NEW ORLEANS — Five items heard, seen or clarified from an All-Star Weekend of all things NBA…
Boston Celtics Are on the Clock
A common question around town over the weekend was whether the Boston Celtics, who have assembled the ingredients needed for a superstar trade package but have gone so long without finding a suitable partner, would make it happen this week.
Here's hoping they have the nerve to make Jimmy Butler their prize.
If the Celtics make that move, LeBron James' unshakable hold on the Eastern Conference might finally loosen. Butler to the Celtics is a big enough deal—with legit NBA Finals ramifications—to put in perspective the relatively inconsequential move of DeMarcus Cousins from one mediocre team in Sacramento to another in New Orleans.
The Celtics have reservations, according to league sources, about adding Butler after how wonderfully the Isaiah Thomas emergence has gone. There is valid reason for concern, because Thomas is reveling in his top-dog status.
This is what he said after the All-Star Game late Sunday night: "I'm coming for the scoring title."
Thomas is second in the league with 29.9 points per game to Russell Westbrook's 31.1.
Thing is, the Celtics have to realize that it's always going to be risky when you go all-in. To win a title, you need to have multiple star players, and those players must figure out how to work together.
Boston has a chance to have three top pieces in Butler, Thomas and Al Horford, when the Celtics very recently were winning a lot of hands despite not actually holding any aces. They already have a future gem in Jaylen Brown and still hold abundant draft picks, and Butler is such a perfect fit with his fire and two-way excellence.
He absolutely has an ego, but he has earned that right.
Maybe a deal could get done without including the Celtics' projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft (originally Brooklyn's selection), but including that pick would make it easy to do business.
Getting the potential top selection after the Kings just got that tepid haul for Cousins would be a huge victory for Bulls management—and a narrative about-face for John Paxson and Gar Forman after they seemed confused in delaying the rebuilding process last summer.
Paxson and Forman recently got a vote of confidence from Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, and can count themselves among the few executives who can feel comfortable restarting the franchise, even with Dwyane Wade around. Other NBA decision-makers are hoping that if the Bulls blow it up right after the Kings started over, it'll set a tone for sellers to do so before Thursday's trade deadline.
The Toronto Raptors already showed their belief that James' Cleveland Cavaliers are vulnerable by making what could be their pivotal move for Serge Ibaka. But the Celtics are in even better position with the strong possibility of having home-court advantage over the Cavs in the playoffs. Boston is just three games behind Cleveland for the best record in the East.
Expect Joel Embiid to Power Through, Ben Simmons Not so Much
Because you can count on Joel Embiid to bask in any opportunity with a spotlight, he was on hand in New Orleans despite his inability to play in the Rising Stars Challenge due to a left knee injury.
With it now uncertain whether Ben Simmons will play this season because of a setback with his foot, it becomes a natural question for the Philadelphia 76ers whether they want to bother pushing Embiid.
It'd be pretty discouraging under any circumstances for Embiid to get shut down again—and it looks as if that will not be necessary, according to league sources.
There is a possibility Embiid will need an offseason procedure to address the slight meniscus tear in his knee—but only if symptoms persist. The belief is his symptoms will subside because the bone bruise is causing most of his current discomfort…and a lot of rest over the break will help that.
Expect Embiid back on the court to give the Sixers some real-life excitement besides how good their future draft situation looks, which will be especially encouraging in light of the Kings' ongoing mismanagement.
Don't Buy the 'Russ-KD Make Good' Storyline
The much-anticipated shoving of Westbrook into the same room as Kevin Durant at All-Star Weekend resulted in that one alley-oop moment, but words mean more than what we saw on the court. "I don't know what y'all need," Westbrook told reporters during his Friday media session, "but I'm in a great place."
Most of the time, Westbrook really has moved on. It's just his personality not to let go of stuff completely.
And what people have lost sight of, according to one person close to Westbrook, is the irksome fact that Durant left to join the very team that eliminated Oklahoma City last spring.
The All-Star Game blurred the lines of Thunder vs. Warriors.
The regular season still doesn't.
East's Other Beast on the Take
We've covered the Celtics. The Raptors went for Ibaka. That leaves one other top-four Eastern Conference team, and the third-place Washington Wizards are highly likely to bolster their anemic bench at the trade deadline.
Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld has been making the calls as opposed to just fielding them, according to NBA sources, so it's promising for Washington fans that someone is coming—and guard Lou Williams, the Los Angeles Lakers' leading scorer, would be an interesting fit.
Given how much Williams indulges his hand when it's hot, it'd be crazy to see him playing with John Wall and Bradley Beal in a three-guard alignment at times.
Or maybe not so crazy, according to Wall. He said he and Beal, who've butted heads in the past, have figured something out this season.
"When one of us is hot, we're still looking for other players," Wall said. "Last year if we were hot, we wanted to make that big play every time."
Wall also said of himself: "I'm stepping into the leadership role the best I ever have."
Next Steps for Pelicans: Find a Veteran Presence
As logical as it was for Pelicans general manager Dell Demps to make that lopsided trade after he has been rightly criticized for not surrounding Anthony Davis with much, let's not lose sight of the weak leadership structure in New Orleans into which Cousins moves.
The big man hardly needs to go meekly into town, because Davis is not a leader by nature. Davis told me before the season how he was trying to make himself into one, and head coach Alvin Gentry doesn't order anyone to fall into line. Cousins is 26; Davis is 23—and it's clear who the big brother is, both having gone to college at Kentucky.
Abundant risk exists that Cousins doesn't mature at all after this move, even though it provides an opportunity for him to reconsider how much he wants to win. The best veteran voice on the Pelicans is Quincy Pondexter's, but it's hard to have influence when you're rehabbing from knee surgery.
(By the way, let's just not tell all the Sacramento fans who still hate the Lakers from those rivalry days that Hield, No. 24, is a total diehard, crazy-loving Kobe Bryant loyalist.)
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.