Expect change from Brad Stevens this offseason

Out went Trader Danny and in came Trader Brad. The playoffs aren’t even over and the newest Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations and former head coach, Brad Stevens has already made a big trade just a few weeks after accepting his new role.

The Kemba era in Boston was as tumultuous and short lived as Al Horford’s time away from Boston, so in that way the trade works out for both players. Kemba was beloved by most, but Celtics fans have had high expectations from their recent point guards, and Kemba’s health and contract made it hard for him to meet those expectations. Similarly, when Horford signed in Philadelphia, they seemed like they were willing to give him a little extra cash to draw him away from the Celtics, but when things didn’t work out Sam Presti and the Thunder were more than willing to absorb Horford’s contract along with some picks. There, Horford seemed to be getting some of his mojo back but was sat out shortly after in order to preserve the Thunder’s draft stock.

Just two days ago Presti saw another opportunity to absorb a big salary in exchange for some picks, swapping Horford for Kemba and this year’s 16th pick in the draft. Now Kemba is in a situation where he can rehabilitate his game and prove his value again, and Horford is on a team that better suits his playstyle and will actually give him minutes (unless Brad plans on flipping him again).

By the way, now that Al is back with us in the East and it is Father’s Day, be sure to wish him a happy Father’s Day from Joel Embiid!

Jokes aside, this trade was made in big part to create some financial flexibility for the Celtics.

The deal makes sense for both teams, but now Brad has an abundance of big men and no real point guard, so there’s still plenty of work to be done on this roster. That begs the question, who stays and who goes?

Will Return

I’m titling this section “Will Return” but quick disclaimer, I am not Brad Stevens. If he ends up feeling extra saucy and wants to make some big, unexpected trades, that would be the one exception to this section. That being said, these should be fairly obvious.

Unless Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, Nikola Jokic, etc. are available, the Celtics will definitely look to hold on to Jaylen Brown, and even with those guys available I think it’s safe to say that Jayson Tatum Is staying put. Honestly, Jaylen is starting to get to the point where even he has more value than the players mentioned before, given his age, potential, and contract. Both Jays just signed big extensions, have big potential, and have great chemistry with each other as far as we know. There’s no reason to blow up this team just yet.

Beyond those two, the other two guys who I would put big money on coming back are Payton Pritchard and
Aaron Nesmith, the two rookies from this past draft. Pritchard exceeded expectations in his rookie year, is on a cheap rookie contract, and is our only reliable true point guard at the moment. Nesmith, though underdeveloped, started to step up towards the end of the season. Like Pritchard, he’s only going in to the second year of his rookie contract, plays with a lot of heart, and has a lot of potential to become a great shooter. Safe to say, both of those guys should be returning next year.

Likely to Return

These are guys who I don’t feel like I could put a Charles Barkley “GUAR-AN-TEE!” on for being on the roster next year, but I would still bet on them. They have some potential to be trade pieces, or in one case not resigned, although I don’t expect anything like that at this point.

First up are the young, young guys: Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, and Carsen Edwards. All three players are in their last guaranteed years of their rookie deals, and the Celtics have team options for the next two years on them afterwards. They are cheap contracts with enough potential to earn minutes and fill out the roster, and Brad has seemed to be pretty high on both Romeo and Grant over the past two years. The least likely to return of the three is Carsen, though I don’t see him as a negative that Brad would be actively trying to ship away.

Jabari Parker is also likely to return next year as he’s on a cheap, low-risk contract. He adds a bit of depth and flexibility in the 3/4/5 spots. By keeping him around he’ll have a real opportunity to get adjusted to the team and hopefully work himself back into being more of the scoring threat that he was in Milwaukee. There aren’t going to be too many better options for his price on the free agent market, so might as well see what he can do while he’s already on the roster.

One of the big focuses this off-season will be to bring back Evan Fournier. I don’t think Danny Ainge would have used the Hayward-TPE to bring Evan over if he weren’t expecting to bring him back at the end of his expiring contract, though that’s now up to Brad Stevens. On top of that Evan himself said that he would like to re-sign this off-season. The key thing is trying to get him back on a team friendly deal. His last contract was for about $17 million, so I would expect his next contract to be between $16-$23 million depending on the length of the contract.

Another piece who I’m now a little more hesitant to put in this section is Marcus Smart. Smart is still under contract this year, but he is expecting an extension. If the two parties can’t agree on an amount, then he’ll be a free agent next year and there is a chance Marcus gets dealt before the deadline, although I don’t know if it is probable. There aren’t too many players who do what he does for the team, especially for the contract that he is currently on. The closest player I can think of is Lonzo Ball who is a restricted free agent this year, and his expected new contract will likely put him out of reach for the Celtics. Though Jayson and Jaylen (more so Jayson) are seen as the face of the franchise, Marcus is still known as the heart and soul of the team. His grit and intensity are much needed, especially after how the team preformed this past year. That’s why I think Brad will be hesitant to let go of him this year, and why I think he’s most likely going to return.

Lastly for this section, the two newest additions to the roster, Al Horford and Moses Brown. While it is possible that either of them, or maybe even both of them, were brought over for salary reasons, I am not so sure that Brad is going to be able to flip them for something better even if he tries. On top of that, both of them have something they can contribute to the team.

Al has a veteran presence, some pre-existing chemistry with the team from when he was last in Boston, and can help to space the floor better than any of our current bigs. Moses has height and mobility, can be a solid inside presence on both ends of the court after some development, can rebound the ball, is on a cheap contract, and doesn’t require a lot of court time at this point in his career. There are certainly some interesting trade ideas that come up with the two, but I don’t think any of them are likely, especially before free agency hits. For those reasons, I think both of them will still be on the roster come the beginning of the season.

Potential Trade Pieces

These are guys who I feel like might end up on another roster before the season starts. I don’t know if I would bet either way, but they’re definitely players to keep an eye on.

First up, maybe a big shock for you guys, is Robert Williams. Rob made a big leap this season (pun intended) and proved himself to be a competent, freakishly athletic, serviceable big man. He still has room to grow, but if healthy, he could have been the Celtics’ starting center this past year. That’s the big “if” though. He’s in the last year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent after this upcoming year. His stock is likely at its high right now, and maybe Brad Stevens wants to get out before it’s too late.

I don’t think anyone would be mad if Rob isn’t dealt before the season starts, myself included, but availability to play is his greatest weakness right now. He’s had several nagging issues every year, and it feels like every time he gets healthy something new comes up, whether it be a hip issue, turf toe, or something else. 

If Brad doesn’t have confidence in Rob to be available, he may try to find someone else who is willing to give him the contract that he’ll be expecting next year, similar to how Kemba was dealt this year. Obviously if Rob is willing to sign a cheap or reasonable rookie extension, he’d be more likely to stay, but if the two parties can’t come to an agreement, I can definitely see him on the move. It doesn’t necessarily have to be before the season, but I wouldn’t bet on him staying past the trade deadline if that ends up being the case (unless we’re real contenders for the championship).

If Rob does stay, the other name to keep an eye on is Tristan Thompson. After acquiring Horford and Moses the Celtics have 6 centers, three to four of which would likely get minutes. With Thompson included in that, his role would be reduced from what it was this year, and things would get crowded. While having 3-4 playable centers is nice in regard to flexibility and injury backups, it makes it hard to keep everyone happy and give the team consistency. It doesn’t help that Horford is the only center who could potentially play at the four spot, and even that is a stretch in today’s day and age. Behind Rob, Tristan is the easiest to move, and provides, in my opinion, the least value to the team.

By dealing out Tristan the Celtics could cut down on some spending and look to distribute the money elsewhere. I don’t believe Brad wants the new head coach, whoever he may be, to have to split minutes between Rob, Al, and TT, so I would bet on one of them being on the move, whether it be before the season or by the trade deadline.

Probably Won’t Return

These are guys whose contracts are up and probably didn’t give Brad a good enough reason to bring them back.

Sadly, the fan favorite Tacko Fall will more than likely be a member of this group. There’s already a log jam at the center position and Tacko was barely able to sniff minutes when it was down to Thompson and Kornet as the only other healthy and active centers last season. He’s still low risk-high reward if he pans out, but the game is moving away from conventional big men and Tacko hasn’t been able to show any reasonable improvements to his skill set three years in. There’s a chance Brad brings him back on the minimum just to save money and fill out the roster, however that feels unlikely at the moment.

Along with Tacko, his Red Claws (or now Celtics?) buddy Tremont Waters will likely be out. He’s had his moments in games, but at his size there’s not many incentives to use a roster spot on him. This is the position that the Celtics should most focus on bolstering up being that we don’t have a starting PG right now, and Tremont doesn’t add much in terms of depth.

Next up is Luke Kornet, a trade deadline acquisition this past season. Kornet’s role in the trade was really just to save the Celtics some money. He was on a small contract which expired at the end of the season and helped them to avoid the luxury tax. Like Tacko, he didn’t play much even when the big man rotation was running thin, and if he were brought back, it would only be as a minimum, roster filling contract. He does provide some size and spacing, which could be a good look at times, but he isn’t reliable on either end of the ball so he would end up with a lot of DNPs if he were brought back.

Lastly, Semi Ojeleye. Ojeleye was hailed as the “Giannis stopper” just two years back, but he hasn’t shown much on the defensive end since. To his credit his shot has improved, and if anyone were to come back from this section, I think it would be Ojeleye. He would be relatively cheap and would help to fill out the roster. That being said, his offensive game is pretty limited to catch and shoot and he’s not incredibly reliable. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brad let Semi walk this offseason and looked elsewhere to fill out the bench.

Final Thoughts

The way I see it, the focuses for this next year’s roster should be as follows: get a reliable pass first starting point guard, trim the big-man depth down to 3-4, and create cheap depth, possibly on short contracts to allow some flexibility when the big free-agency hits next year. That’s going to require the guys who are still on their rookie contracts to make a significant step, resigning Fournier to a team-friendly deal, letting some guys walk, and being okay with going into the luxury tax. We’ll see if Brad has any more big moves left in him, but this is going to be a critical off-season for the Celtics. Final note, I hope you know how weird it’s felt to me to be talking about Brad as the President of Basketball Operations as opposed to being the head coach. We’ll just have to wait and see how well it pans out for the team.

Here's a little tldr for those interested:

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