After a long, long nine days, the Cavaliers finally decided to give in and officially complete the deal for Kyrie Irving after the Celtics agreed to “remedy” their “concerns” with Miami’s 2020 second-round pick. Now that we can finally put the ordeal behind us, we now have to deal with the next issue: Who’s going to replace Jae Crowder‘s minutes?
Last month, I wrote about how the Celtics would be able to handle their surplus of wings. While doing minutes projections, I had Crowder slotted for 30 mins, Hayward getting 33 minutes, Brown and Morris getting 26 minutes apiece, and Tatum getting a conservative 14 minutes. Things have obviously changed since then, and Stevens will have the opportunity to explore some new avenues. Here are a few options:
Option 1: More time for Horford at the 4
Prior to the deal, Horford would have needed to play a lot at the 5 in order for all the wings to get enough minutes. Despite Horford’s ability to excel at the 5, it’s no secret that Horford is not enamored with playing big minutes at that position. Playing him there for big minutes would have meant a lot of personality-managing between Crowder feeling threatened by incoming wings and Horford feeling unhappy with his role. The trade now opens up minutes for Horford at the 4, and he’ll most likely primarily play those minutes in the starting lineup. Stevens and most coaches in the league still like to start games big and finish them small, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Horford was starting at the 4 alongside Baynes. Per NBA.com, Horford was in the 80th percentile when defending the ball-handler out of the pick and roll, and he was in the 94th percentile in defending post-ups. This year, Horford will be under the similar pressure of getting on the perimeter, especially with Irving handling the pick and rolls, but unlike last year, he’ll have a legitimate big in the back capable of corralling tough rebounds and intimidating at the rim. Will that changing along with having a collectively bigger and more versatile starting unit be enough to shore up the defensive rebounding problem? We’ll soon find out.
Option 2: Jayson Tatum ROY chances rise
The allocation of Crowder’s minutes could also go towards the highly touted Jayson Tatum and possibly give him the opportunity to play 20 or so minutes per game on a consistent basis. We all love draft picks, getting great prospects, and hoping that they’ll eventually develop to their peak, but a big part of that last step is actually getting them on the floor. Coach Stevens can lecture kids over and over again about the importance of off-the-court work, and development that doesn’t happen in the game is just as important, but kids at that age just aren’t always ready to accept that type of logic, and it could lead to slower or stunted growth if they don’t buy in. Allowing Tatum to step on the court and from day one at least have the opportunity to play big minutes could do wonders for his motivations which will in turn (hopefully) lead to stronger growth and development. I've written about Tatum’s potential fit in the NBA, and it shouldn’t surprise many that he could be a reliable offensive weapon alongside Irving, Hayward, and Horford if he can defend well enough to stay on the court. Some of the question marks that now surround the Celtics stem from the fact that we’ll now be looking towards Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to provide steady production. This may ultimately be the reason why the Celtics aren’t able to get past the Cavs this year, but the expanded roles will pay dividends if it leads to an accelerated growth that limited minutes wouldn’t provide.
Option 3: Terry Rozier and the 3-guard lineups
Last year’s three-guard lineups were some of Brad Stevens’s favorites, but they also defended poorly and were atrocious on the boards. I think overall the lineups failed because of who the three guards were rather than because it was a three-guard lineup. One variation the Celtics could try it out is Terry Rozier-Kyrie Irving-Marcus Smart. Rozier is quick, long, and athletic enough to keep up with opposing lead guards, Irving is big enough to get thrown onto a limited off-guard, and Smart is strong enough to defend wings. Rozier actually had a higher defensive rebounding rate than Avery Bradley last year and already has a reputation for using his long wingspan and athletic ability to sky for boards. Smart also has the capability to box out at a high level and corral tough rebounds from time to time. Of course, this isn’t a starting lineup or even something that the Celtics should go to for long stretches, but jump-starting the second unit with a Rozier-Irving-Smart-Morris-Ojeleye lineup would be an interesting blend of quickness and versatility that could give Boston an edge in some lineups and find a way to get Rozier more minutes.
Stevens will probably use a combination of all these options in an effort to exploit matchups, get younger players minutes, and try to find some new lineups that they can start to build with for years to come. The Celtics lost consistency when they dealt Jae Crowder to the Cavaliers. However, what they lost in consistency they’ll hope to gain in better long-term returns. But it’ll take some patience, which the Celtics are now ready to give.