Celtics still sliding, as continuing shakeup goes from roster to front office and coaching staff
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
In the previous five years, the Celtics acquired four players coming off All-Star seasons. All four have already left Boston. Before departing, they combined to start just 42 playoff wins for the Celtics.
For perspective, Danny Green alone has started 47 playoff wins in that same five year-span.
Not long ago abounding with extra picks and cap space, the Celtics haven’t fulfilled their once-elite promise. At this point, they almost certainly never will. Though building around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with an already-solid supporting cast would be the envy of many teams, Boston was poised to meet even-higher aspirations.
The slow and steady talent drain continued this summer.
Kemba Walker became the latest recent star not to stick with the Celtics – following Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. Boston traded Walker and the No. 16 pick to the Thunder for Horford. Horford’s contract is significantly cheaper than Walker’s – but Horford’s contract is still the one the Celtics didn’t want to pay in 2019 and the 76ers salary-dumped last year. If this trade were helpful due to Walker’s knee issues, it’s at the very least a disappointing outcome. Though not up to his previous standards and unavailable at the end, Walker was still solid overall last season.
The move was the first executed by Brad Stevens, who replaced a maybe-retiring Danny Ainge as Celtics president. With one fell swoop, Boston probably downgraded at president and coach. First-timers Stevens and new head coach Ime Udoka have big shoes to fill. Ainge was one of the NBA’s top executives, Stevens one of the league’s top coaches.
Another solid player, Evan Fournier left for the Knicks. At least the Celtics turned that into a sign-and-trade to create a large trade exception at the cost of likely only one second-round pick. After he underwhelmed in the playoffs, Fournier won’t be missed by many in Boston.
Tristan Thompson might be even less missed. He got shipped to the Kings, unloading his $9,720,900 salary with relative ease.
Of course, the Celtics – as they have become accustomed to doing – restocked in a fairly intriguing way.
Boston traded for Josh Richardson, who’s a couple years removed from looking like a burgeoning star with the Heat. He didn’t fit well with the 76ers then really underwhelmed with the Mavericks. Perhaps, the 28-year-old will get back on track with the Celtics.
Already, Boston gave him a one-year, $12,196,084 contract extension. That’s a decent hedge with a week free-agent class next summer. Importantly, Richardson received only a 5% raise into the extension – allowing the Celtics to re-trade him.
The Walker-Horford trade opened a big hole at point guard. Rather than relying on just Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard, Boston opportunistically scooped up Dennis Schroder.
Schroder and the Celtics are a marriage of convenience. After reportedly rejecting an $84 million extension from the Lakers and seeking a $100 million-$120 million payday in free agency, Schroder found a cold market. He signed for just the $5.89 million taxpayer mid-level exception.
The one-year contract leaves little room for Schroder to have a long-term future in Boston.
If he plays well, he’ll seek far more than the $7,068,000 Non-Bird Exception the Celtics could fairly easily offer next summer. They could offer their mid-level exception, but so could any team – and that might not be enough.
If he doesn’t play well, Boston won’t want him back, anyway.
But he can help next season, and next season matters. The Celtics are in the wide range of teams that could make the playoffs outright with a top-six finish and even win a series… or could fall into the play-in tournament, where a bad game or two ends their season.
On paper, Schroder fills a big need as a dynamic ballhandler. But given Schroder’s salary goals and the ephemeral team-player relationship, the situation is combustible.
More stable: Boston’s team control of Smart. The Celtics signed the 27-year-old to a fair-looking $77,087,994 contract extension.
Boston also solidified its center rotation. Even at 35, Horford can still play and is familiar with Boston’s system, whatever that’s still worth. Young Robert Williams got a boost in stature with a four-yea extension with $48 million in base salary and $6 million in unlikely bonuses. Though a poor defender, Enes Kanter – another returner – is a bargain on a minimum salary.
Juancho Hernangomez, acquired in a trade with the Grizzlies, adds depth as a stretch four.
After making three of four Eastern Conference finals and winning a playoff series the other year, the Celtics got bounced in the first round last season. This summer, Boston did a decent job of remaining competitive relative to that lower standard.
But optimism for bigger goals is quietly fading. Not only is the roster depreciating (most of which happened prior to this offseason), the Celtics’ stable structure also came undone.
If Stevens and Udoka are ready for their new roles, this grade should be higher. But the uncertainty is unnerving.
Offseason grade: C-