The Celtics have made some big strides this offseason, but there is still work to be done. The roster is currently 12 players, with Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet re-signing to fill the end of the bench, but that leaves three full roster spots and a pair of two-way slots open.
According to team sources, Boston had made former magician Thomas Bryant an offer to fill the backup center role, but he opted to sign with the Lakers after they gave him a way to be a starter again, according to Chris Haynes from Yahoo. Bryant, like many free agents with most of the Cap court and league exceptions gone, was waiting for the Kevin Durant Sweepstakes as the moratorium date neared.
But as Durant’s trade market continues to evolve, Bryant needed to close the deal before the moratorium ended, most of the league’s agreed-upon deals were executed and the window to join the Lakers closed. Now the Celtics are looking for a backup big man market with few players with the talent and youth of Bryant, so they may have to wait for Durant and possibly Kyrie Irving to make a move.
Rumors that the Nets aren’t interested in facing DeAndre Ayton mean third-party teams will likely be involved and someone will have to drop the salary. Then there could be an opportunity to use a trade exception to hire someone better than the minimum salary options remaining in the free agent market.
The Celtics are still exploring opportunities to take advantage of Evan Fournier’s $17.1 million trade exemption (TPE), which expires July 18, team sources said the athlete. But considering how extensive the list already is, and what their luxury tax situation is, it’s likely that this will either be used as part of a trade to send off a rotary player, or acquire someone on a relatively small salary.
Boston is currently around $20.2 million over the luxury tax limit with 12 players per player The Athletics Danny Leroux, giving them a luxury tax bill of about $45.8 million. That makes it a big challenge for the owner’s engagement to open the checkbook when it comes to competing against another player making eight digits. Adding another $17.1 million in salary alone would almost triple the bill due to escalating luxury tax penalties. It’s more likely that the Celtics would only use the Fournier TPE to attract a low salary player earning somewhere above the minimum.
Given that Kornet has never broken into the rotation, Boston will likely target another capable big with fringe presence on either end to complement Grant Williams’ versatility as an undersized but effective big. Daniel Theis was brought on last season to provide that depth in the event of injury or a break, which proved necessary when Rob Williams tore a meniscus late in the season.
They will certainly need center depth as Al Horford is expected to sit out most back-to-backs and his minutes will be limited even further next season, according to team sources. Therefore, gaining another center that can play over the edge with power and aggression will be crucial. Kornet has shown the ability to rotate across the suit to block layups and spread the ground in pick-and-pops, but having a dominating presence in the suit isn’t quite his style.
Stevens has several prospects to fill the rest of the squad, especially as 2021 draft pick Juhann Begarin has shown some progress in the French league over the past year. A big winger with improved athleticism and speed, he has made some progress as a transitional playmaker and pick-and-roll goalscorer over the past season and showed enough touch to have a chance in the roster.
Last month’s 53rd pick guard JD Davison will soon formalize a two-way deal with the Celtics, but team sources say so the athlete He and last year’s two-way signing Brodric Thomas are expected to battle for a full squad spot over the course of the summer league and training camp. Stevens sent off most of the deep reserves signed in the mid-season Brogdon trade but kept Thomas so the team could extend the two-way qualifying offer to Thomas and make him a restricted free agent. Last year’s other two-way Matt Ryan is also in the summer league squad, while 2020 selection Yam Madar is part of the Israel national team.
The Celtics can bring in more players or build the deep bench from within, but top of their checklist is maintaining the strong chemistry they’ve developed over the past season. As Stevens put it, building a team is a fragile thing. Malcolm Brogdon is saying exactly what the Celtics want to hear as he goes from a starring role in a mediocre franchise to a likely sixth man for a major competitor. Danilo Gallinari has been in the league for a long time but has yet to win a title.
Stevens has been wary of the fundamental reform he’s made to this franchise since taking over over a year ago. As he puts the finishing touches to another busy off-season, he must make sure every piece of the puzzle fits just right.
(Top photo by Luke Kornet: Jim Rassol/USA TODAY)