How Brad Stevens can take the Celtics back to the NBA Finals this offseason

Forsberg: How Brad Stevens can bring the trio back to the final originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

When Brad Stevens was unexpectedly named President of Basketball Operations a year ago, he had a huge to-do list. He’s been through it: hired a coach, traded a crippled veteran for hopes of future flexibility, completed a roster and signed a couple of key expansions.

The season came and Stevens didn’t stop fiddling until he built a championship-caliber lineup around the homegrown core he inherited.

The to-do list is much shorter this summer, and yet the decisions Stevens makes could play a huge role in whether the Celtics make it back to the Finals next June and how long they remain legitimate title contenders.

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The good news for Stevens is that he got the job done early, and if he wishes, the core of this team is ready for the foreseeable future. His biggest problem is not overreacting with a team that was just over four minutes away from a 3-1 Finals lead, but still understanding the need to add talent, given how daunting a boosted Eastern Conference would make it difficult to simply return to that one. championship stage. .

The end of the final run in Boston highlighted the need for more talent on the bench. The Celtics owners should be prepared to pay a hefty amount of luxury tax to give this team the talent they need for another high-energy performance at Banner 18.

The off-season begins in earnest with the NBA draft on Thursday. It’s a quick transition to free agency and the actual start of the offseason.

That’s not much for a team that has played 110 games in the last nine months. But the bitter taste of a lost title should motivate everyone in the Celtics organization to do their part to help the team get past the final hurdle.

And it starts with Stevens.

Do you do rough night moves?

The Celtics will enter Thursday’s draw with only the 53rd pick after dealing out the 2022 first round in a trade that brought Derrick White to the deadline. The chance of Boston finding someone in this spot who could contribute to a championship caliber team at any time over the next three years seems minimal, so if they stay at 53, grab a flyer from an overseas stash. or anyone who wants to. sign a two-way deal and that’s it.

The more important question is whether there is a move that could allow Boston to move higher in the draft if the coveted talent shows up, especially early in the second round (although there were signs last year that the price in those places was still a bit exorbitant). . If you think there are still characters like Herb Jones or Ayo Dosunma in this year’s draft, players with more potential than you’ll find at number 53 and whose skill sets obviously match your desired playstyle, it might be worth it. splurge, especially if you trust your intelligence.

With this in mind…

The sophomore swingman may win you over in a rush with his fussiness and grit, but the fact is that he hits 31.8% of three-pointers in 1,243 regular season minutes, and if the Celtics make a spectacular move to add this summer’s talent, his role foggy at best.

So before you even get to the point of considering his fourth-year option, it might be worth finding out if there is an interested team with an early second-round pick that might want to take a swing at a player who is still only 22 years old. old but needs more consistent development time? The Celtics will sell cheap after using the 2020 14th pick on Nesmith, but that could only be beneficial for the team in terms of potential savings from Nesmith’s $3.8 million deal (with a $5.6 million option, looming in 2023-2024). -Guaranteed salary of the second level.

Big fluctuations in the off-season

We assume that Boston will return the backbone of their team to Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, Al Horford, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard and White. That’s a hefty $136 million commitment for what is basically the first half of your list of 17 people. With Nesmith and Daniel Theis ($8.7 million next season) also on the roster, the Celtics narrowly missed the tax box before filling their bench.

This off-season, the Celtics will have two main ways to attract talent: a $6.4 million mid-career taxpayer exception and a slew of trading exceptions headlined by the $17.1 million TPE created from last summer’s Evan Fournier deal ( Boston has until July 18 to use this exemption).

Go sort contracts by size HERE and dream. The Celtics may offer a salary cap waiver and future draft assets in search of anyone under that $17.1 million. You call Toronto about OG Anunoby, maybe you call the Clippers just to make sure they’re long-term connected to Norman Powell, maybe you call Portland after they took on Joe Ingles. Duncan Robinson fits into the exception, but Miami could need his salary for any bigger deals that Pat Riley can dream of.

The name that should come up the most: Kevin Huerter from Atlanta. Like White, he’s on a long-term contract, and his combination of size and marksmanship will complement that core well, filling two of the biggest areas Boston needs at the same time. He would be one of the team’s weakest defenders, but in that regard he is more useful than, say, the Robinson type.

Keep in mind that the Tice and Nesmith contracts leave open some opportunities for deals that don’t just involve taking a huge chunk of the paycheck, but are likely to involve more upfront asset value.

Another point to watch out for: if the Celtics were willing to move Al Horford’s paycheck over last year, that opens the door for a lot more offseason busting (and brings names like Bradley Beal into play). However, Horford likely solidified his place here with his performance last season, the Celtics still need his veteran presence, and the cost of a player like Beale would be much more prohibitive than adding a lower salary. level with TPE Fournier.

Jaylen Brown extension

We won’t spend much time here because it seems unlikely. Brown is eligible for another extension on October 1st. Having received a hefty discount on a four-year renewal in 2019, it seems unlikely that Brown will leave money on the table because Boston can only offer a 120 percent increase in his salary over the past year. this point. After the 2023-24 season, we’re in for a much more lucrative payoff, at which point Boston can still pay him the maximum amount. The Celtics should offer an extension and not be offended if he doesn’t accept it.

Grant Williams expansion

Like Williams III last summer, Williams — the only remaining player from that class of the 2019 draft — is eligible for an extension this summer. After his exploits helping to wear down Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the early rounds of the Boston playoffs, Williams seemed to be poised for a good paycheck. His role and stability deteriorated slightly in the last two rounds.

If the Celtics believe Williams is part of a roadmap to fill Horford’s role after he leaves — or even just a high-level bencher with such a core — then it might be worth tackling that target of a deal next door. Williams III contract last year (although Williams will likely push for a little more money, if only because there were no injuries early in his career). The Celtics can always push this decision to a later date if the teams are too far apart this summer.

Filling the bench

The Celtics may activate the minimum wage option of Sam Houser for a second year after being promoted to the parent roster last season. He could be part of the equation in adding trapshooting. Boston may also consider bringing on board the caches of Yam Madar and Johan Begarin. Which begs the question: If the Celtics are going to add a bench ball carrier this offseason, does it make sense to bring Madara when he’s behind Smart, White, Prichard, and any offseason on the Possession Depth table?

The last time we saw Begarin, he was very raw, but had the physique and athleticism to be a two-way winger someday. The same question remains: will he benefit from another season abroad with increased reps than moving to Maine, eating up a year of his first NBA contract.

The best news for Boston is that it will be easier to attract ring-chasing veterans who can take minimum wage as an option to deepen. The balance is to make sure these are the players who don’t need minutes when Udoka tends to lean the most on his core (although bodies that could lower total minutes for Tatum, Brown, Horford & Co. seem important after Boston hobbled to the finish line in the final).

Filling needs

Boston’s biggest need can be boiled down to this: more talent. Even if you’re optimistic that White, Williams and Pritchard will do better next year, their difficulties in the Finals reinforce the need for another powerful player to de-stress the core of this team.

There will be those who will yell that the Celtics should consider trading Smart and looking for a point guard. This ignores the fact that Smart spent the second half of the year defending the NBA’s best offense. The Celtics could certainly benefit from a high-level playmaker off the bench who can stabilize the offense, but he needs to be versatile enough to influence the game in other ways when he shares the court with White and Pritchard.

Tomase: Tatum has what it takes to win title his way

Boston may have to be the most aggressive in determining what happens next in 4th place. Horford was a real eye-catcher at 35, but the team can’t count on that kind of performance for another long season. Horford does so many little things that it’s hard to find a younger replacement, but this player needs to be able to hold the backline and allow Williams III to move around and maximize defensive effectiveness.

The Celtics could benefit from a larger flank. There just wasn’t anyone who could consistently take over the baton from the Jays in the postseason, adding to their workload, especially when the rest of the Boston bench was struggling.

Ultimately the trainer and core are set up. It’s time for Stevens to continue working on the periphery. His season moves last year helped the Celtics to the championship stage. What he does this summer could make all the difference in getting past the final hurdle to Banner 18.

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