2021-22 record: 51-31
Key addition: Malcolm Brogdon (trade), Danilo Gallinari (free agency)
Key subtraction: Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith (trade)
Last season: The Celtics were up 2-1 in the NBA Finals and had a comfortable lead over the Warriors midway through the fourth quarter of Game 4 and that’s when the dream died. Until that point, the Celtics enjoyed a five-month stretch of breezy basketball. They flipped their season after a slow start, saw Jayson Tatum emerge as a true star and first-team All-NBA player, repelled the defending champion Bucks in the playoff semifinals and survived a seven-game series against Miami in the East finals. It was a smashing debut by the coach-GM combo of Ime Udoka and Brad Stevens, and Marcus Smart, who became the first guard since Gary Payton to win Kia Defensive Player of the Year. The result was a runner-up finish to the Warriors, falling just short of raising another banner in Boston.
Summer summary: You must give some respect to Stevens, even though he’s been on the job for about five minutes. He took over for Danny Ainge the previous summer, a tricky spot for someone who never served a front office role, and everything he touched since has turned to green (not gold because this is, after all, the Celtics).
One of his first moves was bringing back Al Horford, whose career was teetering at the time, and Horford became one of the league’s pleasant surprises with leadership and some stellar play in the postseason, especially the Milwaukee series.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 18, 2022
He pulled the trigger on a midseason deal that roped Derrick White, and while the former Spurs guard struggled with his shot initially, he eventually settled down and served an important role during the postseason lead-up to the Finals.
Oh, and it was Stevens who hired Udoka to replace him on the bench, and Udoka made the necessary changes to righten the ship in January and the Celtics took off.
Therefore, in just a year on the job, Stevens emerged as one of the better GMs in basketball. Is it too early to crown him as such? Not really, because the result is the result — Boston went to the Finals and his decision-making was a primary reason.
So what does Stevens do in his second summer in the big chair? He addresses Boston’s biggest need — a play-maker at point guard — and gets Brogdon from the Pacers without parting with anyone of importance in the Celtics’ rotation.
Brogdon was available because he can’t stay healthy. He’s played at least 75 games in a season just once in his six years, and that was as a rookie. In the other five years, he reached 60-plus games just once. Last year was the bottom — 36.
He’s in his prime at 29, makes good decisions with the ball, attacks the rim very well and brings a decent outside shot. He averaged 19 points in his limited time last season. He’ll either spell Smart at point guard or more likely start at the point and move Smart to the two-guard spot.
This is no disrespect to Smart, who bristles whenever his playmaking skills are debated, but Brogdon is simply a better distributor. And the Celtics were exposed in the NBA Finals when Tatum and Jaylen Brown labored heavily while trying to create their own shots. An abundance of turnovers followed and doomed Boston in that series.
With Brogdon, Tatum and Brown can become play-finishers instead of play-starters. It’s less stressful and will only make the Celtics more efficient and dangerous — provided, of course, that Brogdon can steer clear of injury.
In addition, the Celtics got Gallinari on the free agent cheap when he was shipped from the Hawks to the Spurs in the Dejounte Murray trade, then cut loose by the Spurs. But Gallo might not even wear the uniform this season, if ever, after undergoing knee surgery following a summer injury.
There’s also something that Stevens couldn’t or wouldn’t do this summer — pry Kevin Durant from Brooklyn.
The Celtics were among the more prominent names mentioned as a potential relocation spot for the disgruntled superstar before KD and the Nets made amends. It made sense; Boston had enough assets to send to Brooklyn, starting with Brown (though not Tatum). There is every indication that the two teams discussed the matter because, why not?
The chance to pair Durant and Tatum would seem intoxicating. That said, nothing happened this summer; obviously, the Nets wanted more than Stevens was willing to give. That’s usually the case when deals die, or never get traction.
Makes no difference, anyhow. The Celtics can stay with the status quo and count themselves as title contenders. With Brogdon aboard, the 2022 NBA runner-ups just got better.
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