Some vacation-delayed thoughts after the Celtics’ frenetic August, while wondering if Brad Stevens will ever get to take a vacation ...
- The buzzword this offseason has been "flexibility" and the Celtics maintained that even after their burst of extensions for Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, and Josh Richardson. But the word we keep uttering in the aftermath is "security."
The Celtics now have four potential core pieces of their team locked in place in Smart, Williams, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. If Richardson is the team’s fifth starter (more on that later) then every single one of Boston’s 2021-22 starters has some degree of financial security. What’s more, each has a defined role on this team and likely understands the hierarchy of this group.
Why is that important? Think back to that 2018-19 team that was overflowing with talent but woefully underperformed. Just about every player on that team was worried about their future, their role, or their status. From Kyrie Irving preparing to bolt for Brooklyn, to Terry Rozier yearning for his big payday, to Jaylen Brown subsisting on limited touches, to Marcus Morris taking too many shots -- it was a mess that culminated with a second-round exit.
This year’s squad can more easily just go play basketball. Maybe with better health and (fingers crossed) less COVID impact, then this group can show itself better than it did last season. The security of contracts, and with the Jays well-established as All-Stars now, there should be less on players’ minds this season. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it matters.
- We were half-joking when we dubbed the Williams deal the biggest home run of the offseason last week on "Early Edition." Now, the Celtics could have inked Williams at 4 years, $100 million and this president of the RWIII Fan Club could have rationalized it. But to get him at 4/54, with only $48 million in guaranteed money truly feels like a steal.
Yes, there are obvious health concerns. That Williams has played only 113 games through his first three NBA seasons and has endured a cocktail of maladies is worrisome. But we’ve repeatedly been told that there is nothing about Williams’ long-term health that should have given the Celtics pause in offering this extension. After appearing in 72 percent of the team’s regular-season games last season, there is hope that he’ll be an even more consistent presence moving forward. And Williams has additional motivation. Playing in 69 games -- or 84.1 percent of the regular-season slate -- triggers a $446,000 incentive.
If Williams plays to his potential -- and stays healthy -- the deal might just look like the summer of 2021's biggest steal. Williams will be making barely more than mid-level money at the start of the extension and could be playing at a level way above the typical production from that sort of player. And if he cements himself as a pillar alongside the Jays, then that deal will look even better further down the road.
- There is no reason the Celtics shouldn’t be a top-five defense next season. The potential quintet of Smart, Richardson, Brown, Tatum, and Williams could be particularly stingy and we’ll see what Al Horford has left in the tank after getting plenty of rest at the end of his Oklahoma City stay. After slipping to 13th in defensive rating last season, the Celtics should have a renewed focus on the defensive end, driven both by their personnel and a new defensive-minded coach in Ime Udoka.
The flip side: We’re not sure how the Celtics are scoring 100 points per game unless Tatum and Brown are pairing up for 65+ of them, but we’ll see how it looks on the court.
- We’re curious who slots as the fifth starter. Stevens showed great confidence that Richardson could get his 3-point percentage back up, this after shooting 34.1 percent beyond the arc in Philly and 33 percent last year in Dallas. Richardson will need to make open looks in order to be an ideal fit alongside the Jays.
Which is why it’s fair to wonder if second-year wing Aaron Nesmith could accentuate a Brown and Tatum core if he builds off the strong finish to his rookie season. Nesmith becomes an even more valuable weapon if he makes 40 percent of his 3s with the quality of looks the Jays should generate for the others alongside them.
Nesmith played with great energy and grit in his rookie season but he certainly has to improve as a defender to earn first-unit consideration. Regardless, the development of Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, and Romeo Langford is vital for the Celtics, both as complementary pieces to this core but also as low-cost talent that either balances out a top-heavy cap sheet or emerges as key trade assets to pursuing more established talent.
- The Celtics have 16 players under contract and one 2-way slot filled. Stevens has said there’s little rush to finalize the roster (trimming to 15 and adding a 2-way player), and understandably so because intriguing talent could slide onto the market as teams reconvene for camp and begin pruning.
Boston’s most obvious remaining need is likely at the power forward spot. Either Grant Williams needs to find more consistency and add to his offensive game, Jabari Parker needs to tap into his unmet potential, or the Celtics are seemingly going to play a whole bunch of small ball.
The Celtics were eyeballing potential power forward options this summer but nothing materialized while making their other tweaks. There is still some roster pruning to do and, if the right '4' becomes available at a decent price, then Boston has the assets to make a late-offseason move.
The addition of Dennis Schroder seems to put a squeeze on recently acquired Kris Dunn, and Boston can ponder the future of players like Parker, Carsen Edwards, and Bruno Fernando. Remember, there’s still a bunch of trade exceptions, including the new Evan Fournier $17 million TPE that could help the Celtics maneuver now, or any time in the next calendar year.