Are the Celtics on their way to forming a big 3?
As long as the currently-in-limbo Kyrie Irving trade is completed as expected, the Boston Celtics will sport two all-star players this season, and with the parity within the NBA, they could be looking to add one more.
When free agency started at the end of June, the Celtics were reportedly interested in dealing for Paul George, before he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. As of now, the Celtics’ core players are guards Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier, forwards Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, and Jayson Tatum, along with center Al Horford. Their rotation certainly sounds impressive, but in order to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, and to have a shot at knocking off the defending world champion Golden State Warriors, they will most likely need one more piece.
Even after giving up their most valuable asset in the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 unprotected first-round pick for Irving, the Celtics still have a plethora of draft picks over the next few seasons that will be very attractive to teams looking to begin rebuilding.
George could still be in play for Boston, as well as other teams, as he is on the last year of his contract and is looking to get paid in free agency next offseason. The Thunder are playing in a loaded western conference, and if they are struggling, or they feel like they will be unable to re-sign either Russell Westbrook or George, trading George for a pick to jump start a rebuild may be a good option for OKC. Of course, Boston will have competition, as George is one of the best players in the NBA, and the Cleveland Cavaliers nearly pulled of a trade for George during the 2017 NBA Draft.
One thing that is preventing the Celtics from becoming an elite squad is their lack of an interior presence. Rebounding and post defense is something that they desperately lack, and are exposed when playing teams like Cleveland. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson have dominated Boston for the past three seasons in the playoffs, and in order to go toe-to-toe with the Cavs, the Celtics need to upgrade their big men. Al Horford is a very good player, but his game revolves around perimeter and mid-range shooting as well as passing, and Horford is not a good defender or rebounder. One player that would instantly improve Boston dramatically is Pelicans’ center DeMarcus Cousins.
When Cousins is motivated and locked in, he’s one of the league’s premier players. He provides elite interior scoring, great post defense, is a monster in pick-and-roll situations, and is a capable three-point shooter, as evidenced by his ~36% rate last season.
New Orleans gave up a lot for him, clearly hoping he and Anthony Davis would form a “twin towers” duo and that they would be able to retain Cousins in the future. However, much like Oklahoma City, the Pelicans could be victims of playing in a competitive conference. If they don’t appear to be in the hunt for a high playoff seed, and they feel like Cousins will be leaving for greener pastures after the season, recouping assets would be a good idea.
Another fantastic big man who could be available is Memphis’s Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies lost many of their key players this offseason, including Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, and Tony Allen. As with the aforementioned teams in this article, Memphis plays in the western conference, and doesn’t seem to pose much of a threat to Golden State. Gasol, along with PG Mike Conley, have been Grizzlies mainstays for years, and are beloved by the city of Memphis. At this point, it’s hard to see the team parting with Gasol, but it would make sense from a basketball perspective. The Celtics actually own the Grizzlies’ first round pick this season, although it is top 8 protected. Memphis could regain that selection as well as either one of Boston’s young players or another pick.
Gasol is a solid rebounder, good defender, and fantastic offensive player. He shot a ridiculous 39% from three-point range last season, and his passing skill is invaluable to the Grizzlies’ offense. He would fit right into Boston’s scheme, although because of his age(he will turn 33 in January), he may not fit into the Celtics’ plans well.
Carmelo Anthony’s name has been throw around in rumors, but because of his ball dominant play style, lack of defense, and bloated contract, it’s unlikely the Celtics are interested in acquiring him.
Although they just made one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent memory, Boston may not be finished wheeling and dealing this season. And if they hope to challenge Cleveland and Golden State, they can’t be.