Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has maintained during Boston's rebuilding/asset-collection phase that his team's desire is to "stay in the game" and examine all opportunities to land big-name players when they become available.
Enter Ainge and his wagon full of future draft picks. The Celtics, at the moment, are poised to have four first-round picks in the 2016 NBA draft. That includes Brooklyn's unprotected pick (the Nets won for the first time in eight tries Wednesday night) and selections belonging to Dallas (if outside the top seven) and Minnesota (if outside the top 12).
There's a real chance Boston could end up with four picks inside the top 20 depending on how the Mavericks and Wolves fare in a cutthroat West.
The Celtics also project to have three second-round picks, including Philadelphia's selection (the winless 76ers would deliver No. 31 at the moment). And there is Boston's future stash of picks that includes the Nets' 2018 unprotected pick and the right to swap places with them in 2017, as well as another future first-rounder from Memphis.
It's obvious the Celtics will eventually trade some of that surplus for established talent. The question right now is: Would the Celtics consider trading Brooklyn's 2016 unprotected pick as part of a package for Cousins?
This is a question that causes much consternation for Celtics fans, who are eager to add an elite superstar to a team desperate for a go-to presence (as hammered home in Wednesday's loss to the Pacers). But there is hesitance to deliver a high pick when there are questions about whether Cousins would behave better under Celtics coach Brad Stevens and the overall impact he would have on a locker room that Boston decision-makers have worked hard to make a positive and nurturing environment.
During his weekly call to Boston sports radio 98.5 The Sports Hub on Thursday, Ainge was presented a thinly veiled hypothetical about the scenario on the "Toucher and Rich" program.
"Listen, we consider all talented players, but what is the price?" Ainge said. "Who are the players that we have around to support? All of that is [discussed] when we have trade talks. I think everybody knows who you are talking about. The bottom line is I can't talk about any players, but I can assure you that we're familiar with every player in the league and every player's background and their character. We consider it all."
Celtics fans are maybe somewhat irrationally attached to the Brooklyn pick in part because of the allure that it could deliver the No. 1 selection (and this is the time of year when every draft is dubbed "deep" and "talent laden"). Earlier this week, we posted a Twitter poll asking whether Boston fans would prefer (1) the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals or (2) a top-three pick delivered from the Nets. A whopping 73 percent of responders wanted the pick more than an extended playoff run.
It's the age-old tug-of-war between instant and delayed gratification, particularly when examining the possibility of trading that pick for an established star (and, remember, the Kings would certainly demand much more in return). The Celtics with a superstar addition are seemingly a legitimate immediate contender in the Eastern Conference, while developing a top draft pick could extend Boston's ability to contend deep into the future.
Call it the Cousins Conundrum. At age 25, Cousins has established himself as a potential top-10 player in the NBA (he was ranked No. 12 in #NBARank this year) and he'd fit an obvious area of need for the Celtics. He's coming off a season in which he averaged 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds, landed his first All-Star nod and was voted to the All-NBA second team.
Put him in Stevens' pace-and-space offense and -- oh no, all the Celtics fans reading this just fainted.
Cousins is earning $15.8 million this season and has two more seasons on his reasonably priced deal. The Celtics would have to be confident Cousins would be their centerpiece long term before making a deal, especially considering the size of the maximum contract he would ink down the road with the salary cap on the rise.
So, should the Celtics try to make a deal?
In our Twitter poll, followers were split with a slight early advantage to those willing to trade the pick for Cousins.
What would a Cousins package entail? We can use last year's Kevin Love trade as a guide. The Wolves emerged with two former No. 1 picks -- one (Andrew Wiggins) glitzier than the other (Anthony Bennett) -- and Thaddeus Young. Remember, too, Love was in a contract year, so that might have diminished the overall return.
Let's say the conversation starts at the Nets' 2016 and 2018 picks, one of Boston's young bigs and David Lee's expiring contract. If I'm Ainge, I'm listening. But if the Kings get greedy and want someone like Marcus Smart in the package, then it's probably more prudent to remain patient and navigate the current draft-and-develop strategy while hoping other stars become available down the road.
The encouraging news for Celtics fans is that Boston has positioned itself to at least ponder these sort of options. Because of Boston's assets, the Celtics are the first team referenced when a team has a potential star to move.
As Ainge said over the summer, "We've tried to put ourselves in the game -- to have those options and to have some opportunities to make big moves. So I guess that if they're big moves that we like, we do them. If they're big moves that we're not in love with, then we hold off and we wait."