Over the last couple of years, the Celtics bench depth has taken on a Goldilocks theme. Back in 2018-19, there was a surplus of quality veterans. So much so that they were getting in each other’s way. Fast forward a season later and the bench resembled a daycare run by Enes Kanter. My hope for this offseason is that Danny Ainge can build a bench that is not too deep, not too young, but just right. So when the bears of the playoffs come home, the bench will have more to offer than porridge.
The team two years ago was so crowded that Jaylen Brown had to accept a bench role to kinda-sorta keep things steady. It made sense to pare things down once Kyrie Irving and Al Horford left town. Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris made that decision easier. Going with a youth movement was logical in part because the Celtics had so many draft picks and not a lot of cap space to build out the team. Strategically, it makes sense (to a point) to align your young stars with role players that will be able to mature and gain experience with them.
However, it seems like Danny Ainge might have let the pendulum swing a little too far to that side this offseason. When injuries cropped up in the starting 5 and they had to pull Marcus Smart into the starting lineup, that left the bench paper thin. There were times when each of them would step up and play well for stretches, but it wasn’t with any consistency.
Think about the times in the playoffs when the Raptors or Heat were hitting the Celtics with huge runs (usually in the 3rd quarter). The starters were looking confused and frustrated and probably a little gassed. Brad had to look down his bench and decide who he wanted to roll the dice with. There were really only two veterans in Kanter and Brad Wanamaker (and technically, this was only Wanamaker’s 2nd year in the league). Semi has been around for a few years, but he’s also hit-or-miss. Do you plug in untested Romeo Langford (before he suffered another injury)? Grant or Robert Williams? Those guys are talented, they just aren’t experienced. They have moments and matchups that they can excel in, but far too many holes in their games that good teams that exploit.
Most teams have end of bench development projects, but when was the last time you heard one of these names playing meaningful minutes? Carsen Edwards, Vincent Poirier, Tremont Waters, Javonte Green, Tacko Fall. Hopefully some of these guys will pan out (and the ones that don’t are easy enough to cut or dump in a trade). There’s just a lot of projects on this team when there’s a need to contribute in the here and now.
Now imagine if Brad had been able to look down at his bench and call upon a steady, playoff tested veteran to come in and settle things down. Spolestra has Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and even Kelly Olynyk. Nick Nurse had Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell. Stevens had just Kanter and Wanamaker.
Sure, injuries made that worse. If the Celtics are fully healthy, Marcus Smart is coming off the bench. But things happen, people get banged up, players get into foul trouble (see Theis, War On). This team needs to get deeper and we can’t wait multiple years for the kids to develop.
The fully actualized version of Robert Williams is exactly what this team needs. But do we think he’ll be ready to log big minutes in the playoffs next season? Maybe he will, but do you want to count on that? I actually do think we’ll get a lot more out of Grant Williams next season, but that means that Semi Ojeleye is highly expendable. I’d like to see his roster spot go to someone who has been through a few long playoff runs.
I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Danny Ainge has three more picks in this year’s draft. I’d love it if he could trade all of them to upgrade or consolidate our talent. But as others have pointed out, that’s not as easy as it sounds. With just the mid-level exception and veteran minimum slots, it won’t be easy to find talent through free agency, but there may be some hidden gems out there. Trades aren’t as straightforward as the Trade Machine makes it seem, but I’m hoping that Danny can find some help on the margins that way as well.
I’m not saying that we have to empty the cupboards and toss out anyone that isn’t old enough to buy alcohol. This doesn’t have to be wholesale changes. There are some quality young guys that can and will grow into the veterans of tomorrow and it would be foolish to give up on them too early. I just want to give Stevens a few guys that he can plug in and rely upon for steady minutes when he needs them the most.