Blakely: Celtics should pursue Noel, but Cousins? No thanks

Blakely: Celtics should pursue Noel, but Cousins? No thanks

BOSTON— Admit it!

When you first saw Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins giving the verbal business to a Sacramento columnist twice his age and half his size earlier this week, “trade ‘em to [pick a team]” came to mind.

And when Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel reminded us all that his value is worth more than eight minutes, yup, he needs to be sent packing as well.

The  Celtics have been linked with both players in the past.

And while there’s no question each has a skill that would benefit Boston, there’s only one of these two that makes sense for the Celtics to consider.

It’s Nerlens Noel.

Let’s forget for a moment that he’s a Massachusetts native, which I have been told multiple times has “absolutely zero” to do with Boston’s interest in him.

Noel is an athletic, rim-protecting big man whose biggest knock up to this point in his career is how injuries seem to dog him at every turn.

And while no team likes the idea of players grumbling about minutes, there’s a different tone when I talk to league executives about Noel and what’s happening in Philadelphia.

“I never like to hear that stuff, guys complaining about minutes publicly,” an assistant GM told CSNNE.com on Saturday. “But Philadelphia...they have too many bigs and they’re trying to make it work but you know and I know and Nerlens knows, somebody is going to get the short end of things when it comes to minutes. And Nerlens doesn’t want to be that guy.

The assistant GM added, “young guys don’t mind learning and not playing if the guy ahead of him is better or more experienced. They see it as paying their dues. But that’s not the case with Nerlens. He’s as good or better than all their bigs except maybe [Joel] Embiid. So he’s like, ‘why am I not playing?’ And whatever they’re telling him, it’s not what wants to hear for sure.”

In addition to Noel, the Sixers are also trying to find minutes for Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric as well as Robert Covington, who has looked strong in their small-ball lineup at power forward. And while Ben Simmons is considered more of a wing player, at 6-foot-10 he too will likely see some playing in the frontcourt because of the mismatch potential he presents.

In other words, Philly’s frontline isn’t going to get any less congested anytime soon.

But the Sixers have been reluctant to trade him not only because of his talent, but also because of their track record of bigs getting hurt is pretty extensive. The last thing they want to do is part ways with a big and then find themselves experiencing a shortage up front if there are added injuries to their roster.

And as far as Cousins is concerned, the Celtics’ connection with him has been more fantasy that for real, according to a team source who indicated they have not had any talks at any time with the Kings about acquiring Cousins.

That coincides with reports that the Kings have not made it known to other teams that they are interested in trading Cousins, even as all involved understand that moving him is becoming more and more inevitable.

The Celtics may not be pursuing Cousins, but if the Kings get to the point where they are willing to trade him you can bet Boston will be one of the teams they will talk to.

Boston has young, up and coming talent, lots of draft picks and players whose character isn’t an issue – an important factor that will come into play if Sacramento does in fact try to trade Cousins.

Look, talent is not an issue here.

The 6-foot-11 center has lots of it.

But here’s the issue.

As much talent as Cousins has, it doesn’t trump the trouble that seems to follow him at every turn.

The recent blowup he had with a Sacramento-based columnist was just the latest in a long string of bad predicaments that Cousins consistently finds himself involved with.

If all the NBA were about was securing the best talent, acquiring him would be a no-brainer.

But that’s not how this works.

And for those of us who have spent some time talking with Cousins in the past, he comes across as a very likeable guy who is often misunderstood.

But as you talk to him and listen to his words and see his actions, he’s misunderstood because he consistently allows himself to be put in predicaments that don’t portray him in the most flattering light.

And he gets upset at those who call him out on it, rather than him making the obvious changes needed.

He’s a talented headache waiting to be had, which is the last thing Danny Ainge or Brad Stevens wants or needs right now.  

This group of Celtics certainly have their flaws, but you really don’t see them play the blame game too much.

When a guy screws up, he knows it, usually owns it, and they move on.

And the screw-ups are usually limited to what happens on the floor, not what transpires at a night club.

There is no denying that the Celtics are in the market for adding a player who can provide a stronger frontline presence whether it’s better scoring or an upgrade defensively.

And if you know anything about Ainge, he’s always looking to get as much talent while rendering the least amount of assets which makes both Cousins and Noel palatable because their respective teams have to know by now that they’re not going to get comparable value for them via trade.

If you’re the Celtics, you take a call from either franchise if they want to talk about these players.

But as far as seriously considering a trade, there’s only one choice that can help the Celtics (it’ll be later rather than sooner), both on and off the court, and that’s Noel.

Blakely: Celtics' success lies in balancing big-money deals with bargains

Blakely: Celtics' success lies in balancing big-money deals with bargains

BOSTON – When it comes to stockpiling talent, few in the NBA have done it better in the past couple of years than the Golden State Warriors, as evidenced by them winning two of the past three NBA championships.
 
In 2015, Andre Iguodala was the NBA Finals MVP but it was the play another reserve, Festus Ezeli, who in the third quarter of the decisive Game 6, scored eight of his 10 points and helped extend a two-point halftime edge into a 12-point lead going into the fourth in what eventually was an eight-point series-clinching victory.

MORE CELTICS

 We have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers make deep playoff runs led by their Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but the contributions of youngsters such as Matt Dellavedova (now in Milwaukee) also helped.
 
Indeed, often lost in the success of title-contending teams is how they manage to have enough max-salaried talent on the roster, while also augmenting the lineup with contributions from younger players or inexpensive veterans on team-friendly contracts.
 
Balancing the best of those two worlds is among the many reasons why the Celtics are considered a legit contender to get to the NBA Finals this season out of the East.
 
A lot has been made of the team’s signing of Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $127.8 million contract.

But what really makes the Celtics so special is how they have been able to add a max-salaried player each of the past two seasons (Al Horford and Hayward) at a time when the contributions of Isaiah Thomas ($6.26 million this year) and Jae Crowder ($6.8 million this season) are significant not only in terms of what they do on the floor but even more so in how little they make salary-wise relative to those contributions.
 
Boston getting the most out of talent playing on low-salary deals will be instrumental in their ability to build off the success of last season when the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2012.
 
And while the Warriors have achieved this by adding veterans on the cheap (David West), Boston has been more traditional from the standpoint of getting as much bang as they can from players on their rookie deals.
 
Boston currently has 16 players with guaranteed contracts.
 
Of that total, nine (Marcus Smart; Terry Rozier; Jaylen Brown; Ante Zizic; Abdel Nader; Jayson Tatum; Semi Ojeleye; Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele) are on their rookie contracts.
 
“You always need young guys,” Austin Ainge, the Celtics' director of player personnel, told CSNNE.com. “Your veteran guys make a lot of money and so you need some guys on rookie contracts to fill out your roster.”
 
This is especially true for teams that are in the hunt to win an NBA title.
 
Ainge recalled how the use of players on rookie deals was instrumental in Boston bringing home Banner 17 in 2008.
 
“We had [Rajon] Rondo and Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe and Big Baby [Glen Davis] in 2008,” Ainge said. “You need guys like that. You look at the teams in the finals the past few years, they’ve got some young guys on lower money contracts contributing. That’s important.”