NBA

Brad Stevens and Ime Udoka have a type

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Over the next two weeks on CelticsBlog, we’ll be doing our version of exit interviews for players, Ime Udoka and Brad Stevens. However, with Thursday’s draft and free agency starting a week later, the NBA has already moved on from the 2021-22 season and is looking ahead to next year. Right now, it doesn’t look like Boston are big players in either the draft or free agency, but they’ll always be looking for 2-3 players who can contribute right away. After successful deals to bring in Al Horford and Derrick White last year, Stevens will once again target players who fit Udoka’s now defined system, style and mindset.

Consider what Stevens handed out at the trade deadline last season to bring in Derrick White and Daniel Theis. To bring in White, the Celtics had to pay a heavy price: Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, their first-round pick in 2022, and a possible trade of picks in 2028. Finding Theis was more addition by subtraction with Dennis Schroder, Enes Kanter , and Bruno Fernando heading for Houston. Of the five players Stevens sent, Richardson was the one who best fit the Udoka mold. The seven-year-old vet was a tweener who could play both sides of the ball – not necessarily a great shooter/playmaker/one-on-one defender, but in the grand scheme of switching defense and the movement of the Boston ball, a more plug-and-play cog. The others were all specialists (read: ball-stopper, a traffic cone in the pick-and-roll) of some sort.

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As CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith points out, Stevens has two substantial tools to round out a squad that’s already 9-10 strong: a handful of TPEs, including a $17.1 million TPE from signing and trading ‘Evan Fournier last summer, and the $6.4 million taxpayer. mid-level exception. MassLive’s Brian Robb reported yesterday that the ownership wants to “significantly increase Boston’s payroll” to a team that had a 2-1 lead in the Finals and late-quarter leads in Games 4 and 5.

So while Stevens has options and management is apparently motivated to exhaust them, any additions will have to fit the floor as much as the salary cap. To play for Udoka, the key is defense. The Celtics defense isn’t the best in the league without every one man player being able to defend their position. Payton Pritchard doesn’t see minutes in the Finals if he can’t hold his own against the likes of Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving. Despite a cold snap to three-point shooting in the closing rounds, Grant Williams was still Boston’s first big player off the bench for his switchable defense. We’ll be previewing potential targets here on CelticsBlog as we approach free agency on June 30, but as we all start making our wishlists, make sure these players check Udoka off.

But as important as D is, the Celtics stumbled in the Finals because of sales figures a lack of offensive firepower. Smith identifies three areas of need: 1) a vet wing to play alongside and spell out Tatum and Brown, 2) another big one, and 3) a “pure playmaker.” After losing the aforementioned Richardson (and Langford to some degree) in February, the Celtics never really rebuilt their wing depth and instead played big with Grant Williams as a swingman or small with a combination of Smart, White and Pritchard in the backcourt. Given the health of Robert Williams and the age of Al Horford, adding an experienced great falls somewhere between necessity and luxury; the smaller TPEs ($6.9 million and $5.9 million) could come in handy mid-season when needed. The same can be said for the ever-elusive vet PG. There’s a facile argument that can be made that Brown and Tatum could use more catch-and-shoot opportunities and secondary actions to ease their offensive burdens, but CP3s don’t grow on trees.

Whether it’s a young player who might sit at the end of the bench and shuttle between Boston and Maine or a ten-year veteran looking to participate in a chip, finding players to fit in in a locker room could prove to be as difficult as trying to build one last summer.

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