen these 10 games and assuming our players continue playing the way they are right now. Those 14 billion future draft picks will clog up the roster so who would you trade? Keep up the good work, greetings from France. -- ParisianCeltic (Paris, France)
A: ParisianCeltic, first off I want to send you my best, over here from Massachusetts. I was working my Web Editor shift at Comcast SportsNet New England when I read the news and immediately I felt depressed. What happened should simply not happen anywhere. I do hope France is able to become better and stronger because of this tragedy, and I hope as a world we are able to unite.
As for your question, it's going to be interesting to see what happens. I think Larry Bird's statement says it all -- "Tell Danny he can only have 15 players on the team." Ainge has a lot of valuable assets that at some point a move has to be made to consolidate the talent, making room to add an influx of players on the roster - whether it's on the front end, with a free agent signings, or at the back end, with rookie draft picks. I view a guy like Jared Sullinger as perfect trade bait; as much as I like his game, he's a free-agent-to-be, could demand a large contract, and he might hold more value to other teams than he does the Celtics. Maybe you can consolidate him with other players and/or draft picks. It'll be a lot of fun to see what they end up doing.
Thank you, please submit more questions for next Tuesday's mailbag.