How Brad Stevens can get the Celtics back to the NBA Finals this offseason

Forsberg: How Brad Stevens can get the C’s back to the Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

When Brad Stevens was surprisingly named President of Basketball Operations a year ago, he had a huge to-do list. He plowed through: He hired a coach, traded a tied veteran with hopes of future flexibility, filled out a roster and signed a few key extensions.

The season came and Stevens didn’t stop tinkering until he had created a championship-caliber roster around the home-grown core he had inherited.

The to-do list is much shorter this summer, and yet the decisions Stevens makes could play a big part in whether the Celtics are back in the Finals next June and how long they remain a legitimate title contender.

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The good news for Stevens is that he got his job done early and, if he chooses to, the core of this team is in place for the foreseeable future. His biggest challenge: Not overreacting with a team just over four minutes from a 3-1 lead in the Finals, while still understanding the urgency of adding talent given how daunting a beefed-up Eastern Conference makes it difficult going to just go back into that championship phase again.

The end of Boston’s Finals run made it clear that more talent is needed on the bench. Celtics owners must be willing to invest a fair amount in the luxury tax to give this team the talent needed for another spirited run at Banner 18.

The offseason starts in earnest with the NBA Draft on Thursday. It’s a quick turn to free agency and the real start of the off-season.

That’s not a lot of downtime for a team that’s logged 110 games over the past nine months. But the bitter taste of letting a title slip through your fingers should motivate everyone in the Celtics organization to do their part to get the team over the final hurdle.

And it starts with Stevens.

Do draft night moves?

The Celtics will enter Thursday’s Pick-a-Palooza with only the No. 53 pick after sidelining their 2022 trade first-rounder who delivered Derrick White at deadline. The likelihood of Boston finding someone here who could contribute to a championship-caliber team at any point in the next three years seems minimal. So if you’re staying at 53, grab a flyer with an overseas supply or someone willing to sign a two-way deal and break up.

The bigger question is whether there’s a move that could allow Boston to shuffle higher in the draft should there be desirable talent, particularly early in the second round (although there were signs the award was tied to those last year places was still a bit unaffordable). . If you think there’s another Herb Jones or Ayo Dosunmu type on the board in this year’s draft, players with more potential than in 53rd place and whose skills obviously fit your desired playstyle, it might be worth wasting, especially if you trust your scouting.

In this sense …

The sophomore swingman can quickly win you over with his rush and guts, but the fact of the matter is he’s shooting 31.8 percent on 3-pointers in 1,243 minutes of the regular season and, when the Celtics make a sprightly move, um To add one wing talent this summer, his role is murky at best.

So, before you even get to the point of contemplating his fourth-year option, it would make sense to see if there’s an interested team with an early second-round pick that would be willing to take a swipe at a player dare who is only 22 years old but needs more consistent time to develop? The Celtics would sell low for Nesmith after using the 14th pick in 2020, but it could be to the team’s advantage, just in terms of potential savings coming from Nesmith’s $3.8 million deal (with a $5.6 million option coming up in 2023-24) going to a non-guaranteed second-round salary.

The Big Offseason Swing(s)

We’re working with the idea that Boston will bring back the core of its team in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, Al Horford, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard and White. That’s a hefty $136 million commitment for what’s basically just the front half of your 17-man roster. With Nesmith and Daniel Theis ($8.7 million next season) also on the books, the Celtics are close to the tax limit before filling their bench.

The Celtics will have two primary means of adding talent this offseason: the taxpayer midlevel exemption ($6.4 million) and a bevy of trade exemptions led by a $17.1 million TPE, which through the sale of Evan Fournier last summer (Boston has until July 18 to take advantage of this). Exception).

Sort contracts by size HERE and dream. The Celtics may offer a salary cap and future draft assets in the search for anyone under that $17.1 million figure. You’re calling Toronto about OG Anunoby, maybe you’re calling the Clippers just to make sure they have a long-term commitment to Norman Powell, maybe you’re calling Portland after they took on Joe Ingles. Duncan Robinson fits the exception, but Miami could use his salary for bigger deals that Pat Riley could dream of.

The name that should come up most often: Atlanta’s Kevin Huerter. Like White, he has contracts well into the future and his combination of size and shooting would complement that core well while serving two of Boston’s biggest areas of need. He would be one of the team’s weakest defenders, but at this end he’s more viable than, say, a Robinson-type.

Keep in mind that Theis and Nesmith’s contracts leave some opportunities for deals that would not only involve taking on a huge salary, but would likely come with higher draft asset costs.

Another thing to note here: if the Celtics were willing to defer Al Horford’s final annual salary, it opens the door to much greater off-season luxury (and brings names like Bradley Beal into play). However, Horford has likely cemented his place here with his play last season, the Celtics still need his veteran presence, and the cost of splurging on a Beal-type will be far more prohibitive than a lower salary with the Fournier TPE to add.

The Jaylen Brown expansion

We won’t spend much time here because it seems so unlikely. Brown is eligible for another extension on October 1. After getting a hefty discount on a four-year extension in 2019, Brown seems unlikely to leave money on the table as Boston can only offer a 120 percent increase on his last year’s salary on that point. A much more lucrative payday awaits him after the 2023-24 season, and Boston can still pay him maximum money at this point. The Celtics are said to offer the extension and not be offended if he doesn’t accept it.

The Grant Williams expansion

Much like Williams III last summer, Williams — the only remaining player from that 2019 draft class — is eligible for an overtime this summer. After his exploits in wearing down Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the early rounds of Boston’s playoff run, Williams looked set for a nice payday. His role and consistency waned a bit in the last two rounds.

If the Celtics believe Williams is part of the roadmap to fill Horford’s post post-departure role – or even just a senior bench player with that core – then it might be worth looking into with the goal of closing a deal in the neighborhood his of Williams III’s pact last year (although Williams will likely push to earn a bit more, if only because he didn’t have the injury history early in his career). The Celtics can always push that decision further if the teams are too far apart this summer.

filling in the bank

The Celtics may trigger Sam Hauser’s sophomore option at minimum salary after putting him on the parent list last season. He could be part of the equation by adding bench shooting. Boston may also consider bringing onboard overseas hideouts in Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin. The question arises, if the Celtics add a backup ball handler this offseason, does it make sense to pick Madar when he would be behind Smart, White, Pritchard and every offseason addition on the ballhandling depth chart?

The last time we saw Begarin he was extremely raw but had the frame and athleticism to be a two-way wing one day. The same question remains: Would he benefit more from another season abroad with higher reps rather than being a depth option, jumping to Maine while eating up a year of his first NBA contract.

The better news for Boston is that it should be easier to attract ring hunting veterans who may take minimum salary as a depth option. The balance is to make sure they’re players who don’t need minutes when Udoka leans most on his core (although bodies that can lower minute totals for Tatum, Brown, Horford and co. seem important post-Boston in the final hobbled to the finish).

fill needs

Boston’s greatest need boils down to this: More talent. Even if you’re optimistic that White, Williams and Pritchard will be better next year, their finals battles reinforce the need for at least one other heavy hitter to relieve this team’s core.

There will be those who will yell that the Celtics need to consider acting smart and finding a pass-first-point guard. This ignores the fact that Smart spent the second half of the year quarterbacking the NBA’s best offense. The Celtics could certainly benefit from a senior playmaker off the bench who can stabilize offense, but he’ll need to be versatile enough to influence the game in other ways when he shares the floor with White and Pritchard.

Tomase: Tatum has what it takes to win a title his own way

Boston may need to be the most aggressive to determine what happens next at 4th. Horford was a revelation at the age of 35 but the team cannot count on that performance over the course of another long season. Horford does so many little things that it’s difficult to find a younger replacement, but this player needs to be able to hold down the defensive line and let Williams III roam and maximize defensive efficiency.

The Celtics could benefit from some extra size on the wing. There simply wasn’t anyone who could consistently take the baton from the Jays in the postseason, which added to their workload, especially when the rest of the Boston bench was struggling.

Ultimately, the trainer and the core are fixed. It’s time Stevens kept working on the fringes. His actions during last year’s season helped propel the Celtics onto the championship stage. What he does this summer could be the key to getting past the final hump to Banner 18.

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