1st installment of the CelticsLife mailbag; are Josh Smith and DeMarcus Cousins realistic targets?

So we just answered a few of your questions during our CelticsLife Live session, but there were some really good questions we didn't have time for. I wanted to answer a few of them in another new feature, our CelticsLife mailbag. We'll do these from time to time as you guys always have killer questions.

Let's get it started.

Two names we've heard a lot about in recent years, but two guys in very different situations this summer. Let's start with Smith.

A little while back I broke down the Smith to the Celtics possibility in detail, but here is the cliff notes version: Smith is a free agent, but the Celtics do not have any cap space to speak of so they'd need to acquire him in a sign and trade. For the deal to work, the C's would need Smith to agree to take a 4 year deal (as opposed to a 5 year deal on the open market) and provide compensation for the Hawks. The only player with significant value to Atlanta is Avery Bradley, so it really comes down to how much the Hawks like him, and whether they'd be willing to take back the required salary (two out of the following three: Brandon Bass, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee) to make a deal work. Considering Atlanta is going full bore after Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, this is extremely unlikely. But not impossible.

Cousins on the other hand is still under contract, and would need to de traded for. Recently rumors have been bubbling about a Cavs-Kings swap of this year's number 1 pick for Cousins, which shows you the type of value he has. The only player on the Celtics roster that may intrigue Sacramento enough to deal their immensely talented big man for is Rajon Rondo, but is that deal really worth it? You lose one franchise talent to acquire another far more troubled franchise talent. Are you really any closer to a title that way? Any other deal centered around Bradley and/or Jared Sullinger are just pipe dreams. Cousins may be crazy, but he's 17 points and 10 rebounds per game at age 22 crazy, and that type of crazy ain't cheap. Unless the C's are willing to give up Rondo, there is no chance of this happening.

Now this is a little more realistic. Let's say Howard does decide to join Houston (this would require the Rockets to decline several player options and deal Thomas Robinson), that would leave Houston with a roster of: Jeremy Lin-James Harden-Chandler Parsons-Asik-Howard and then a few bench guys. Is having a hulking seven footer in the paint right next to Dwight really the best way to construct the roster? I'd guess no. And that means Asik, and his minuscule $5.2 million cap hit for 2013-14 could be on the move.

Of course, the Celtics would be far from the only ones interested in the soon to be 27 year old, but they could at least make an offer. Houston would be looking for a power forward, so Jared Sullinger would probably start the deal, and the C's could also offer whoever they select with the 16th overall pick and a future first rounder to entice Houston further. Because of Asik's small cap number, it would not take a lot to even out the salary's (Jordan Crawford or Fab Melo would be enough), it would just come down to whether or not Boston has enough pieces to make the deal happen. Unfortunately for the Celts, other teams would be lining up to acquire Asik, so a Sullinger/guy they drafted at #16/future 1st deal is unlikely to win the auction. The Celtics would have to hope that Houston was looking for several cheap, useful players to help round out their roster in this situation, but either way I guarantee Danny makes a run at him if he's made available.

In the era of the new NBA CBA, young talent is king, and it is very expensive to acquire. Therefore any deal for a guy like Barnes is just really unlikely. When you consider how good Barnes looked in the playoffs, and the relative youth of the Warriors roster, why would they give him up? It doesn't help that Boston has a roster composed of aging stars (Pierce and KG) and overpaid role players (Terry, Bass, Lee) that Golden State would have very little interest in.

Of course there were rumors of a Pierce-Barnes swap at the All-Star break, but a few things to keep in mind; 1. That was never confirmed and always seemed weird from Golden State's end, 2. Even if true, the rumor was that Golden State rejected it, and 3. Barnes then played extremely well in the playoffs. Golden State would be foolish to give up the possibility of Barnes for the next decade for one year of Pierce, and I'd have to imagine they know this.

While KG coming back is undoubtedly good news for many Celtics fans, it's bad news for the team's cap space situation. I talked about their cap situation in more detail here, but basically KG's return locks them into being over the projected $58.5 million cap next year. No matter what they do with Pierce, they would be unable to sign any big names this summer.

However, even with KG back in the fold the team would be able to use the mid-level exception. If they end up under the luxury tax (likely if they buyout Pierce), they could sign a free agent to a 4 year, $21.5 million dollar deal with the MLE, and that opens up a host of possibilities. Here's the list, and among the guys available for about $5 million per season I really like Al-Farouq Aminu. He's only 22 years old, a fantastic rebounder and a strong defender. If Pierce is really gone he provides the perfect compliment to Jeff Green at the small forward position, and because he's only 22, still has the chance to grow as a player.

Comment from "Celtics Bro"

"Is it possible to get one of the Jazz big men (Milsap or Jefferson) without getting rid of pierce, KG, rondo?

Can we buy pierce out, and then sign him to a vet min or bi-annual so that he only makes around 6-7 mil next year instead of 15?"

Even if Pierce agreed to take his buyout and then take a minimum salary deal (he wouldn't, he'd be leaving $5-8 million on the table at a minimum), and his cap number for next season was $7 million, the Celtics would still enter next year well over the salary cap. Therefore signing either Millsap or Jefferson straight up would be impossible. However, the Celtics could look into a sign and trade.

What the Celtics could do is pick up Piece's option, and then try and put a package together that would attract Utah. Considering the Jazz lack of competent guards, the deal would almost definitely revolve around Bradley, with the C's using another medium salary player (probably Terry) to match the money. For this to happen you would need either Millsap or Jefferson to accept a 4 year deal (same as the Smith situation) as opposed to a 5 year deal, and you'd need to stay below the "tax apron" of ~$74 million (any team that completes a sign and trade is then imposed a hard salary cap $4 million over the luxury tax line). Considering the C's are currently at $73 million without signing draft picks and minimum salary free agents, it would be very difficult to acquire one of the Jazz bigs while keeping both Pierce and Garnett. While Danny may be able to pull it off, it would require a team under the cap taking one of either Lee, Bass or Terry off the Celtics hands, something that is very unlikely. In other words, barring something unforeseen, Pierce needs to go (or KG retire) for the Celtics to bring in one of either Millsap or Jefferson.

Ok, that's it for this installment of the mailbag, again good questions from you guys. If you keep them coming, we'll try and pump one of these out every so often. If you asked a draft specific question, don't worry, we'll be getting to those shortly in our draft show.

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