Examining the Boston Celtics Post-Free Agency

Al Horford

So this is my first time writing about basketball since, well, you know…

Kevin Durant is a Warrior, and the Celtics are once again the bridesmaid and not the bride (kind of). As much as Celtics fans probably are done with Durant talk, I need to take a moment to express that a) I have no issue with Durant’s decision, and b) he is going to a team where he will be an EXCEPTIONAL fit.

First, for all of those criticizing Durant, I can understand the disappointment that he did not choose us or return to the team that drafted him (again, kind of), but he made the best decision for him. I think that were most of us put in the *exact* same spot, we too would make the decision that made the most sense.

Second, holy basketballs, the Warriors. While there is obviously an inherent concern about the competitiveness about the next NBA season, the Warriors will be playing on a level with some of the best teams of all time next season, which is fascinating given that they were already in that conversation. The passing, in particular, is what I am most looking forward to, and I am expecting nothing short of the ’86 Celtics (Go watch the CSN documentary if you haven’t seen it yet.)

Now, on to more locally rooted thoughts. As stated at the beginning, the Celtics were left lustfully looking after Durant on the beach, but they didn’t come back empty-handed as Al Horford became the newest addition to the Boston roster on a 4-year, $113 million deal. Had fans not been so woefully let down by the Durant news, this would have garnered far more excitement than it did.

Like Durant, Horford appears to be an excellent fit with his new team, and we also learned that he was the mysterious All-Star who asked Isaiah Thomas about playing in Boston. Horford immediately steps in as the most talented player on a roster that was already arguably the Eastern Conference’s third best, and fills several areas of need in doing so. For a team that spent most of last season rotating Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller in the frontcourt, the upgrade there is certainly appreciated.

Johnson now becomes the second-best big man, a role he is a better suited for, as is Olynyk as the third man, with second-year big Jordan Mickey perhaps stepping into that Zeller sparkplug-depth role. Useless question, but is Horford the most talented Boston big since Kevin Garnett? Probably the best shooter, and Horford’s range extends beyond the arc, and he will be useful as a passer, pick-and-roll player, and defender.

Next year’s roster is certainly taking shape, with Horford and Johnson presumably joining Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder in the starting unit. This leaves a promising bench of Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jonas Jerebko, Olynyk, Jaylen Brown, and whoever impresses the most out of Mickey, RJ Hunter, James Young, Demetrius Jackson, and Ben Bentil. Though the loss of Evan Turner remains concerning, as neither Rozier nor Smart has impressed yet as NBA shot creators.

Each will likely be given ample opportunity to run the offense, and Rozier has certainly shown flashes against the lesser competition in Summer League. I would imagine Smart gets first shot at being the backup floor-general, but would not be surprised if Rozier overtakes him in that role next season barring a drastic improvement in Smart’s ability as a ball-handler and passer this summer. However, I have also been very impressed by Brown’s ability to play with the ball in his hands.

Which brings me to a point I am happy to say I have reversed my stance on, the draft class! After, (again…) falling victim to the hype surrounding a possible trade for Jimmy Butler on draft night, I was left uncertain of the team’s selections, particularly in their #16 pick Guerschon Yabusele, one of the few players drafted I had not scouted or even heard of. And yet he has undoubtedly become the star of the show at Summer League, with just about everyone on Twitter being impressed by his sort of indescribable style of play.

His body type is very much in line with Sullinger and Glen Davis, and yet he moves far better than either. Though he is only 6’7″ with no verticality, he also extends his range to the 3-point line and handles the ball well enough to drive from the top of the key and finish at the rim. This is appealing as it is not a trait we have seen in any Celtics draft pick since… Rajon Rondo? That seems too far back, but I can’t think of anybody else.

Interestingly, this ability has also been on display by Brown, who took an astounding 17 free-throws in his Summer League debut. Both players have flashed the upside to be great players, and could each contribute next year, though Yabusele will almost certainly start overseas (disappointingly). Brown, on the other hand, stands as a potential rotation player with his length and athleticism lending themselves to visions of another versatile defender for Brad Stevens to employ.

The rest of the class is a mystery, though, with Ante Zizic not appearing in Summer League play and Jackson and Bentil both struggling to produce in a jam-packed Summer League roster filled with veterans from years past. It may be time to close the book on James Young though, and I held out longer than most. He has made some impressive shots (including a lot of 3’s), but he still plays soft, with little basketball IQ on display. He is a weak defender, and not strong or athletic. Sadly, I’m starting to see a lot of these traits in RJ Hunter, too.

The story of late has been that the Celtics are “not done” adding to this year’s team. Ainge, Wyc Grousbeck and Isaiah Thomas have all made it a point to say the team isn’t done working to get better, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. It seems a lot like the last few years where the team has said similar things and then settled for smaller moves when it has come time to actually deal away their guys. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them add a role player though, particularly one who can rebound, shoot the 3-ball, or run the point.

Dreams of Jimmy Butler have all but faded… but why should they? I still see no reason why the team couldn’t deal Bradley, Crowder, Smart or even Thomas (can’t wait to see how much ire this line draws) in some package with draft picks and young players to entice Chicago. The Celtics remain a team filled with great players and few stars, and in my opinion, they’d be well served by consolidating those great players and “assets” into a superstar. I don’t think anyone can make the case Thomas is on Butler’s level, and so if we have to sacrifice him to bring in Butler, why not?

To a lesser degree, a player like Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor could also still be brought in, but this fits into the realm of great players and not stars. Noel is the better fit, but given the free agency spending, I’m not sure I want to trade for him and then pay him next year, so I’ll say Okafor is the guy I want of the two. Also seems like the Celtics lost out on the chance to add an impact role guy like Ian Mahinmi or Festus Ezeli while they were caught up in the chase for Durant, but the potential impact of those guys makes it an issue that isn’t worth arguing about.

To summarize, the Celts continue to get better, but have yet to make that move towards being a championship contender. But on the other hand, given the star power of the Warriors, would they have had a chance to win if they had made that move?

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