By now, we all know the drill. The Celtics have loaded up on assets to make a trade for a star player to lead them to a new era of contending for championships. Ainge himself has stressed the need to be "in the game" when an opportunity arises, as the Houston Rockets were when James Harden became available. Ainge has commented on having better assets than he did when he landed Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
But none of that matters if you don't have anyone to trade for. It doesn't make much sense to load up on assets and use them up on 2nd and 3rd tier players. So who are these mysterious trade targets?
We've focused on DeMarcus Cousins a lot and it does feel like that situation could combust at any moment. But what if it doesn't? What if Vlade Divac's cast of misfit toys miraculously turns into a cohesive unit and George Karl has them all signing campfire songs on the team plane? Even if things go south there will be other bidders for Cousins and Karl seems to want veterans instead of picks and young guys, so that could leave us on the outside looking in again.
What about Kevin Love? The ink wasn't even dry on his contract before people started whispering that he might be a candidate to get traded as early as this winter if things didn't mesh better than they did last year. But in truth, things were meshing pretty well by the end of the year and there's every reason to believe that a smart guy like Blatt will be able to figure that out given a whole offseason to prepare.
So after those two names, who do we think could reasonably be available?
Is anyone all that excited about backing up the truck of assets to land Carmelo Anthony? Does anyone realistically think that we can convince Oklahoma City to part with Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook without them demading a trade? (and even then, Durant would be a free agent and able to sign with any team he wants, ...like say the close-to-hometown Wizards).
So let's go down the list and look at the stars of the league that made 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team All NBA.
1st Team: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Marc Gasol
Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. Next.
2nd Team: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, Pau Gasol, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul
We mentioned Cousins already. Aldridge just changed teams, Gasol is too old, Chris Paul isn't going anywhere, and Westbrook isn't either.
3rd Team: Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, DeAndre Jordan, Klay Thompson,Kyrie Irving
Blake's not going anywhere, Tim Duncan is riding off into the sunset soon, DeAndre Jordan is a space cadet but he's legally bound to stay in LA now, Klay and Kyrie are locked in where they are as well.
That's all three teams. What if we expand the search to include the guys that merely received votes for the teams?
The only guys that might be moderately available would be DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Joakim Noah, and Kyle Lowry. Any of them seem like game changers? The only other name in that grouping that I could consider a big "get" would be Al Horford but that would likely have to wait till next summer when he'll be a free agent (and most of the league will be awash with max cap space).
Speaking of free agents, ...
"I've always thought that cap space was fool's gold," an Eastern Conference executive said. If you operate under the assumption that James and Durant stay home next summer, you begin to see why. There are other big names on the 2016 free-agent list, but many have strings attached. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki are big names, but how much will they be worth next July at the ages of 30, 35 and 38, respectively? Joakim Noah and Al Horford are big names, too, but both also will be on the wrong side of 30. The free agents to watch will be younger stars with their best years ahead of them -- Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, Nicolas Batum, Timofey Mozgov and even Hassan Whiteside.
Look, I get the plan that Danny has laid out. I even support it to a large extent. But I'm having a very hard time picturing how we're going to follow through on it when there's no clear target to aim for. It makes Danny's efforts to trade up in the draft make all that much more sense - but that was a swing and miss.
A big part of the problem is the way the league is shifting in general. Due to the last collective bargaining agreement, contracts are shorter and thus teams are prevented from locking themselves into epic mistakes that cost them all their cap space for years on end. The cap is going way, way up as well, due to a new TV deal bringing in lots more cash for the teams to spend. So even teams that made mistakes recently will have gobs of cap space in the near future.
Some teams might be willing to give up an asset here or there to dump some salary, but they won't be offloading superstars or even guys with the potential to be stars. In short, I don't see many more James Hardens being on the market because his team isn't sure they have the cap space to pay him.
But maybe I'm missing something. Perhaps I've overlooked some key, rising star and potential franchise guy. So I guess I'll ask the question to you. Who should Danny Ainge look to trade for?