2021-22 review: 51-31
Add key: Malcolm Brogdon (trade), Danilo Gallinari (free agency)
Key subtraction: Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith (trade)
Last season: The Celtics were leading 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. So far, the Celtics have enjoyed a five-month stretch of breezy basketball. They turned their season around after a slow start, saw Jayson Tatum become a true star and first-team All-NBA player, held off defending champion Bucks in the playoff semifinals and survived a series of seven games against Miami in the Eastern Finals. It was a smash 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 second-place finish for the Warriors, narrowly missing out on raising another banner in Boston.
Summary of the summer: You have to show Stevens some respect, even though he’s been at work for about five minutes. He took over from Danny Ainge the previous summer, a tricky place for someone who’s never played a front office role, and everything he’s touched since has turned green (not gold because that are, after all, the Celtics).
One of his first moves was to bring back Al Horford, whose career was on the wane at the time, and Horford became one of the league’s pleasant surprises with stellar leadership and play in the playoffs, especially the Milwaukee series.
— NBA Television (@NBATV) September 18, 2022
He pulled the trigger on a mid-season deal that rolled up Derrick White, and while the former Spurs keeper struggled with his shot initially, he eventually settled in and played a part important during the playoffs leading up to the final.
Oh, and it was Stevens who hired Udoka to replace him on the bench, and Udoka made the necessary changes to right the ship in January and the Celtics took off.
Therefore, in just one year of work, Stevens has become one of the best general managers in basketball. Is it too early to crown it like this? Not really, because the result is the result – Boston went to the Finals and their decision making was a main reason.
So what is Stevens up to in his second summer in the big chair? He fulfills Boston’s greatest need — point guard to point guard — and gets Brogdon from the Pacers without parting with anyone of importance in the Celtics’ rotation.
Brogdon was available because he cannot stay healthy. He’s played at least 75 games in a season just once in six years, and that was as a rookie. In the other five years, he only once reached over 60 games. Last year it was the low – 36.
He is at his peak 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 in place of the two guards.
It’s no disrespect to Smart, who bristles whenever his point guard skills are debated, but Brogdon is simply a better dealer. And the Celtics were on display in the NBA Finals when Tatum and Jaylen Brown worked hard while trying to create their own shots. An abundance of turnovers followed and doomed Boston in this series.
With Brogdon, Tatum and Brown can become game finishers instead of starting plays. It’s less stressful and it will only make the Celtics more efficient and dangerous – provided, of course, Brogdon can avoid injury.
Additionally, the Celtics got Gallinari on the cheap free agent when he was shipped from the Hawks to Spurs in the Dejounte Murray trade and then let go by the Spurs. But Gallo may not even wear the uniform this season, if ever, after undergoing knee surgery following a summer injury.
There’s also something Stevens couldn’t or wouldn’t do this summer – prying Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant.
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 (but not Tatum). Everything indicates 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. This is usually the case when offers die or never get traction.
It doesn’t change anything anyway. The Celtics can stay with the status quo and consider themselves title contenders. With Brogdon on board, the 2022 NBA finalists just got even better.
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Shaun Powell covered the NBA for over 25 years. You can email him here, find his archives here and follow him on Twitter.
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