Despite all the changes in Boston to the front office and coaching staff, there is still an NBA draft to prepare for. This July caps off the first draft process with Brad Stevens in charge as the President of Basketball Operations, and it is one of great importance to the franchise. There are already six players on rookie deals currently inhabiting the roster. If his recent trade of Kemba Walker and the 16th pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder is any indication, Stevens isn’t afraid to make moves and put his touch on the roster immediately.
The Celtics have their eyes set on prying the title window open after a disappointingly inconsistent season. The draft can be a great way to sprinkle in talent, both from the win-now variety and the long-term talent who blossoms just as this core hits its stride.
Before we dive too deep into any prospect and who fits in Boston, we need to set the table for what the roster will look like next year, get a feel for where the Celtics have holes and project what they’ll do to improve this group. Today, we bring in four CelticsBlog staff writers who follow the team closely to weigh in on a few important questions — Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA), Adam Spinella (@spinella14), Bill Sy (@deliberatepix) and Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA).
1. How does the Kemba Walker trade, which also got rid of the 16th pick that Boston held in the upcoming draft, change the team’s overall approach to the offseason?
Keith Smith: It changes things to an extent. Clearly, they won’t be drafting in the first round now. I know there are some who dream of trading back in, but that seems like a long shot. The team now has enough flexibility under the luxury tax that they should be able to re-sign Evan Fournier without worry.
If that doesn’t come to pass, they can use the full Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level to bring in a free agent. I do think we could see at least one more trade, because the team seems to have too many bigs now. This is especially true when you consider Brad Stevens seems to prefer lineups featuring one big at a time, and now he’s the one shaping the roster.
Adam Spinella: First and foremost, the deal means the Boston Celtics are bound to prioritize veteran moves to address holes in the roster. Stevens sees the Jays as burgeoning stars and knows they need to simultaneously surround them with win-now talent while cleaning the books for the biggest push 2-3 years from now.
As a draft guy, I look at the landscape in the 16th pick range and think it was incredibly wise for Boston to get out of that spot. The late lottery/ middle 1st round isn’t particularly strong this year and wouldn’t have brought in a likely win-now prospect. That isn’t to say the C’s shouldn’t attempt to trade back into the draft (sorry, Tristan Thompson) but it’s certainly not a draft or a range worth hamstringing their salary books for.
Bill Sy: The obvious answer is finding another point guard. They could ride with Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard, but odds are, they’ll target a vet PG via trade with Tristan Thompson’s expiring contract or the MLE.
However, the bigger development might be, well, the development of Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford. Even if the Celtics re-sign Evan Fournier, there’s some pressure for those young wings to make a leap in the offseason. Imagine if Boston gets real production from them on the likes of Terrance Mann, Mikal Bridges, and Tyrese Maxey.
Adam Taylor: I think that moving on from this year's draft pick was a smart choice. The team has enough young projects, so adding another would only limit the growth of their current projects. With Kemba now gone and a surplus of centers, I think it’s fair to assume that more deals are in the pipeline - hopefully including a move for another guard (who’s an offensive creator)
I also think we could see some of the younger guys who’ve failed to make an impact get moved on. Players like Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards are expendable and taking up valuable roster spots. If they can make a beneficial deal is a different question entirely.
2. Looking back on the prior season, what is one skill (shooting, rim protection, PNR creation, etc.) that the Celtics could really use on this roster that they didn’t already have?
Smith: It’s a tie between two things, but with caveats. On offense, I think they need more guys who create for others, especially after Walker’s departure. Most of their players can create their own looks, but the Celtics don’t have great playmakers for others. If the projection is that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will continue to take on more of this responsibility, it becomes less of a need. On defense, my initial thought is adding perimeter firepower. It feels like the point of attack defense slipped noticeably this past season.
Spinella: Interesting thoughts, Keith. I come from a different school of thought and think the team needs more movement shooting, especially in the backcourt.
I’m of the opinion that Tatum and Brown will turn into those alpha male creators, especially as Walker ages and gets his minutes cut into. Finding a shooter who defends smaller guys, spots up on the perimeter and can come off screens is really important for the offense. Movement shooting is really important; the more screens and whirling movement the C’s can have on their second unit, the more it will enable Tatum to operate in space with the second unit.
Sy: I think we needed a big that can operate and create between the elbow and three-point line, and we got it in Al Horford. Now there’s little left to focus on but tightening the backcourt rotation and retaining Fournier.
Taylor: I think it became clear as the season went on, that the team lacked half-court creation. We saw the Celtics use Tatum, Brown and Walker in pick-and-roll situations, yet both Tatum and Brown are still developing in their playmaking ability and often missed secondary and tertiary reads. Trade Walker for two frontcourt pieces and there’s a large void in the backcourt. Having a true creator would help unlock the offense while allowing the young wing duo to continue developing their playmaking ability without the pressure of being offensive focal points from a creation standpoint.
3. In your estimation, what is the biggest position of need?
Smith: I’m a big believer that you can never have too many wings. That said, it feels like Boston has that covered, assuming health and pending Evan Fournier returning. I lean towards a stretch-big. None of the currently signed options can step out beyond the arc. Boston’s offense has functioned best with a shooting threat at the 5, and hopefully Horford can still be that.
After the Walker trade, adding an additional ball handler certainly makes sense. Marcus Smart often looks better off-ball and Pritchard is still figuring out the NBA game. Another option there feels good, even if it’s a more developmental player than Pritchard.
Spinella: Adding depth to the backcourt is critical. I mentioned the skill being more shooting-based than playmaking, but in general they need capable bodies that can log minutes here. I’m of the frame of mind that Pritchard is already at or near the maximization of his role and shouldn’t be counted on for more than 18-20 minutes a night.
Sy: What position does Health play?
Just kidding... probably another scorer in the backcourt.
Taylor: Kemba’s injury troubles and long contract were the reasons Stevens moved him, though it did create a massive hole at the point. The team will be relying on Smart (who is capable) and Pritchard to unlock defenses. While Smart is a proven playmaker and Pritchard impressed in his rookie year, that guard rotation doesn’t stack up with other Eastern Conference contenders.
4. Brad Stevens enters his first offseason in charge of the front office with six players signed to rookie deals. Among them, do you think all six will be on the roster next year, and if not, who is a candidate to leave town?
Smith: I think Brad Stevens has to give whoever replaces him on the sidelines at least a slightly more veteran-leaning roster than Stevens’ last one was. We saw the start of that process by including the 2021 first-rounded in the Walker deal. I’d expect the team to stay where they are.
Spinella: To me, a team trying to make a championship run is hard-pressed to do so with seven guys on rookie contracts. Re-signing Fournier and using the remaining $11 million in the trade exception mean veterans should be in town.
I’d be surprised if both Carsen Edwards and Grant Williams are on the roster. One of them is plausible, but depending on who they add and what happens with the 16th pick, one of them will become expendable. There aren’t enough roster spots to keep guys who have been inconsistent and have limited long-term upside. I’d deal one of them, even if it means a suboptimal return.
Sy: Edwards is the obvious answer here, but let’s dig a little deeper. If we consider the Williamses, Pritchard, Nesmith, and Langford as a pool to be traded, I think it’ll be between Nesmith and Langford for guys that would get a veteran to help the roster.
Grant just doesn’t have much value right now. So, between the wings, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nesmith gets dealt. He had a better 2020-21 than Langford and has an extra year on his contract. There will be plenty of buyers for a knockdown shooter and defensive madman.
Taylor: I would expect to see some movement on the fringes, which means a couple of the rookie scale deals could be moved. When looking at the roster, I agree with Adam: it’s plausible to envision both Williams and Edwards suiting up somewhere different next season. Another fair assessment is that Stevens leans on either Langford or Nesmith as an enticing young wing with upside to sweeten a package for a more proven veteran.
5. The Celtics currently don’t have a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. If they find a way to trade back in, is there a player you’d want the team to target?
Smith: I think Josh Giddey or Corey Kispert would be nice picks with this group. I know I said the Celtics don’t necessarily need more wings, but these two guys seem too good to pass up. Giddey has ‘all-around playmaker’ written all over him. Kispert brings competent shooting to the table from the start of his career.
I also really like Kai Jones. He’s super athletic, has a high motor and has shown some skill. He’s a long-term developmental prospect, but could pay off down the line a la Robert Williams. There may be too many bodies at that position now, though.
Spinella: If you ask me, Jared Butler is the right guy for Boston. He’s a winner at the college level, young for his age and an incredibly prolific 3-point shooter. Flanking Tatum and Brown with a shooting backcourt is important, but Butler isn’t just a catch-and-shoot combo. He added a really impactful step-back to his arsenal and became an All-American and national champion by being the lead cog in his team’s offense. He’s the perfect fit in Boston at a position of major need.
Sy: I’m biased, but if he slides at all out of the lottery, snag me Franz Wagner out of Michigan. (Go Blue!) He doesn’t exactly excel at anything in particular, but he’s a decent defender with size and a do-it-all on offense. Flanked by Tatum, Brown, Fournier, and Smart, he won’t be asked to do too much as a rookie.
Taylor: I’m still early into my draft dives, but right now the front runner has to be Giddey. If his stock rises, I wouldn’t be upset to see the Celtics attempt to move up to get him. I’ve seen Giddey list as anywhere between 6’6’’ and 6’8’’, but what’s important to me is he fits the new blend of NBA player. He has size, length, and skill. Stevens bemoaned the team's lack of size multiple times last season, and taking an early flyer on a player like Giddey could signal a culture change in the player profile the Celtics wish to pursue.
Over the coming weeks, CelticsBlog will preview the high-profile draft prospects for the Celtics in the upcoming draft. Stay tuned for specific profile breakdowns, scouting reports and fits within the Celtics organization.