Adding depth, playmaker top priorities for Celtics

BOSTON (AP) — Brad Stevens knows the Celtics need to make changes this offseason if they hope to stay in the mix of a likely retooled group of teams set to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference next season.

Just don’t expect Boston’s president of basketball operations to blow up a roster he believes is about to quit the job after earning just two wins to an NBA title.

“We have to walk a bit of a fine line. I think teams are fragile. I think the way teams collaborate and work together is fragile,” Stevens said Tuesday. “And I think your identity as a team, when you find one that’s successful – which we’ve done this year on the defensive end of the floor and when we’ve shared the ball best offensively – those things are fragile.

“So just adding (players) doesn’t mean you’re not taking something away from the group.”

While Stevens was pleased with how the Celtics rebounded from their 18-21 start to take the East No. 2 and conference title, he believes their slow start is directly related to how the Golden State Warriors are in were able to overtake them finals.

“If you start 18-21, you have to fight, scrape and scrape to get into the playoffs, get into the seeds, get home,” Stevens said. “You have to do all that stuff and there’s no margin for error.”

It meant less rest throughout the season, and as the minutes piled up, he believes it’s taken a toll on the team – particularly star Jayson Tatum, who couldn’t match the same numbers in the Finals as he did early in the postseason.

However, Stevens will look to add another playmaker to the core group of Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart while developing the bench with players currently on the roster.

If Boston wants to add any outside pieces, Stevens said, the front office has received the OK to issue whatever is necessary. But the permission doesn’t mean he plans to exhaust what he called their “limited resources.”

The Celtics fell below the luxury tax threshold just before the close of trading last season and don’t plan to exceed it unless justified.

They have only one second-round pick (No. 53 overall) going into Thursday night’s draft. But they also have three trade exceptions totaling just under $30 million to play with, including about $17 million left over from the exception created by Evan Fournier’s sign-and-trade was created last August.

“The big one expires in July, we have a few others that expire later, these are all reasonable amounts that we can take good players with,” Stevens said. “It’s still about being prudent and thoughtful about what the deal is.”

This will be done alongside input coach Ime Udoka, who Stevens says has found a rhythm in his first year on the sidelines after the slow start.

“In the first 40 games or so, he went through pretty much everything you can go through as a coach in Boston,” Stevens said. “I think that’s a testament to the way he stayed balanced. … I’ve said to the people I’m close to all the time, I think his ability to bounce back after those tough losses in the playoffs was really special.”

As for Stevens’ own assessment of his first year at his new job, he said he’s learning every day.

“I still feel like I have a long way to go in this role,” he said. “I have great people around me that I lean on every day and I’m grateful for that. Our front office does an excellent job. And you know, without all their help it would be a lot harder, that’s for sure.”

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