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Adam Kaufman

With NBA’s Trade Deadline Approaching, a Yay for DeMarcus Cousins and a Nay for Ty Lawson in Green

DeMarcus Cousins.jpg


Rajon Rondo’s gone. So is Jeff Green. But, thanks to the way coach Brad Stevens has his Celtics playing of late, it’s still the Silly Season in Boston.

The NBA’s trade deadline is Thursday, an interesting time for Celts president of basketball operations Danny Ainge with his team sitting just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot after wins in four of five with 31 contests left to play.

C’s fans will debate whether Ainge should stand pat and allow his team to make a competitive run for the seventh or eighth seed in a dismal East, jump at the opportunity to be a seller in the event he can find the right deals for veterans on expiring contracts like Brandon Bass, Marcus Thornton, or Tayshaun Prince, or bolster his club’s chances while simultaneously playing for the future in the form of adding pieces.

Real pieces.

That’s what made Monday intriguing. Instead of reports speculating which contender someone like Bass or Thornton could assist off the bench, Boston was linked to potential cornerstone additions.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote the Celtics and Nuggets have had “exploratory talks” about point guard Ty Lawson, noting “Denver isn’t dealing Lawson unless it gets a bounty in return.”

“The C’s have a thousand draft picks, two big trade exceptions, and a bushel of interesting young guys,” Lowe continued. “It’s unclear how interested they really are, and dealing for Lawson now would bring the risk of a semi-unwanted playoff appearance. Boston will not include Marcus Smart in any Lawson deal.”

Hours later, before C’s diehards really had a chance to process the rumor, there was another, courtesy of Sam Smith from Bulls.com.

“Another Celtics’ big man rumor floating around during All-Star weekend has been their pursuit of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins,” Smith wrote. “There is no indication he’s available from the team, but the speculation has been he and George Karl won’t work together and Karl wants to play faster without a low post center. So Boston is rumored to give it a try. Hey, who thought they would get Kevin Garnett?”

A couple things here:

First and foremost, the Celtics have the pieces to get either deal done, whether by use of future draft picks, trade exceptions, expiring contracts, young talent, or extensive prayer.

Second, I don’t believe either trade will happen, particularly the Cousins rumor – which, in this case, is the loosest definition of that word. The Cousins report didn’t come from someone like Adrian Wojnarowski or even Chris Broussard; it’s via a writer for Bulls.com. Marc D’Amico isn’t breaking trade news for Celtics.com, and that’s no slight. In Smith’s defense, though, I certainly believe Ainge made the call. Who wouldn't?

But, for the sake of dreaming, let’s explore. Would either Lawson or Cousins be worth the haul they’d require?

Based on what we know about the Lawson rumblings, which is very little, I’d pass.

There’s no question the talented and speedy point guard is on a team-friendly deal, earning $12.4 million next year and $13.2 mil in 2016-17, and he’s having another great year, averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 assists per game. When it comes to an ability to create his own shot and bury it, drive the lane, or get to the line, Lawson is superior to both Smart and Avery Bradley.

He’s also 27, which is young enough to be a force for a few more years, but would his skills start to erode by the time Boston is a viable contender? I never bought in much to the idea of Rondo being a guy who could lure big-name free agents to our cold, snow-covered city simply because of his vast talents and I don’t feel any differently about Lawson.

Also worthy of discussion, would his arrival hinder Smart’s development at the point, since the rapidly improving rookie would be moved either to the bench or off the ball in the coming years?

Ultimately, though, my biggest question about Lawson – and, no, it has nothing to do with January’s arrest for suspicion of DUI – concerns Lowe’s use of the word “bounty.” There’s no disputing the guard’s abilities, but he’s not that franchise-changing piece that’s enticing enough to part with multiple first-round picks, unless we’re talking about selections that likely won’t amount to much, such as those from the Clippers or Mavericks, not to mention whatever additional young talent that could be required.

Clearly Ainge isn’t stockpiling his treasure chest of picks to use them, and he's said as much. That’s no way to rebuild. For Ainge, the business has been asset-collection in hopes of cashing in at just the right time.

In this fantasy land of the Kings parting with Cousins and choosing Boston as his landing spot, I’m in. All in.

In fact, if I’m Ainge, I’m calling Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro to say, “Hey, Pete, here’s a list of all the picks we have over the next five years. Take what you want and give me back however many you think I should have. We’ll give you Jared Sullinger, too. Unless you like Kelly Olynyk better for some reason. Please like him better. Mmmkay, call me!”

Despite earlier reports suggesting otherwise, I truly find it hard to believe Karl would want to part with Cousins -- who’s averaging 23.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks a game -- right after his hiring. The superstar is 24 and still getting better, a dominant force on both ends of the floor, and explosive in about every way imaginable. Unfortunately, that includes his fiery personality but, hey, Stevens is used to that. He used to coach Rondo! Right?

However, it’s possible Cousins and Smart would have some fences to mend, but that’s really a subject for down the road in the event there’s anything to this discussion.

Thinking bigger picture for a moment, what if there’s a way to make everyone happy?

Between the two, there’s no question the Celtics would prefer to have Cousins. The Kings, according to Lowe, could also be a fit for Lawson. So, how about a three-team deal? Given such a blockbuster would be so reliant on draft picks and trade exceptions, I won't begin to speculate on a permutation. There are several that would work.

By Thursday at 3 p.m., Ainge will have to do his best to assess which direction his team is heading this season and how seriously he’d like the Celtics to compete for a playoff spot. Either Lawson or Cousins could help dramatically toward that end, but at a steep price. The cost, if realistic, would determine whether that type of addition is beneficial for the long-term plan Ainge has worked so diligently to set in motion dating back to his trades of Paul Pierce and Garnett in the summer of 2013.

At the moment, though, there’s no Pierce on the roster to build around, so Ainge will have to find or develop that bona fide All-Star awfully soon.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman and email me here.

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