After a period of inactivity, the Boston Celtics finally made a new addition—it’s just that the new addition also happened to be an old one. Yes, the team’s first free agent of the 2021-22 offseason was big man Enes Kanter, who played with the Celtics back in the 2019-20 season but spent last year with the Portland Trail Blazers. It wasn’t exactly a bad pick-up for the cost, he signed a one-year, $2.6 million deal (the veteran’s minimum), but it was a sign that the other teams in the Eastern Conference continue to out-pace them and it’s partly their own fault.
As Mass Live’s Brian Robb pointed out in a breakdown of the deal, reacquiring Kanter feels like the admission of a mistake. This is nothing against Kanter himself. Despite being an infamously poor defender, a properly deployed Kanter is a rebounding machine and a useful scorer for a center; he will likely be well-worth his current price. The problem is that the Celtics had to package the No. 30 pick along with him when they traded him to them to the Memphis Grizzlies last year (although, to be fair, they did receive two second-round picks in return).
Memphis turned that pick into Desmond Bane, who just made the All-Rookie Second Team, while the Celtics used that flexibility to sign Tristan Thompson to a two-year deal. The Celtics just finished trading Thompson away in a three-team deal with the Sacramento Kings and the Atlanta Hawks, essentially replacing him with the player they replaced him with. As Robb notes, “his return to Boston is a reminder of how much has gone wrong for the Celtics over the past 24 months between downgrading draft assets and signing free agents that didn’t work out.”
It didn’t help that the Kanter news came after the back-to-back news items that the New York Knicks had signed Evan Fournier, Boston’s number one free agent target just weeks ago, and made a deal to get Kemba Walker on the cheap, after the Celtics had just traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, partly for Al Horford but mostly (yet again) for “financial flexibility.”
In that trade, the Celtics sent the Thunder the No. 16 pick of this year’s draft. This came after the team used a healthy chunk of the trade exception they made in the Gordon Hayward-to-the-Charlotte Hornets deal for Fournier at the trade deadline, only to get less than a half-season’s worth of games from him. Now both players will be haunting them in the East for the foreseeable future.
It’s difficult not to feel that new GM Brad Stevens isn’t very publicly admitting the mistakes of the previous regime: moving Kanter’s salary in the first place alongside the acquisitions of Walker, Thompson and Fournier. Stevens will be able to weather most of any immediate blowback simply by not being Danny Ainge, but these events happened under current ownership, the same that immediately elevated Stevens from the head coach position without interviewing any other candidates. Should Walker and Fournier flourish with the Knicks while the Celtics—who seem committed to waiting until next year to make any major moves—flounder next season, the change in GM shouldn’t take the organization off the hook.
Of course, the Celtics haven’t stopped with the re-acquisition of Kanter and Horford. In the Thompson deal, the Celtics picked up Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando, alongside another second-round pick. In addition, they’re in discussions with an increasingly desperate point guard Dennis Schroder, who last played with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even in Schroder’s case, they would prefer not to hand him anything longer than a one-year deal. In case it wasn’t already obvious, they are hoping that having as much cap space room as possible next season will prevent them from having to make more regrettable cost-cutting moves in the future.