Lost amid the constant controversy surrounding the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers is the fact that the Boston Celtics are worse off than either squad. Doc Rivers' club is 14-17 after Tuesday night's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, a record that would put them outside the Eastern Conference playoffs if the season ended on Thursday.
For most preseason favorites, those struggles would lead to widespread panic. However, this isn't Boston's first rodeo and most fans have been patient as a bunch of new faces acclimate to playing under the microscope.
General manager Danny Ainge, on the other hand, has always been one to consider value whenever possible. He famously shopped both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen around last season's trade deadline before deciding against a move and seems ready to do the same with this bunch.
In particular, Ainge seems intrigued by the possibility of trading for troubled Sacramento Kings forward-center DeMarcus Cousins. In fact, according to NBA.com's David Aldridge, the Celtics and Detroit Pistons have emerged as the favorites to land Cousins if Sacramento chooses to trade him:
Many execs around the league have the Celtics and Pistons at the top of the list of Cousins admirers, even after this latest episode. The Boston Scenario goes like this: surely Cousins would straighten up and fly right if he was surrounded by winners; if he had Doc Rivers barking in one ear and KG barking in the other, he'd have no choice but to give in to the Mystique.
Obviously, the Cousins-to-Boston scenario seems more than a little pie in the sky. Rivers isn't a miracle worker, Kevin Garnett isn't some sort of psychological savant and Cousins is a grown man. To expect him to change his contentious ways is simply unrealistic.
Cousins will stop being a malcontent when he's good and ready—if he ever truly does.
It doesn't matter. If the Kings are willing to trade Cousins then the Celtics need to jump on the offer, regardless of cost.
Let's start with the most obvious reason Boston should be interested in Cousins: his talent. The former Kentucky star is still just 22 years old and has shown huge flashes of potential in his two-plus NBA seasons. Just last season, Cousins averaged 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game and looked to be emerging as the best young big man in the league.
On the other hand, the 2012-13 season has seen a massive regression. With numbers down across the board in every conceivable stat, Cousins has gone from being the Kings' most valuable player in 2011-12 to having a negative on-court impact this season.
Call me crazy, but I'm buying Cousins' untenable relationship with the Kings as the overarching reasons for his struggles. Barring injury, you just don't see a player this young and this skilled drop from ascendant to slightly above average overnight.
So, yes, perhaps a move to Boston could help resuscitate Cousins' career—just not because Rivers and Garnett are magical wizards like some believe.
Nevertheless, even acquiring an unhappy and less productive Cousins is a complete no-brainer for the Celtics. They have noticeably struggled against opposing big men all season long—especially defensively.
Boston ranks last in the NBA in rebounding and second-worst in rebounding rate, which shows its struggles on the glass aren't indicative of a pace problem. While some may find intricate statistical reasoning for the Celtics' big-man problem, it's actually quite simple.
At this point in his career, Garnett cannot consistently play 30 minutes a night, nor does the team want him to until May. Rivers isn't going to risk getting (arguably) his second-best player injured for regular season wins.
However, the Celtics have gotten less than satisfactory performances from Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, who were supposed to give them depth in the middle. Bass and Sullinger both have negative simple ratings and their most-used lineup together is the Celtics' worst five-man unit. Melo, meanwhile, is a complete non-factor.
Adding Cousins would certainly go a long way toward solving that problem. But what would it take?
The Kings have been steadfast in their position that Cousins isn't currently available, but Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones insinuated that huge offer could sway that position:
For the record, I've been told by the Kings repeatedly they won't trade DeMarcus Cousins. But if they get an offer they can't refuse....— JasonJones (@mr_jasonjones) December 31, 2012
Do the Celtics have enough to make that Godfather offer? It depends on how highly Sacramento evaluates Avery Bradley. A package of something like Bradley, Melo, Sullinger and a couple of first-round picks seems like a lot on paper, but not for someone of Cousins' caliber.
Bradley, for all of his rightful praise as a brilliant defender, isn't guaranteed to develop past who he is as a player. Though that's certainly good enough to put him in most starting lineups, but he also averaged 7.6 points and had an 11.31 PER last season.
If Sacramento is willing to have Bradley be the cornerstone of a Cousins deal, the Celtics should have jumped yesterday.
If not, that means it may take a third or even a fourth team to get involved. Once again, it doesn't matter.
Ainge learned once just how valuable a superstar big man can be once with Garnett. He needs to expunge every possible option to try to make lightning strike twice with Cousins.