Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens met with the media for the first time in his new role after trading Kemba Walker for Al Horford in a trade last week. As he always was as Celtics head coach, Stevens was deliberate in his phrasing while answering questions, and he gave some insights into his plan for building the Boston roster.
The two most clear takeaways from Stevens on Monday morning were that the trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder was driven by financial reasons first and foremost. The second, and more important, takeaway was that everything Stevens does with building the roster will be about maximizing All-Star wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
While answering a question about his plans now that the roster features so many big men, Stevens said “The ability to make our wings better is a huge part of evaluating the people we put around them.” It’s safe to assume he wasn’t talking about Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith.
Later on Stevens was asked about being in communicating with Tatum and Brown before making the trade with OKC. After saying he talked to everyone on the team after the trade, Stevens said “And, yeah, I’ve been in very close contact with Jaylen and Jayson specifically too.”
This shouldn’t be taken as Brown and Tatum are running the team, but Stevens is clearly involving them in the process of how the roster is built. In this era of the NBA, we’ve seen things go sideways several times when a team’s young stars aren’t involved in how the team is put together. Stevens is going to do his best to avoid those sorts of missteps.
As for the trade itself, Stevens said it wasn’t an ideal thing to do in his first few weeks on the job. Stevens recognized how hard it is to trade away player, especially ones as well-liked as Kemba Walker. Stevens emphasized several times that he likes Kemba Walker as a “person, professional and a player”. Perhaps referencing recent reporting, Stevens finished his thoughts on Walker with a definitive statement that he “Just really liked Kemba, period. End of story.”
However, giving the Celtics additional flexibility was key in making this trade, and in the timing of the trade. Stevens noted that it was a “weird” time for a trade to happen, but that Boston wanted to be “unencumbered” with restrictions moving forward on trading future draft picks.
Stevens mentioned multiple times that a driving factor was “financial flexibility”. He noted that Horford makes “considerably less money” than Walker, in addition to being “a very good player”. Stevens said that adding Horford as a veteran presence to support the “Jays” (Brown and Tatum) was important, but that the Celtics wanted to have “an open road” in terms of flexibility moving forward.
On Horford as a player, Stevens said he thought Horford played well last season. He noted that Horford can “pass, space the floor and play alongside another big. That’s huge in terms of how we put the roster together.” Stevens said he believes that Horford can “move the needle” for Boston, while also helping the team’s young big men like Robert Williams to continue to grow.
One of the Celtics other young big men is Moses Brown, who came over with Horford from Oklahoma City. Stevens seems intrigued by Brown’s abilities, saying “He got a bigger taste of the NBA this year.” Stevens talked about Brown being an “upside player” that the Celtics are “excited to work with”. Stevens also made reference to Brown’s 21-point, 23-rebound performance against Boston in late-March by saying “He put up numbers against us, certainly.”
On the Celtics ongoing coaching search, Stevens shut down any questions about that before even getting started. Stevens said in order to be fair to those in consideration for the job, he wouldn’t entertain any questions at this time. Stevens did say he sees his main role as simply being there to support the new coach. He said in a weird way, he’s looking forward to the new coach’s first loss, so that Stevens can “Pop in the office, put my around them and say ‘I did a lot of losing here. Let’s get a coffee or a beer.’ and give them that support.”
Brad Stevens has started his new role with a bang with a big trade right out of the gate. Stevens stated that his goal for the team is “to be in the mix”. He said he believes in the Celtics young foundation and that every decision will be about keeping Boston in the mix in both the near-team and long-term. If Stevens stays true his plan to build around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with the team’s newfound flexibility, the Celtics should be just fine.