The NBA offseason feels shorter than ever thanks to the constant coverage of the draft, Summer League and free agency. Still, everything slows down considerably in the dog days of August.
But the NBA schedule was officially released this week and we can all start salivating over specific head-to-head matchups. Further, training camp opens up for the first few teams in just over a month and we are a mere 68 days from the start of the 2019-20 regular season.
And with that, Basketball Insiders continues its “Grading the Offseason series”. This iteration takes us to New England to grade the Boston Celtics’ offseason.
The Boston Celtics are coming off one of the more disappointing seasons they (or any team) has experienced in the recent past. After being seen as favorites to come out of the East in 2018-19, they finished with a slightly disappointing 49-33 record and were made quick work of by the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
As though that weren’t enough, the Celtics then hemorrhaged Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively. And if that weren’t enough, they had to contend with rumors that Coach Brad Stevens’ handling of Gordon Hayward ruffled feathers in the team’s locker room.
So the Celtics and their 2019 offseason do not have the luxury of being graded in a vacuum.
Nevertheless, the Celtics still have a good amount of talent on their roster. And the East has more parity now than it did last season. Remember, LeBron James left Cleveland for Los Angeles last summer and Kawhi Leonard took his talents to Hollywood this July. And with Durant’s Achilles injury limiting the Nets’ upside, the East is mostly up for grabs in 2019-20. But the C’s must continue maneuvering to compete for an accolade they hoped (and even assumed) they would achieve last season — an Eastern Conference title and a trip to the NBA Finals. And they begin this journey having swapped out two of their most important pieces.
Boston entered the offseason on surprisingly uneasy footing. Their season ended prematurely, again. And they failed to secure a desired trade target – Anthony Davis – again (after missing out on previously desired trade targets like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard).
And as previously mentioned, they watched their two best players leave for division rivals.
But the Celtics did not sit idly by after losing Irving and Horford. Instead, they signed All-Star Kemba Walker as Irving’s replacement. And while Walker is a slight downgrade from a talent standpoint, he should be a significant upgrade in the locker room and from a culture standpoint.
Walker’s former coach, Steve Clifford, recently raved about the All-Star guard, speaking to the caliber of player the Celtics acquired.
“I think what people there (in Boston) will find is that he’s not only a terrific player and a great competitor, but he’s team-first,” Clifford told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald in July.
The Celtics also signed Enes Kanter to a 2-year, $10 million deal (with a team option after the first year) to fill their void at the center position. And as much as losing Horford hurts, signing him to a long-term, $100 million+ deal would severely limit the team’s flexibility moving forward. With Kanter, the Celtics acquired a low-post scoring presence while maintaining cap flexibility.
The Celtics were also relatively active in the 2019 NBA Draft. They kicked things off with the 14th overall pick, courtesy of a 2017 draft-day trade with the 76ers.
Unfortunately for the C’s, the pick itself was Sacramento’s. The Kings pick barely qualified for the lottery (14) thanks to the Kings’ surprising 2018-19 season. Still, the Celtics lucked out and drafted Romeo Langford, who has star potential and plugs into the roster nicely as a shooter and scorer. Langford spoke about his potential at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago back in May.
“I just feel like my game translates really well for the NBA, where the NBA’s going right now and I’m just built for it,” Langford said. “My form needs a couple of things tweaked here and there,” Langford said. “But I can still shoot the ball. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.”
They then swapped their own first-round pick (20) for the 24th and 33rd picks and then flipped the 24th pick and Aron Baynes for the Bucks’ top-seven protected 2020 first-round pick (which converts to an unprotected pick in 2021). Milwaukee’s 2020 first-rounder will likely end up somewhere near the end of the first-round – but the move was done mainly to free up additional cap space ($5.4 million). But it also left them with one fewer big man — more on that later.
The Celtics also selected Grant Williams and Tremont Waters with the 22nd and the 51st overall pick, respectively.
Edwards is a sturdy 6’0, 200-pound guard who averaged 19.4 points per game in Summer League and proved he can impact a game on a professional level. Williams is a versatile forward who is a little undersized given his low-post-centric game, however, he averaged 13 points and six rebounds per game in Summer League. Williams will definitely have a role with the C’s given their need for help in the post. And Waters took a step toward proving he belongs in the NBA thanks to his Summer League performance. He averaged 11.2 points and 4.8 assists per contest, which earned him a two-way contract.
The Celtics also signed the undrafted 7’6 sensation Tacko Fall to a rookie contract. And GM Danny Ainge told Celtics report Keither Smart that Fall has a chance to make the roster.
“I think Tacko’s going to have a chance to make the roster,” Ainge said. “We’ll see.”
Finally, the Celtics also added a new assistant coach in Kara Lawson. Lawson is a WNBA champion and Olympic gold medalist. And she is the fourth active female coach in the NBA.
Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters (two-way) and Tacko Fall (Exhibit 10)
Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes
The Celtics were dealt a few lemons this offseason but they still they managed to make lemonade. They made strong additions in Walker, Kanter and Langford, and they maintained significant flexibility moving forward.
But lemonade is not exactly what they were hoping for. I wrote about the Celtics’ interesting dilemma last offseason, which has evolved into a bigger conundrum.
While their core is still young and versatile, the Celtics are significantly undersized and understaffed as far as their big men are concerned. They will especially miss Horford and Morris, and they will struggle to keep up with bigger and more versatile front lines – like that of the 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers (when healthy), etc. After all, their only centers with NBA experience are Kanter and second-year project Robert Williams, and there are challenges at the power forward position, too (e.g., the 6’8, 208 lb Tatum is currently projected as their starting power forward).
The Celtics continue to monitor the trade market in the event that a star is made available (e.g., Bradley Beal). They must finally entertain the possibility of moving some combination of Gordon Hayward, Brown, Kanter (expiring) and future draft picks in order to better round out their roster – if they hope to compete this season that is. While trading Hayward or Brown isn’t particularly alluring, the Celtics need more offensive firepower and additional help down low – especially on the defensive end. The good news is that they are still only a piece or two away from the top of the conference. But they must be more aggressive in the trade market than they’ve been in the recent past if they plan on succeeding. And success is graded far differently in Boston than it is in most cities.
Offseason Grade: C
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