Building an Identity: Grading the Celtics Offseason
Recapping the Offseason
While there were no major fireworks for the Celtics this offseason, Brad Stevens made a flurry of moves. Stevens' first move was to trade Kemba Walker and the 16th pick in the draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford. Stevens then acquired Josh Richardson using the remainder of the Gordon Hayward trade exception. From there, Stevens traded Tristan Thompson for Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando.
While bringing back Evan Fournier was initially considered a priority for the Celtics, his asking price was too high for the team to meet. Fournier ultimately signed a four-year, $78 million contract with the New York Knicks. However, Stevens made it a sign-and-trade to create a $17.1 million trade exception, similar to the Gordon Hayward move from last year.
The Celtics may not be title contenders this upcoming season, but they improved their roster while putting themselves in position to be serious contenders in the future. Swapping Walker for Horford will save the Celtics at least $20 million over the next two seasons, and Horford is a better fit to help Tatum and Brown flourish. The Celtics also cleared Tristan Thompson's contract and replaced him with Enes Kanter on a one-year minimum contract. With the financial flexibility created this offseason, the Celtics will be able to make a run at a star free agent such as Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine next offseason.
Furthermore, the Celtics now have three trade exceptions of $17.1 million, $9.7 million, and $5 million which creates significant flexibility to add players via trade.
Improving the Roster
Arguably the biggest steal of the offseason was when the Celtics snagged Dennis Schroder to a one-year deal for $5.9 million. The former runner-up Sixth Man of the Year turned down a four-year, $84 million extension from the Lakers during the season, but his free agent market never materialized. Without many options left, Schroder landed in Boston where he will certainly play with a chip on his shoulder in a "prove-it" year for him. Schroder will likely come off the bench for the Celtics and will once again be a front runner to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. The Celtics bench struggled last season, and Schroder will undoubtedly boost their second-unit with his ability to score, play-make, and defend. Last season with the Lakers, Schroder averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Through several subtle moves, the Celtics created an identity for themselves. While the Celtics certainly had talent last season, they didn't have an identity and ultimately struggled down the stretch. Adding gritty players like Schroder, Richardson, Horford, and Kanter along with their new head coach in Ime Udoka will give this team a tough, defensive-minded identity. Creating an identity was a priority for Stevens this offseason. The team president recently said, "I want to be a team that Boston can really get behind. That plays with a great edge, that plays with a grit and toughness that’s necessary to compete at the very, very highest level". Bringing in reliable veterans will also help the Celtics be more consistent, as they have relied on several young players in prior seasons.
The Homegrown Talent
The decision to lock up Marcus Smart and Robert Williams long-term were important to establish the core of this team moving forward. Although Tatum and Brown are the stars, Marcus Smart is the heart and soul of the team. Smart's impact on the game goes far beyond the box score, and he is a very difficult player to replace. As for Robert Williams, the big man only started 13 games last season but he is a gifted athlete and has shown real promise. The 23-year-old Williams notably set the Celtics playoff blocks record with nine blocks in Game 1 against the Nets. The team's core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Robert Williams is now locked-up for the future, a positive to takeaway from the offseason.
Additionally, the Celtics Summer League team excelled and made the Championship Game before falling to the Sacramento Kings. The progression of Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, and Romeo Langford in particular was a promising sight for the Celtics. They all looked confident, smooth, and in-control, and they play key roles for the Celtics moving forward. The Celtics also got a look at the newly-acquired Bruno Fernando, an athletic big-man who could find his way in the rotation.
Following a disappointing end to the 2021 season, the Celtics future looked bleak. Fast forward a few months, and Celtics fans have a lot to be hopeful for in the coming years.
Overall Grade: A-