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Not Yet Over for Celtics

Jun 25, 2022

The Boston Celtics storybook season came to an end last week, but it won’t be long before we see the Green and White on the court again.

The 2022 NBA Summer League schedule was released Monday and the C’s will be back in action on Saturday, July 9. Three of their four Summer League games will come against teams they faced in the 2022 playoffs.

The C’s opener came against the Miami Heat, who they defeated in a thrilling Eastern Conference Finals. Next will be a back-to-back with games against the Milwaukee Bucks, whom they beat in the Eastern Conference semis, and the champion Golden State Warriors. Boston will wrap up its set schedule against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Summer League tournament will take place after the opening four games, which are listed below:

Saturday, July 9 vs. Miami Heat, 5:30 p.m. ET
Monday, July 11 vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 8 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 12 vs. Golden State Warriors, 8 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 14 vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 3:30 p.m. ET

Celtics fans can expect to see young draft-and-stash prospects Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin. Players like Sam Hauser and Aaron Nesmith could also look to further their development in the Summer League this offseason.

How Brad Stevens can get the C’s back to the Finals

When Brad Stevens was surprisingly elevated to president of basketball operations a year ago, he had a hulking to-do list. He plowed his way through it: Hiring a coach, trading a hobbled veteran with hopes of future flexibility, filling out a roster, and signing a pair of key extensions.

The season arrived and Stevens did not stop tinkering until he had constructed a championship-caliber roster around the homegrown core he inherited.

This summer, the to-do list is far shorter and yet the decisions that Stevens makes could play a monster role in whether the Celtics are back in the Finals next June, and just how long they stay a legitimate title contender.

The good news for Stevens is that he got his work done early and, if he desires, the core of this team is in place for the foreseeable future. His biggest challenge: Not overreacting with a team that was a little more than four minutes away from a 3-1 Finals lead while understanding the urgency to add talent given how daunting a beefed-up Eastern Conference will complicate simply getting back to that championship stage.

The end of Boston’s Finals run spotlighted the need for more bench talent. Celtics ownership must be willing to wade a fair amount into the luxury tax in order to give this team the talent necessary to make another spirited run at Banner 18.

The offseason starts, in earnest, with Thursday’s NBA Draft. It is a quick turnaround to free agency and the actual start of the offseason.

That is not a lot of downtime for a team that logged 110 games over the past nine months. However, the sour taste of letting a title slip through their fingers ought to motivate everyone in the Celtics organization to do their part in getting the team over the last hurdle. 

And it starts with Stevens…

The Celtics will enter Thursday’s pick-a-palooza with only the No. 53 selection after dealing away their 2022 first rounder in the trade that delivered Derrick White at the deadline. The likelihood that Boston finds anyone at that spot that might contribute to a championship-caliber team any time in the next three years seems minimal, so, if they stick at 53, take a flyer on an overseas stash or someone that might be willing to sign a two-way deal and call it a night.

The bigger question is whether there is a move that might allow Boston to shuffle higher in the draft should there be a desirable talent, particularly early in the second round (though indications were, last year, the price was still a bit prohibitive in those spots). If you think, there is a Herb Jones or Ayo Dosunmu type still on the board in this year’s draft, players with more upside than you’ll find at No. 53 and whose skill sets are obvious matches for your desired style of play, maybe it’s worth a splurge, particularly if you trust your scouting.

With that in mind… 

The second-year swingman can win you over in a hurry with his hustle and grit but the fact of the matter is he is shooting 31.8 percent on 3-pointers through 1,243 regular-season minutes and, if the Celtics make a splashy move to add a wing talent this summer; his role is murky at best.

So before you even get to the point of pondering his fourth-year option, would it be worthwhile to explore if there is an interested team with an early second-round pick who might be willing to take a swing on a player that is still only 22 years old but needs more consistent time to develop? The Celtics would be selling low after using the 14th pick in 2020 on Nesmith but it might be beneficial for the team just in terms of potential savings going from Nesmith’s $3.8 million deal (with a $5.6 million option looming in 2023-24) to a non-guaranteed second-round salary.

The Big offseason swing(s)

We are operating with the idea that Boston will bring back the core of its team in Jayson TatumJaylen BrownMarcus SmartRobert Williams, Al Horford, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, and White. That is a hefty $136 million commitment for what is just the front half of your 17-man roster. With Nesmith and Daniel Theis ($8.7 million next season) on the books, the Celtics are just about at the tax line before filling out their bench. 

The Celtics will have two primary means of adding talent this offseason: The taxpayer midlevel exception ($6.4 million) and a bevy of trade exceptions headlined by a $17.1 million TPE created by dealing away Evan Fournier last summer (Boston has until July 18 to use that exception).

Go sort contracts by size HERE and dream. The Celtics can offer salary cap relief and future draft assets in the quest for anyone below that $17.1 million number. You call Toronto about O.G. Anunoby, maybe you phone the Clippers just to make sure they are committed long-term to Norman Powell, maybe you phone Portland after they took on Joe Ingles. Duncan Robinson fits in the exception but Miami might need his salary for any grander trades that Pat Riley might be dreaming about.

The name that ought to come up most often: Atlanta’s Kevin Huerter. Like White, he is under contract deep into the future and his combination of size and shooting would complement this core well, while filling two of Boston’s biggest areas of need. He would be one of the team’s weakest defenders but he is more serviceable on that end than, say, a Robinson type.

Keep in mind that the contracts of Theis and Nesmith leave open some possibilities of deals that do not involve just taking on a huge chunk of salary but would likely come with a greater draft asset cost.

One other thing to note here: If the Celtics were willing to move Al Horford’s final-year salary, it opens the door to a much larger offseason splurge (and brings into play names like Bradley Beal). That said, Horford likely cemented his spot here with his play this past season, the Celtics still need his veteran presence, and the cost to splurge on a Beal type will be far more prohibitive than adding a lower-tier salary with the Fournier TPE.

Filling out the bench

The Celtics can trigger Sam Hauser’s second-year option at a minimum salary after elevating him to the parent roster last season. He could be part of the equation in adding bench shooting. Boston can also consider bringing aboard overseas stashes in Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin. The question becomes, if the Celtics are going to add a backup ball-handler this offseason then does it make sense to pluck Madar when he’d be behind Smart, White, Pritchard, and any offseason addition on the ball-handling depth chart?

Last, we saw Begarin, he was extremely raw but had the frame and athleticism to someday be a two-way wing. The same question lingers: Would he benefit more from another season overseas with heightened reps as opposed to being a depth option who bounces to Maine while eating up a year of his first NBA contract. 

The better news for Boston is that it should be easier to attract ring-chasing veterans who might take a minimum salary to be a depth option. The balance there is simply making sure it’s players that don’t need minutes when Udoka is committed to leaning heaviest on his core (though bodies that can drive down minute totals for Tatum, Brown, Horford, and Co. seem important after the way Boston limped to the finish line in the Finals).

Filling needs

Boston’s biggest need can be distilled down to this: More talent. Even if you are bullish that White, Williams, and Pritchard will be better next year, their Finals struggles amplify the need for at least one more impact player to take stress off the core of this team.

There will be those that scream that the Celtics must consider trading Smart and finding a pass-first point guard. This ignores the fact that Smart spent the second half of the year quarterbacking the NBA’s best offense. The Celtics could certainly benefit from a high-level playmaker off the bench who can steady the offense, but he needs to be versatile enough to affect the game in other ways when sharing the floor with White and Pritchard.

Boston might need to be most aggressive in determining what happens next at the 4 spot. Horford was a revelation at age 35 but the team can’t count on that production over the course of another long season. Horford does so many little things that it’s hard to find a younger replacement to target but that player must be able to hold down the back line and let Williams III roam and maximize defensive efficiency.

The Celtics could benefit from some additional size on the wing. There just was not anyone who could consistently take that baton from the Jays in the postseason, adding to their workload, particularly when the rest of Boston’s bench struggled.

Ultimately, the coach and the core is set. It is time for Stevens to continue working on the fringes. His in-season moves last year helped push the Celtics to the championship stage. What he does this summer could be key in getting over the final hump to Banner 18.

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