CelticsLife mailbag: Trading the Nets pick, which superstar to go after, Stevens future, and more

Haven't done a mailbag all season, so this is long overdue. Per usual, you guys asked a lot of great questions, basically none of which I have concrete answers to. But I have opinions. Oh boy do I have opinions. Chime in with your answers in the comment section.

The waiver wire kind of stinks, so I wouldn't bet on it. The one name that's intriguing is Larry Sanders, as he was one of the best rim protectors in the NBA as recently as 2-3 years ago. But he hasn't played in over a year, and while he's thinking about a return to the NBA, there's major questions regarding his motivation level. Besides him, there's nobody I really see out there at the center position that's better than what the Celtics currently have.

Another waiver wire related question, only this time I have more positive news. Yes I would absolutely go after Johnson as long as he understood that he'd have to earn his minutes (as is the case with everyone on this roster). Two of the Celtics' biggest weaknesses are a lack of players that can create their own shot, and three-point shooting. Johnson, despite having played approximately 300,000 career minutes, helps with both things. He's shooting 37.1% from deep this year, exactly the same as his career number. Only Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko (in limited attempts) can top that on the Cs. Minutes are always an issue with a team like the Celtics, but if he's down to come to Boston, the Celtics should jump all over that.

Well, Kevin Durant. But in the 99.4% chance that he goes elsewhere, here are two names I'd really focus in on.

Harrison Barnes -- He's restricted, but this Durant to GSW rumor seems to have some kind of legs, and the only way they could do that would be to part with Barnes. I think Barnes and Jae Crowder would be an insane small-ball 3/4 combination capable of killing teams on both sides of the ball. He's also young enough where his prime lines up with the rest of the roster, that's a major plus compared to the other guys on this list. If the Warriors go all-in on Durant, I'm throwing max money at Barnes.

Hassan Whiteside -- Because of a salary cap conundrum, Whiteside is very likely headed out of Miami, and he provides the Celtics with something they're sorely missing: rim protection/athleticism on the front-line. This season, Whiteside is averaging a rather insane 12.8 points, 11.4 boards and 3.9 blocks (!!) in just 28.6 minutes per-game. Normalized for 36 minutes, those rates become 16.1 - 14.4 - 4.9. You cannot find those types of numbers anywhere, never mind from a 27-year-old free agent. He also leads the NBA with an absurd 93 defensive rating. Does he have immaturity issues? Yup. Is his skill-set worth paying big money for despite that? Also yup. The issue will be getting any of these guys to take Boston's money when 20-25 other teams will also have max cap space, but the Celtics need to sell their system to these players and hope they realize the this team is one major free agent + one major trade (or lucky lottery spin) away from knocking off the Cavs.

Personally, I'd rather not sign a 30+ year old to a $25-30M per year deal unless they were a transcendent talent, so I'm iffy on Al Horford or Dwight Howard. I'm not a total no, but this current core + the Nets lottery pick is probably at least two years away from being able to knock off Cleveland unless multiple stars come to Boston. By that time you're counting on a 32-year-old Horford or Howard..and that's just not something I'm all that excited about. The C's have a really good young core that could enter great status if the lottery gods shine upon them in May. It's just hard for me to imagine that core's biological clock lining up with someone who's 30-31. Especially if that 30-31 year old is taking 30% of their cap space for the next five years (yes the cap is going up, but so are max deals. Horford making $27M is big money even if the cap is heading towards $100M. Especially with all of the Celtics younger players heading towards bigger money over the next 1-3 years).

DeRozan is a guy I'd be interested in, although he's not in my top-two, Horford I've already discussed. But the part I'll focus in on here is "could the Celtics bring in two max guys this summer". The answer is yes, but it'd be tough.

As of now the Celtics have $34M in cap obligations for the 2016-17 season, with an expected cap of $89M. That's $55M in space. However (Stephen A. Smith voice), that doesn't count the draft picks. You can expect cap holds that total about ~7M for the Cs three first round picks, bringing that number down to about $48M. That also means the Celtics are letting Amir Johnson (team option), Jonas Jerebko (team option), Jared Sullinger (RFA), Tyler Zeller (RFA) and Evan Turner (UFA) leave town. That's a lot of talent, but if they are ok with that, they'll have close to the amount necessary to bring in two max guys. They'd likely need to clear about $3-6M in additional space. Maybe by drafting a European with one of their first rounders and finding a new home for someone like James Young and/or Terry Rozier.

We clearly share that love for Barnes. As for the other SF's, the good thing is the Celtics aren't in a position of desperation since they have Crowder in house and a top-five pick at their disposal as well. So they don't need to overpay just to fill the spot. But there are other names worth monitoring, including Nicolas Batum and Chandler Parsons, who both would help the Celtics small-ball lineups and shooting issues. Parsons could probably be had for a little cheaper considering he's been injured this year, and he also has that weird reputation for recruiting guys, which is a plus (although it ended up failing with DeAndre). A small-ball lineup of Thomas, Bradley (or Smart), Parsons, Crowder, Olynyk would be absurd offensively, and still has two elite defenders on the floor as well. That could be fun.

Among the Celtics potential free agents, I find Evan Turner and Sully to be very interesting case studies in the new NBA financial landscape. Both guys are certainly going to get big raises as the cap explodes, but just how big? A. Sherrod Blakely said the other night that Turner was looking at $10M per season, which sounds a little crazy, until you realize that's only 11% of next year's cap. $10M next year is the equivalent to $8.1M this season, or $7.5M just last season. And with the cap going up another $15M in 2017-18, that $10M deal becomes less than 10% of the cap. So it's possible.

So my answer to how much the Celtics should pay these guys is..I have no freaking idea. It's clear they got great value deals with Avery Bradley ($8M), Jae Crowder ($7M) and Isaiah Thomas ($7M and dropping!), but that value shopping appears to be over as the new financial landscape has arrived. And while both Sully and Turner are good, you have to be careful not to overpay for good, especially with a GM like Ainge who has proven that he can find good/very good players ANYWHERE. Trading for them on the cheap? Yup (IT, Crowder, Jerebko). Cheap free agency deals? Yup (Turner), Mid-first round picks? Yup (Bradley, Sullinger, Olynyk). Ainge can find good for cheap, it's kind of his thing. So I'm not so sure you want to clog up big chunks of cap space on good when you're chasing great.

Draft stuff! Yes Simmons is still a pretty obvious number one. His number are inflated by huge minutes and by being the only option on an average team, but they're still jaw dropping. 19.5 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 56.4% FG..I mean, are you kidding me? He's the best player on the floor every time you see him, even if his one massive flaw -- he can't shoot, like at all -- is omnipresent. Simmons reminds me of Blake Griffin in that he's a rare big that can grab a rebound over a center, take the ball the length of the floor, and either finish or find a teammate for a good shot. There are only a handful of guys like that on the planet. His defensive ceiling is also higher than Griffin's due to his ridiculous size and wingspan. But Griffin was a better shooter even in college than Simmons is, and has improved by leaps and bounds in the NBA. BS needs to do the same if he wants to reach alpha dog superstar status. But it's very doable.

I love Brandon Ingram, but he's a clear #2 for me. After that..

I feel like particularly strong and particularly weak draft classes are often overrated. 2013 was definitely a weak class, but there's still big time talent to be found. Giannis in the mid-first, Gobert in the late first. Guys like Olynyk, Schroder, Oladipo, Noel, Adams, McCollum, KCP, ect were found all over the first as well. Was it a loaded draft? No, of course not. But there's a bunch of guys you'd love to have on your roster in that group.

With that said, this year's draft certainly looks like a draft with only a few elite prospects. Simmons and Ingram are almost universally loved, and then opinions start to split a bit. Will I be thrilled if the Celtics end up at #4 or #5? No, because I have visions of those other two guys in my head. But there are other guys with star potential as well, and there will be valuable guys to scoop up with the Mavs pick as well as the Celtics own pick. I'd rate this draft as slightly below average overall, certainly not as deep on paper as last year's, but I just don't think that means all that much. No one knows for sure when it comes to this stuff, and the opportunity will be there for Danny Ainge. He needs to come through.

This would be quite Philly-esque, and it would really surprise me. It would have to be to a team you can virtually guarantee is a bottom 5-7 team in the league next year, and that's just so hard to predict. Did anyone expect the Suns or Pelicans to be this bad? Or for the Blazers to be in the playoffs? (Vegas had them as the NBA's fourth worst team). Tanking is a tough science to predict, it's time to cash this chip in either via draft or trading for a star (and then we immediately start rooting for the 2016-17 Nets to lose as well).

Well if the Celtics are #blessed on May 17th with a top-two pick, that chip could possibly become superstar trade fodder. That's a game changer if the goal is landing someone like DeMarcus Cousins for example. As for the 2017 pick swap and the 2018 Nets pick, those picks are certainly valuable, but not as headliners for a superstar as of yet. As bleak as the Nets future looks right now, they have cap space and a new GM, and you can't rule it out that they're at least competent over the next two seasons. They could bring in mid-level free agents and a good young coach and immediately look like an improved (albeit still below average) team. Those picks are great secondary pieces for landing a stud, but aren't quite the chip that gets a team to pull the trigger for someone like Blake Griffin or Cousins.

Absolute ceiling? Unless LeBron gets hurt, Eastern Conference Finals. I think everyone agrees the Celtics have a good shot in round one, especially with Chris Bosh's return looking shaky and the struggle of some of the other teams in the East's 3-8 cluster. If they can secure the three-seed, they have a shot vs Toronto, but I'd give the Raptors a substantial edge. They're good on both ends of the court, are dominant at home (and would have home court), have handled the Celtics easily this season, and are a similarly built team to the Cs (high effort, deep, strong defensively, and balanced offensively), but don't have the glaring weaknesses. Boston can't shoot, Toronto can. The Celtics go-to scorer is 5'9" and struggles to get his own shot in crunch time, DeRozan has no such issue. But the Celtics would have a chance. Win one of those first two in Toronto, shoot better than you normally do, have Bradley and Smart hold down DeRozan (something they've struggled with this year), and there's a shot the Celtics could sneak their way into the ECF.

Yes they should try and acquire every young, cost controlled player who is entering superstardom. Especially ones with 7'8" wingspans and awesome nicknames. But asking for and receiving are two different things. I thing Gobert is entering "Top-20 assets in basketball" territory if he's not already there. The Jazz can lock him up next summer for 4-5 more seasons at a reasonable dollar amount, so they'd be crazy to deal him unless they're in love with someone in the top-5 of this year's draft and the Cs offer that pick plus more.




Oh you wanted analysis too? Well Olynyk does something no one else on the roster this year can do, and I think we've already seen it hurt the team over the last three games, as the Jazz big men were able to hangout in the paint and swat shots away where Kelly would have normally pulled them out of the interior with his shooting ability. Giving those minutes to Tyler Zeller just doesn't accomplish the same thing. They need him back pretty badly.

If this were a Vegas bet, I'd imagine the odds would be against Stevens winning a title in Boston for one reason: it's so damn hard to win in this league. But I'd bet on it happening, because I think the Celtics are going to play the longish game trying to outlast LeBron's elite years and make it to the Finals as early as 2018 if Danny Ainge can play his cards right. I also firmly believe the Celtics will extend Stevens as early as this summer (he has three years remaining on his deal). Something like a two year extension with a raise that turns his current 3/12 deal to something more like 5/25 would probably make both sides very happy, and allow the marriage to continue into what will hopefully be the title contending window.

There's a lot the Cs need to do to be able to successfully open that window, but the pieces are there. And the coach is a massive one of those pieces. Yea, maybe the actual odds are like 25-30%, but I really believe in Stevens and Ainge. They'll have a shot, especially if things go their way this summer.

Ok, this took a long time and a lot of words, so please excuse any mistakes. Thanks for all the questions, I think I got to the majority of them, even if I missed a few.

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