2 wild trades that could've made the Celtics NBA title contenders
By WILL LAWS
Let's be honest. This year's trade deadline was a sobering follow-up to last year's fascinating mid-season shakeup. If 2015 represented the last call at the bar, with most general managers eager to make one last daring move before calling it a night, 2016 was the eventless day after, when you're content to stay home and hang tight with the friends you already know.
The pieces were in place for a few monster transactions, however, which could have shaken up the Eastern Conference and shaped another legitimate title contender in Boston. It basically came down to the architects of perhaps the NBA's two most flexible rosters opting to stand pat with the guys they have.
PointAfter explores an alternate universe where that didn't happen.
Trade 1: Hawks Let Horford, Teague Fly Away
Atlanta acquires: SG Avery Bradley, C Kelly Olynyk, C J.J. Hickson, Brooklyn's 2018 first-round pick
Boston acquires: C Al Horford, SF Danilo Gallinari
Denver acquires: PG Jeff Teague, PF David Lee, Dallas' 2016 first-round pick
These three teams were frequently linked together in the days leading up to the deadline, and for good reason. They all matched up well on paper, but seemingly reached a snag when it came down to draft picks. More specifically, Boston reportedly refused to entertain moving Brooklyn's juicy 2016 first-round pick, which has a good chance of landing in the top three.
The Celtics also own Brooklyn's 2018 first-rounder, however, which could have served as an interesting consolation prize for Atlanta and the final piece in an intriguing three-way swap.
The Nets don't possess any of their own draft picks until 2019, so the Hawks could bet on Brooklyn's bleak outlook staying that way. Trading away Horford and Teague wouldn't completely torpedo their chances at remaining competitive in the present, either. Bradley's three-and-D skill set would complement Dennis Schroder well, and Olynyk could bloom into a perfect fit for Mike Budenholzer's stretchy, shooter-heavy scheme.
Boston was understandably nervous about Horford possibly walking in the summer as an unrestricted free agent. The Celts were also reportedly eyeing Gallinari, who'd provide more long-term security.
With the Nuggets in the market for a "veteran difference maker" in the backcourt, Teague would fit the bill. Dealing Gallinari might be tough to swallow, but considering the nightmarish issues Gallo encountered while recovering from a torn ACL, it's probably not a bad idea to capitalize on his surging value. Nabbing Dallas' first-round pick, which should fall in the late teens, would also be a nice prize for a rebuilding squad in Denver.
The inclusion of Hickson and Lee would satisfy the salary requirements and provide a change of scenery for a pair of disgruntled veterans who are two of the most expensive players in the league per minute played this season.
Boston might ultimately be the team to poo-poo this trade, as Danny Ainge seemed hellbent on holding onto his hoarded draft picks unless a true superstar became available. But what if that's exactly what happened?
Trade 2: Kings Unload Cousins, Reload Frontcourt
Boston acquires: C DeMarcus Cousins, SF Omri Casspi
Sacramento acquires: C Pau Gasol, PF Amir Johnson, PF Jonas Jerebko, PG Marcus Smart, Brooklyn's 2016 first-round pick
Chicago acquires: PG Darren Collison, Boston's 2016 first-round pick
And ... Voilà. Just like that, Boston has once again emerged as LeBron James' most prominent obstacle to the NBA Finals.
If Ainge pulled the trigger on these two deals, Boston would likely start Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner, Crowder, Horford and Cousins, with Gallinari, Casspi and Jared Sullinger headlining the bench unit. That's a heck of a lot of offensive firepower. None of Cleveland's big men could ably contain Boogie, and Horford is an ideal rangy power forward with his newfound outside shot. Think of all the pick-and-pop opportunities with this crew.
It'd also open up minutes for rookie guards Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter to develop, though the Celtics would admittedly take a short-term hit on backcourt depth. There are a few reliable veterans out there in free agency (Luke Ridnour, Nick Calathes, Jared Cunningham) to plug those holes, though.
Meanwhile, the Bulls receive the first-round pick and rotation player they were seeking for Gasol, who's expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer. It would have served Chicago's best interest to fetch some sort of return for the beloved Spainard big man in a season that's seen the Bulls regress in almost every meaningful area.
It's fair to debate if the Kings would still be interested in Gasol without Cousins on the roster, but their rotation isn't looking too shabby after this deal, either.
Coach George Karl would likely tab Rajon Rondo, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Gasol and Willie Cauley-Stein as starters, with Smart, Marco Belinelli, Quincy Acy, Johnson, Jerebko and Kosta Koufos fighting for bench minutes. That could very well be enough to climb into the playoffs in a depleted Western Conference this year. Plus, they'd have Brooklyn's first-round pick this summer!
Even if Rondo and Gasol bolt for greener pastures this summer, Sacramento would have enough cap space to sign one max-level free agent. And that Nets pick would go a long way toward forming a cohesive plan to reload in L.A.B. (Life After Boogie).