Say this for Danny Ainge, he's not afraid to be aggressive. The Boston Celtics president has been open about his agenda to acquire a star, flaunting his treasure trove of assets around the league to any team that may be willing to bite.
Recent rumors suggest that Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers are Ainge's current targets. While nothing appears imminent on either front, both superstars are reportedly available for the right price, and no team has more chips to cash in than the Celtics.
Either of these players would immediately step in as the best player on Boston's roster, pairing with Isaiah Thomas and new addition Al Horford to form the latest incarnation of a Celtics Big Three.
Let's assume that the Celtics can only manage to acquire one of these stars. Technically they could squeeze both of them under the salary cap, depending on what salaries they are sending out, but doing so would severely deplete the team's depth. After acquiring one of these star players, there may not be enough assets left over to entice a deal for the other without giving up a core piece of the roster or the coveted Nets pick in 2017.
So if the Celtics were to settle for only one of these stars, which would it be?
- Westbrook is one of the top five players in the game. Last season his 27.64 PER was third in the league among players that averaged at least 10 minutes per game. He was also 4th in the league with 22.8 estimated wins added. You want a superstar that could potentially carry the team to a title? Westbrook fits that mold.
- He's the top scoring option that the Celtics need, having averaged 23.5 points per game last year to rank 8th in the league. He's coming off his most efficient season, setting career highs with 45.4 percent shooting from the field and a .554 True Shooting Percentage.
- A well above average free throw shooter at a tick under 82 percent for his career, Westbrook's aggressive style has put him at the charity stripe for an average of 6.8 free throw attempts per game. That's more than any Celtics player averaged last season, with Thomas coming the closest at 6.6 free throw attempts per game.
- Westbrook is more than just a scorer. He's a triple-double machine, racking up an astounding 18 of them last season to lead the league. In addition to his lofty point totals, Westbrook also averaged 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists last season. If anyone is going to join Oscar Robertson as the only player to ever average a triple-double in a season, it's Westbrook.
- He's not a shooter. His career shooting percentage from beyond the arc hovers just above 30 percent, which makes him ideally suited to pair with someone in the backcourt that can space the floor, giving Westbrook room to drive. The Celtics could start Westbrook and Thomas (career 36.2 3P%) together, but shooting is an overall weakness for this team, which could hinder Westbrook's ability to operate.
- Westbrook has played most of his career in an iso-heavy offense with the Thunder, while coach Brad Stevens has implemented a system that thrives on ball movement. It's not that Westbrook can't succeed in this system, but would he want to? He's a guy that likes to have the ball in his hands, and while his assist totals show he's a willing passer, he wants to be the one that initiates the offense.
- He's a free agent next summer and is unlikely to agree to an extension as part of a trade. How much are you willing to give up for a guy that could bolt after one year? Perhaps getting him to Boston to work with Stevens will help convince him to stay, increasing the odds of getting him to sign here long term, but it's a risk.
- While Griffin isn't quite in the elite tier that Westbrook is in, he's still arguably one of the top dozen players in the league. He produced a 22.22 PER (18th in the league) in an injury plagued season, but was in the top 11 in each of the previous three seasons.
- He's capable of leading this team in scoring, having averaged 21.5 points per game in his career on 52.1 percent shooting from the field. He can score in a variety of ways and has become much more than just the highlight-reel dunker we remember jumping over a Kia years ago.
- His free-throw shooting was a hindrance early in his career, but he's converted over 70 percent of his attempts over the last three seasons. He's physical in the paint and capable of drawing contact that puts him at the line.
- He has started to increase his range in recent years. He shot 40 percent from beyond the arc two years ago, albeit in limited attempts. He probably shouldn't be counted on as a reliable three-point threat, but he's developed a consistent mid-range game.
- Griffin is a great rebounder for his position, averaging 9.6 boards per game in his career. Don't let Boston's ranking of 6th in the league in rebounds fool you, as their uptempo pace played heavily into their total. Opponents still out-rebounded the Celtics by a margin of 1.1 boards per game, so adding another big man that can clean the glass would go a long way toward correcting that.
- He's a willing passer, having averaged 4.0 assists per game in his career. Throw it to him in the post and let him go to work. If the double team comes, Griffin can be trusted to pass out of it. He can also drift out to the elbow to initiate offense from there. Teams have to respect his range from that spot, and he can swing the ball around from there. A passing big man is essential for the system the Celtics are using, making Griffin a great fit.
- It may not cost the Celtics quite as much to acquire Griffin not only because Westbrook is the superior player but also because Ainge has a great relationship with Doc Rivers. It's not a stretch to see Ainge swindling his old friend Doc in a deal, considering Doc the head coach is much more competent than Doc the GM.
- He's had his injury issues. Griffin missed his entire rookie season after breaking his left knee cap in a 2009 preseason game. Since then he's missed at least 16 games in three of the last six seasons. That includes last season, where was was limited to 35 games by a quad injury. His return last season was then delayed when he broke his hand in an altercation with a friend, who also happens to be an equipment staff member for the Clippers. This incident not only calls into question his fragile injury history but also maturity issues that need to be monitored.
- He's a power forward, which is Horford's preferred position. While the newest prize acquisition for the Celtics played center for the Atlanta Hawks the last few years, that was out of necessity due to playing alongside Paul Millsap. He could do the same alongside Griffin in Boston, but you have to believe that the opportunity to move back to power forward was one of the factors that enticed Horford to come here. He may not be thrilled if the Celtics bring in another star that plays that position.
- Griffin has an early-termination option in his contract after next season, allowing him to enter free agency next summer. As is the case with Westbrook, the Celtics risk trading valuable assets for a player that could bolt after one year. If Boston doesn't win a title with either Westbrook or Griffin next year and they leave in free agency after the season, it would set back years of careful planning that Ainge has done to get the Celtics in this position.