The problem, of course, is that Cauley-Stein -- a 7-footer with freak athleticism -- is expected to be off the board by the time the Celtics utilize the first of their four picks in this year's draft at No. 16. And that invariably leads to hand-wringing over whether Boston's late-season playoff surge cost it a chance at the sort of impact rim protector the team so desperately covets.
In his "Grade A" mock draft, ESPN draft guru Chad Ford referenced this when he wrote, "Celtics fans are rightfully stoked that this year's squad made the playoffs. But it came at huge price. There are 10 to 12 real difference-makers in this draft and the Celtics fell to 16. If it cost them a chance at a rim protector like Cauley-Stein or [Myles] Turner, or an upgrade at small forward like [Justise] Winslow or [Mario] Hezonja, this year's run hurt the franchise long term."
Later, during his online chat, Ford came back to that notion when asked which player would be the best fit for the Celtics.
Answered Ford: "Willie Cauley-Stein ... but, alas, the downside of them making the playoffs is that they won't have a shot at him unless they trade some of their future assets to move up in the draft. The problem is, I'm not sure exactly how far they have to get up to get him. Could be as high as 6 to the Kings."
While the Celtics were making their playoff push, this writer often noted that Boston had the necessary draft picks and assets to maneuver up in the draft should it desire to target a specific player. But it begs the question: What's the price of moving up in the NBA draft?
Unlike the NFL, where plenty of value charts exist offering hints at the cost of moving up, it's not as clear-cut in the NBA. Cost is often subjective and can be dictated by the perceived amount of talent remaining at a particular spot and the direction of the team on the clock.
We can use the Celtics' recent history as a bit of a guide to maneuvering from spot No. 16. It was just two years ago, with Boston in that same spot, that the Celtics moved up three spots to nab Kelly Olynyk by trading away No. 16 (Lucas Nogueira) to Dallas, along with a pair of 2015 second-round picks, which went on to be Nos. 34 (Cleanthony Early) and 47 (Russ Smith).
But getting to No. 13 might not be enough this year for Boston to get what Ford suggested was a real difference-maker. Ford ranks Cauley-Stein at No. 8 on his most recent big board (with Turner at 10). So what could Boston offer to get up even higher?
In that same 2013 draft, Utah used picks Nos. 14 (Shabazz Muhammad) and 21 (Gorgui Dieng) to move up to No. 9 and select Trey Burke.
The Celtics own picks 16, 28, 33 and 45 in this year's draft. Would Danny Ainge sacrifice some swings of the bat to shuffle up and nab a player who might have a better chance of helping this team in the more immediate future? Ainge has admitted Boston won't use all of its picks moving forward -- and there's a lot of them -- but he has to maximize those assets in order to jump at the best opportunity.
Looking ahead to future draft picks, the Celtics have Minnesota's 2016 first-round pick that is protected 1-12 and otherwise becomes a pair of second-round picks. With the likelihood of the latter, it might be better off moved if another team valued it more like a true first-round selection. Boston also has Dallas' first-round pick next year, protected spots 1-7, but the Mavs' uncertain future might leave Boston leery to move it unless it was an opportunity it couldn't pass up (and the same can be said for all the future Brooklyn picks it owns).
What will the Celtics do? Some of that will hinge on how players interview and perform when they meet with team brass both at the NBA draft combine later this month and the team draft workouts in the weeks that follow. While Boston has a firm grasp on players from the scouting process, players will shift on Boston's draft board and the team will assign a value for each player based on when they might be available.
And how the draft plays out might dictate whether Ainge leaps at an opportunity.
We keep coming back to it when discussing the team's ability to add talent moving forward: The Celtics have assets and must simply choose the right spots to utilize them. Boston was willing to give up the Cavaliers' first-round pick in next year's draft to land Isaiah Thomas at February's trade deadline. With draft picks holding even more value as the cap prepares to spike in future seasons, the Celtics must treat them with high value and not be shortsighted with their moves.
But you get the sense that if the Celtics elected to use a pick to seek out someone like Cauley-Stein, well, their fan base would consider that quite Trill.
Question for our armchair general managers: What would you give up to shuffle high enough to nab a talent like Cauley-Stein? Sound off in the comments.