Friday, July 08, 2016

What Is The Next Step For The Celtics

Channeling his inner-Blutarsky, Danny Ainge is not ready to give up on building the Celtics in to a championship contender.

Speaking to the media in Utah where he was watching the C's play in Summer League - which is officially the coming out party for Terry Rozier's career - the President of Basketball Operations for the Celtics stated that, "I think we're not done."

Ainge specifically talked about the need to add shooting and to improve at the center position.

All NBA teams, except the Bulls, need more shooting so that statement did not surprise me but talking about how, "we can use a stronger center," caught my attention.

There are very few impact centers available in the NBA these days and one of the rare breed that can play the position at a high level is Al Horford, who's signing will be made official by the Celtics today.

Horford can play power forward, and he's probably a better fit there than at center, but if that's the case we still need to figure out who Ainge is targeting to play center.

Of the few centers that can be associated with being an impact player, a few have no shot to realistically come to Boston.  Minnesota should be forced to forfeit its franchise if it dealt away Karl-Anthony Towns.  Hassan Whiteside just signed a max contract with Miami and Dwight Howard just signed a free agent deal with Atlanta.

Enes Kanter could be available as Oklahoma City figures out its new reality.  Milwaukee could deal away Greg Monroe.  Kanter and Monroe are both solid players but neither make the Celtics a contender.

Jahlil Okafor of the 76ers was rumored to be a target of the Celtics before the draft and maybe those talks could start up again as Philadelphia desperately needs guards.  Okafor has loads of potential as a scorer and rebounder but again, I don't think he makes the Celtics a contender immediately but he does provide the promise of developing into a superstar.

The last name is one that has been floated in association with Boston before and, my apologies for burying the lead, he is probably the one center available that could truly make the Celtics into a legitimate contender in 2017.

Just imagine the Garden's public address announcer for a moment.

"And at center, in his seventh year from the University of Kentucky, wearing #51 ... DeMarcus Couuuuusins!"

Yes, DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins may be the missing piece for the Celtics.  The 6-11, 270-pound behemoth is one of the most talented guys in the league and can score, rebound, and protect the rim.

In each of the last two seasons, Cousins has been an All-Star and has been on the All-NBA 2nd Team.  In 2014-15, his per game averages were 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks.  Last year his per game averages were 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks.  He even started shooting three-pointers at a reasonable rate the last two years, hitting on just 25% two years ago but improving to a modest 33% last season.

The issue with Cousins is maturity.  He has a reputation as being a malcontent and a coach killer and he is not popular with his teammates.  As talented as he is - and there's no doubting Boogie's talents - the Celtics would have to really do their homework on Cousins because 25-year-old centers with the beginnings of a Hall of Fame resume do not become available for no reason.

There are plenty of articles, columns, and YouTube highlights that show Cousins to be a head case and that the negatives far outweigh his positives.  But what if he's been a prick in Sacramento because his situation has been abysmal.

What if Cousins just wants to be part of not just a stable professional environment but one of the best environments in the NBA?

What if Cousins wants to play for a coach that knows how to do his job?

What if Cousins wants to be surrounded by teammates that can play the game and help him compete for titles?

These are the questions that Ainge needs answers to if he's going to take a gamble on Boogie.  The Celtics ownership, led by Wyc Grousbeck, has given Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens the resources and patience needed to create a winning environment.  Ainge has constructed a roster of pieces that championship teams need to complement their stars while also adding future first round draft picks that provide him with the necessary assets to make a trade for the superstar that they need to get themselves into contention.

Boston will not be alone in putting together a ransom to the Kings for Cousins' services.  The Cavaliers are already linked to Cousins and the idea of a LeBron James-Kyrie Irving-Boogie Cousins triumvirate doing battle with Golden State's SuperWarriors in the NBA Finals is intriguing.  The Lakers have historically been a landing spot for the game's top centers when they become available and with Kobe riding off into retirement they desperately need a star to lead them through the next chapter of their history.

Cousins could be the player to put Boston into the small group of teams that can contend for the title in 2017.

It's now on Danny Ainge to make sure he's worth the risk.

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