More than any NBA team, the Boston Celtics have proven that they're willing to go all-in when the opportunity arises. First they parted ways with franchise legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for a bevy of draft picks that may or may not have worked out (they definitely worked out). Most recently, they traded Boston folk hero Isaiah Thomas because of the potential they saw in Kyrie Irving as a franchise leader, and got rid of all-around good guy Avery Bradley to make room for Gordon Hayward.
So when reports come out that the, you have to believe that general manager Danny Ainge is willing to part with basically any asset in order to get him.
But, at least for now, the Pelicans say they have no interest in trading their 24-year-old superstar. So that raises the question, what other stars might the Celtics be willing to part with assets to acquire? Is there anyone on the market who can take the Celtics from a very good team to a great team?
Let's take a look at five potential targets, and gauge whether they would be worth the Celtics' time. Keep in mind these are all hypothetical deals that haven't even reportedly been discussed, and the salary details would obviously have to be worked out. Consider this a thought experiment regarding the psyche of a franchise with one of the brightest futures in the NBA.
Remaining contract: Two years, $46.8 million (player option for 2018-19)
Potential deal: Jordan makes so much money that the Celtics would have to part with Al Horford or give the Clippers a number of smaller contract players (at least four or five), which would leave them scrambling to fill out a roster. The Celtics could also try to involve a third team, but that would complicate things even further.
Would the Celtics do it? No chance. Jordan is a solid player and the Celtics could use help on the glass, particularly on the offensive end, but Horford has been way too good to even think about trading him away for a player of Jordan's caliber. Even if they kept Horford, Jordan is probably not worth giving up any of their young assets (Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier). If they could swap Jordan for Aron Baynes straight up, they'd probably think about it, but they can't. The asking price will just be too high for DeAndre, particularly since he can opt out of his contract at the end of the year and there's no guarantee he'd return to Boston. Next.
Remaining contract: One year, $18.1 million (expiring)
Potential deal: If the trade deadline is approaching and the Pelicans get the sense that Cousins is not going to re-sign in New Orleans, they might be open to swapping him for a package of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and a future asset (perhaps the 2019 Memphis pick). The Pelicans are desperate for wing help to put around Davis, so the prospect of adding Brown might be enough to sway them into trading Cousins.
Would the Celtics do it? The Celtics love Brown, but they already have Tatum as a cornerstone wing for the foreseeable future. If they truly believe that they can re-sign Cousins and that he'll buy into Brad Stevens' system and cut down on the technicals, a starting lineup of Kyrie, Hayward, Tatum, Horford and Cousins certainly looks like a championship contender on paper for years to come. Ainge would think long and hard about this one, to be sure.
Remaining contract: Three years, $72.4 million (player option for 2019-20)
Potential deal: If Memphis decides that the Gasol/Conley pairing has run its course, the team could elect to send Gasol and a low-salary add-on like Tyreke Evans to the Celtics in exchange for Horford and an asset (perhaps Terry Rozier or one of the Celtics' incoming first-round draft picks). Getting Horford would allow Memphis to stay competitive while also building toward the future.
Would the Celtics do it? Horford has been great for the Celtics this season due to his shooting and passing ability -- Gasol also brings those things to the table while adding a bit more on the defensive end. But the Celtics already have the best defensive rating in the NBA, so it likely wouldn't be worth the disruption of adding a new player to the mix when you'll ultimately lose Horford's versatility to play both the four and five. Pass.
Remaining contract: Two years, $40.2 million (player option for 208-19)
Potential deal: It's early, but the warning signs are there for the Thunder. If they agree, like all reports indicate, that George is going to be a one-and-done in OKC, they could reach out to Boston for one of their young players like Jaylen Brown or, dare we say, Jayson Tatum. They likely won't get Tatum, but a package for Brown, Morris, Baynes and Rozier would give the Thunder NBA-ready wings to put around Russell Westbrook, plus a serviceable backup big for Steven Adams. If that doesn't work out, the Celtics could always throw their hat in the ring as a potential free agent destination next summer.
Would the Celtics do it? We meet again, old friend. The dalliance between Paul George and the Celtics may appear to be over, but you can never put anything past Ainge. A George move only makes sense if Ainge feels Boston is ready to be a title contender sooner than he anticipated (say, if LeBron James heads out West next offseason). Then the Celtics might feel more comfortable giving up young players like Brown and Rozier in order to get a seasoned All-Star who can get them to the Finals. The versatility and switchability of a Kyrie, Hayward, George, Tatum, Horford starting lineup would make any NBA coach drool. So while it's a long shot, it's definitely worth considering.
Remaining contract: Two years, $68.9 million (player option for 2018-19)
Potential deal: If we're doing a thought experiment, why not think big? A trade would be almost impossible (and the Cavs would never do it), so we're talking about luring LeBron into signing with Boston in free agency next summer. Picture this: The Cavs lose to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron and Kyrie have a secret vacation during the offseason on a remote island where they work out their issues. Boom -- LeBron takes his talents to Beantown.
Would the Celtics do it? Well, they'd have to think abou -- OF COURSE THEY'D DO IT. It's LeBron James we're talking about here. The Celtics would have to jettison some salary, but it'd be well worth it to get the generation's best player who's having arguably the best season of his career in year 15. It may seem crazy now, but Kevin Durant paved the way for superstars joining former rivals, and we all know that LeBron is no stranger to disappointing a fan base.