If we are to judge by the way Brad Stevens the front-office honcho has handled the very same roster that Brad Stevens the head coach was charged with handling last season, it should be clear that Coach Brad was not impressed. The idea that the Boston Celtics were a contender simply ravaged by the effects of Covid-19 and injuries in general has been torpedoed by the approach Team Prez Stevens has taken this offseason.
He has chucked a grenade into the Boston roster, with more maneuvers likely ahead.
Stevens started, of course, last month with the deal that sent Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City. But he continued the overhaul this week around the NBA draft, with the dumping of Tristan Thompson and the acquisition of Josh Richardson through one of the remaining instruments he had on hand—the other portion of the traded-player exception from last year’s Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade.
Stevens, with the stated goal of accentuating the talent of stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, has beefed up Boston’s depth considerably. In addition to Richardson, the Celtics have added Al Horford and promising young center Moses Brown in the frontcourt (from the Walker deal) and another center, Bruno Fernando, plus point guard Kris Dunn in the Thompson deal.
The moves not only give the Celtics the veteran depth Stevens so badly wanted last season, they eased the financial pressure the team was facing with the Walker contract ($37.5 million next year) and Thompson’s deal ($9.7 million). Horford is slated to make $26.5 million next season, while Brown is on the books for $1.8 million unguaranteed. Dunn and Fernando combine to make $6.8 million. The $11 million difference gave the Celtics the flexibility to add Richardson.
Additionally, as Brian Robb of MassLive reports, the Celtics were able to use a trade exception from last year’s Enes Kanter trade, creating another $9.2 million trade exception the team now has a year to use.
The team has options, which was crucial for Stevens and the Celtics this offseason. In the OKC deal, the Celtics had to give up a first-round pick, but Stevens said that adding wiggle room was more important.
“We had to look at with the idea of moving that first-round pick this year,” Stevens said after the Walker trade. “It gave us the opportunity to look at a road ahead with a few more options, from the financial flexibility standpoint, with the picks, all of our future first-round picks past this year, which, again, give you more options. … To have the ability to get that in return and gain financial flexibility moving forward, the cost, right, was a person (Horford) that you really, really like and one first-round pick.”
That could prove important in the coming weeks. Richardson is a good insurance policy in case the Celtics can’t re-sign Evan Fournier, acquired last March for the first part of the Hayward exception. Boston still can bring back Fournier, but as the dominoes fall in free agency next week, it is possible some team that strikes out in free agency (we’re eyeing the Knicks here) will overpay for Fournier.
And if Fournier can be kept on a reasonable deal, Stevens will likely force himself into another move—trading away Marcus Smart, who is eligible for a contract extension and will be a free agent next summer if he does not reach an agreement on one. That would be difficult for a tough-minded fan-favorite like Smart, but the sense around the Celtics has long been that Smart was more a favorite of Ainge than of Stevens. While Ainge the GM identified with the heart-and-hustle-and-annoyance of Smart’s game, Stevens the coach was more concerned by the persistent 5-for-17 nights.
Stevens is not yet satisfied with the Celtics’ point guard situation, with rumors swirling about Lonzo Ball, Patty Mills and Ricky Rubio. Currently, Boston has a lot of point guards—Smart, Dunn, Payton Pritchard, Carsen Edwards—but none that are of starting quality. It’s another spot Stevens needs to change.
That has been the overriding feature of this offseason so far in Boston: Stevens is de-Ainge-ing this team, putting his mark on the roster and removing some of the shortcomings left by his predecessor. The Celtics are not yet a contender, but they’re deeper and better—and in position to keep making changes.