The 2020-21 season was a disappointing one for the Boston Celtics. A team that many picked to contend for the Eastern Conference last year ended up getting hampered by ongoing injuries as they were forced to play in the play-in series as the 7th seed, before losing to the Nets in 5 games in the first round.
Fast forward to now. Danny Ainge was replaced by Brad Stevens as the new President of Basketball Operations, and Ime Udoka replaced Stevens as the 18th head coach in the organization’s 75 year history.
The first trade of the Stevens era happened quickly as the Celtics swapped their starting point guard and four time All-Star, Kemba Walker, for a former Celtics legend, five time All-Star Al Horford. While no one will doubt Kemba’s ability as a playmaker and scorer, his nagging knee injury kept him out of the lineup frequently … and most noticeably, the knee only allowed him to play 3 of the 5 games in the Nets playoff series. He’s 31 years old, and several speculate his best years are behind him. With Tatum and Brown as the Celtics primary scorers, many believed the Celtics didn’t need a score first, point guard, which is what Kemba represented. Moreover, Kemba’s inability to defend made him a liability down the stretch in crucial games. A weakness that was exploited heavily when the Miami Heat eliminated the Celtics in the 2020 playoffs.
Celtics Nation knows what they’re getting in Al Horford, who was a fan favorite in his first stint in Boston. Horford’s best attribute is his passing ability from the frontcourt. Last year the Celtics played lots of isolation basketball given their 3 playmakers in Tatum, Brown and Walker, which resulted in them finishing near the bottom of the league in Offensive efficiency and assists (26th and 25th respectively in the NBA last season). Horford, will certainly help with that, as his best ability is to connect the other four players he’s sharing the court with at any given moment.
Towards the end of July, the Celtics decided to use the remainder of the trade exception created by the sign-and-trade deal that sent Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets, on 27 year old, versatile swingman Josh Richardson from the Dallas Mavericks. While the Celtics will represent the 4th team Richardson has played on in the last 4 years, Richardson is defensive-minded, like Horford, which was much needed. The Celtics had their worst defensive rating in the 8 year coaching era under Stevens last season. It’s also worth mentioning, that both Richardson and Horford have spent time with new Celtics Head Coach Ime Udoka in their previous stints in Philadelphia.
On top of the Josh Richardson signing, the Celtics also acquired point guard Kris Dunn, center Bruno Fernando and a 2nd round pick from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Tristan Thompson. The goal here was for Boston to shed the money they owed Thompson, while bringing back some minor but cheaper contributors, namely being Dunn.
Many remember that on the infamous 2016 draft night, Celtics fans rioted when they chose to take Jaylen Brown over Kris Dunn. With that said, Jaylen has turned out to have the far superior NBA career up until this point. Dunn will likely be a third string ball handler who was also primarily brought in for his production on the defensive side of the ball. He has some of the most active hands in the league, as he averaged 2 steals a game in 25 minutes per game off the bench in Atlanta in the 19-20 season. Expectations aren’t overly high, especially because he was injured all of last year, but I would anticipate him being assigned to the opposing team’s best ball handler when they need to give Marcus Smart or Jaylen Brown a rest.
Just last week, the Celtics made one of the final big splashes of the NBA offseason, scooping Dennis Schroder to a one-year $5.9 million contract. The big news around this signing was that Celtics are paying him $78 million less than an extension figure he infamously declined with the Lakers last season. After Lowry wen to Miami, Conley stayed in Utah, Lonzo signed with the Bulls, and Pelicans replaced him with Devonte Graham, Schroder and Boston ended up being the final pair; one a point guard and the other being a team in need of one for cheap.
For the Celtics, the value of this deal is insane, as they’re getting a guy who was valued at over $20 mil/yr just a couple of months ago for now just a hair below $6 mil. While this deal won’t make the Celtics title contenders in and of itself, it’s a low risk deal as it’s only a one year deal for low money. You now have 3 guards in Schroder, Smart and Richardson all playing on expiring years of their contract this upcoming season, which should make for a very competitive backcourt.
The changes in personnel, present several potential interesting starting lineup possibilities:
#1: (Big Frontcourt + Schroder @ PG): Schroder, Brown, Tatum, Horford & Williams III
#2: (Big Frontcourt + Smart @ PG) Smart, Brown, Tatum, Horford & Williams III
#3 (Defensive-Minded): Smart, Richardson, Brown, Tatum.& Williams III
#4 (Athletic): Schroder, Smart, Brown, Tatum & Williams III
#5 (Experience): Schroder, Smart, Brown, Tatum, & Horford
My guess would be the first lineup will be the one they eventually land on with Smart, Richardson, Kanter, Nesmith, Pritchard, Dunn and Langford all coming off the bench.
Most people have the Celtics around #5-7 in the Eastern Conference preseason power rankings with the Nets, Bucks, 76ers, and Heat comfortably ahead of them, and then the Hawks, Celtics and Knicks in that 5-7 group. With that said, this Celtics team is probably one of the most exciting rosters to monitor heading into this upcoming season, given the coaching change, the several personnel changes, and the anticipated growth of Brown, Tatum and Robert Williams III.
It seems with the late addition of Schroder, that Stevens was able to improve this team through this offseason. I do believe they will be competitive this season, and may have an outside chance, if the new pieces gel the right way, to get to the Eastern Conference Final this season.