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Celtics quiet on first day of free agency

What does today’s inactivity mean for the 2021-2022 season?

Boston Celtics Introduce Ime Udoka Press Conference Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Smart decision

After two full years with Isaiah Thomas then Kyrie Irving then Kemba Walker, Boston will enter the 2021-2022 season without an All-Star point guard. That could mean Josh Richardson and Marcus Smart starting in the back court together.

The headline here is Smart. There was trade chatter than Smart could have been included in a potential sign-and-trade for Lonzo Ball. Ball is now a Bull, so after an earlier report from Sport Illustrated’s Chris Mannix suggested that Marcus Smart had lost favor in Boston’s front office, it looks like the Celtics will ride with Smart for one more season. Smart reportedly wants a max extension (4-year, $20 million) and he’ll have a chance to prove it in a contract year.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Three Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

No new bigs

After acquiring Al Horford and then subsequently shedding Tristan Thompson and Moses Brown, the Celtics are suddenly a little thin in the front court. Grant Williams and Jabari Parker can fill in small ball lineups. Bruno Fernando is a body.

But as currently constructed, Boston will look a little different next season. Ideally, they’ll mirror their play on both sides of the ball after the trade deadline when Robert Williams was inserted into the starting lineup: a passing center as the offensive hub and a defense built on size around the perimeter. Picture Horford and Timelord at the free throw line and some combination of Brown, Tatum, Smart, Richardson, Dunn, Nesmith, and Langford flying around them.

Kick the can

What’s obvious is that the team’s priority is future flexibility, specifically in next summer. Horford’s final year is not fully guaranteed. Jason Richardson and Kris Dunn are both on expiring deals. For now, the front office hasn’t extended either Smart or Robert Williams. Evan Fournier is now a Knick to the tune of four years, $78 million.

Bradley Beal is the big target in 2022. He has a player option next summer, but he’ll most likely opt out and become a free agent. For the Celtics to clear space, it would mean relinquishing cap holds on unrestricted free agents like Smart and Robert Williams. Even if the dream of teaming up Tatum and Beal fizzles out next July, the Celtics will most likely enter their first season with significant cap space since 2019. To wit, the league announced that the 2022 cap would be $4 million higher than earlier projections. Check out MassLive’s Brian Robb’s rundown for a more detailed road map to signing Beal that includes trading either Aaron Nesmith or Payton Pritchard.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Youth movement

There’s still a long way to go in free agency, but a lack of any major additions should signal to fans that the team is fully committed to the youth movement now. The likely starters will be Smart, Richardson, Brown, Tatum, and Horford backed up by Payton Pritchard, Kris Dunn, Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, and Robert Williams.

As The Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett, the Celtics could use a consistent bench scorer. They’ll need everybody to hit open shots behind the arc and defend their position. Timelord needs to 1) stay healthy and 2) prove he can be a starting center in this league.

Stevens has consistently said that he expects substantial internal growth from the roster and if the team remains more or less as is, sophomores and juniors will have every opportunity to improve and contribute immediately after a full offseason, Summer League, and training camp.

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