The denizens of Celtics Nation have an insatiable thirst for fireworks, but Thursday’s NBA Draft was admittedly a sparkler at best.
The Celtics, in a quest to maintain the sort of flexibility that could produce a bigger boom down the road, settled on 18-year-old Frenchman Juhann Begarin with their lone selection at No. 45. Begarin could be a firecracker but one with a long fuse, and he's more likely to stay overseas while harnessing his raw athleticism.
Stevens hinted the Celtics didn’t really consider movement on draft night. The team, already thin on future draft assets beyond their own future first-rounders, elected to keep their powder dry. Boston could not trade a future first-round pick without severely hindering its ability to overwhelm a team with a pick-heavy offer should a star become available moving forward.
Much of what comes next in free agency for Boston will be simply taking care of in-house assets. The Celtics must decide how much they are willing to pay to keep Evan Fournier in green, and extension opportunities exist with both Marcus Smart and Robert Williams.
Despite limited assets to infuse additional talent, Stevens expressed a desire to add an “edge and experience” to Boston’s roster. The desire for the latter is no surprise given Stevens’ penchant for established talent over raw younger players during his coaching days, but it was the suggestion of hunting for “edge” that caught our attention.
What exactly does edge mean to Stevens?
"Well, everybody's going to bring different strengths to the table. I think when I talk about edge that can be a number of things,” Stevens said during NBC Sports Boston’s draft special. “It starts with competitiveness, starts with a willingness to do hard things, an unselfishness to do hard things and not necessarily always reap the rewards of the person that gets the headlines, right?
"I think that it's so important that teams are built with people that bring different things to the table and bring a toughness to the table that kind of permeates throughout the team. And so when I talk about edge, you can obviously talk about a physical toughness or mental toughness, grit that you see very easily and others you can also talk about -- like the desire to be a part of something special and represent this place, with kind of that toughness and grit that our fans love.
"And I think that those are things that are going to be important, and are going to be important as we continue to look for the right fits around our team. It’s important that our guys that are back, continue to embrace those things.”
If the Celtics re-sign Fournier, they will have only the taxpayer midlevel exception of $5.9 million to hunt an edgy free agent. We’ve pondered in this space if someone like a Rudy Gay or Patty Mills, especially given their past relationships with new coach Ime Udoka, could be ideal fits given their veteran status and their ability to fill positions of need for the Celtics.
Boston also has a bevy of trade exceptions that could be used to help acquire veteran talent. That includes the $11 million remaining on the Gordon Hayward trade exception, and a $6.8 million exception generated after sending Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City. Boston can’t take a player back via sign-and-trade without triggering a cumbersome hard cap that the team most certainly prefers to avoid in case it yearns for a big in-season trade. But those exceptions might allow Boston to pursue on-roster talent -- say like taking on the $10 million contract of Chicago point guard Tomas Satoransky.
Yet again, these are not the sort of sky-lighting moves that Celtics fans might desire to ensure Boston is back in the title hunt. But Boston can make some smaller tweaks to the back end of the roster and evaluate its current pieces while waiting to see if a path to that bigger boom emerges.
The big story on draft night was the Lakers acquiring Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards. The deal might not have an immediate impact on Bradley Beal’s future in Washington but the Wizards’ ability to maximize their newfound flexibility certainly could. The Celtics, because of their diligence, are in position to make a push for a player like Beal should he ultimately suggest his future is elsewhere.
A report from the Athletic suggested that the Celtics could be interested in Lonzo Ball this summer. While undeniably an intriguing fit, his restricted free agent status, and Boston’s cap situation, makes it particularly difficult to envision scenarios that could land Ball in Boston. Teams with available cap space are in a far better spot to pursue than the Celtics, who would likely need to add third teams to the mix because of the obstacles involved.
For now, it appears that Stevens’ focus is simply on the hunt for edge and experience. Boston’s title potential this year likely hinges on the continued development of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and how guys like Smart, Williams, and Fournier can accentuate their talents in potentially larger roles this season. Some heavy-on-edge, light-on-flash signings to bolster depth could ease the load on the stars a bit next season.
But Stevens wants to find the players that are willing to let Tatum and Brown shine, and can get the most out of them.
"I think it's really important that those guys that we're building around are accentuated by people that know their roles, that understand what winning looks like, why every detail matters, and can help bring that out of each other,” said Stevens.
"I think that we've had guys in the past that have done that really well. We’ve been on a fortunate streak of a bunch of years in a row in the playoffs and some good long runs, but, for last year to just be a blip and not be more of what we are, then we need to make sure that we are additive with respect to people that can accentuate and bring strengths out of each other.”
Yes, while waiting for the real fireworks, Stevens is hoping for a few more firecrackers.