After an active few days before the start of free agency in which multiple trades were made, the Boston Celtics have sat quietly amidst a league-wide spending spree. They brought back Enes Kanter but also let two members of last year’s team, Evan Fournier and Semi Ojeleye, sign elsewhere.
According to CelticsBlog’s own Keith Smith, that inaction isn’t by accident. The Celtics have their eyes set on the summer of 2022, which requires them to keep their cap space as empty as possible, which means not making moves that would compromise the goal of being players in next year’s free agency.
Per a source: The Boston Celtics are focused on keeping their cap sheet as clean as possible for 2022 free agency. Source said they are not out on Evan Fournier, but Boston and Fournier aren't close on a deal.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) August 2, 2021
Looking at Boston’s cap sheet as well as potential 2022 free agents, it’s not hard to see the writing on the wall. Fast forward one year where the salaries of Marcus Smart ($14 million), Al Horford (only $14.5 out of his $26.5 million is guaranteed in 2022-23), and Josh Richardson ($11.6 million) come off the books. Boston could have the flexibility to build its team in many different ways.
Perhaps the most enticing scenario involves pairing Bradley Beal with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to form the league’s newest Big Three. The Washington guard has been linked to Beantown because of his strong friendship with Tatum that goes back to their shared childhood in St. Louis.
There’s no telling how high a trio of Beal, Tatum, and Brown would elevate the Celtics, but the NBA remains a star-driven league. Given the surplus of talent on teams in Brooklyn and Los Angeles and the defending champions in Milwaukee, a trio of top-shelf talent might be a prerequisite for legitimate contention.
If those are the circumstances Boston must consider, why hit for minimally impactful singles and doubles now when you can swing for the fences in a year? The answer lies in the potential differentiating mindsets between player and organization.
Neither Tatum nor Brown is more than 24 years of age, yet both are pretty darn good at the moment, mid to high 20-point-per-game scorers and All-Stars who will only get better in the years to come.
With ample postseason experience since entering the NBA, there’s no reason why these two can’t be the pillars behind a championship run sooner rather than later. Or at least why they shouldn’t believe that to be the case. They’re that good this early into their respective careers. Why should they be interested in waiting a year for reinforcements?
Of course, there’s something to be said for exuding a level of patience to ensure the proper team is constructed. It’s like the marshmallow test. You can have one marshmallow now (quality rotation additions at best) or wait 15 minutes (a year) and have two (a superstar).
But going that route assumes Beal is a lock to come to Boston, which he isn’t. Even amid the chaos of Washington’s ineptitude in recent years, Beal has remained committed to the nation’s capital. The Wizards have also replaced Russell Westbrook with Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell. And even if he does choose to leave the only franchise he’s ever known, the Celtics won’t be the only ones vying for his services.
Once you look past Beal, the market for stars Boston could and would realistically target shrinks considerably. Brooklyn’s Big Three is immediately off the table. Julius Randle recently extended with New York. Zach LaVine could do the same with the Bulls before the season begins.
Sign Beal and the Celtics have to be added to the shortlist of contenders on sheer star power alone, even if they still have some rough edges to smooth out.
Strikeout on Beal, however, and you risk frustrating your stars, who are now a year older (and thus a year closer to free agency) yet still face the challenge of being on a playoff team that doesn’t stack up to the top of the league, exactly as they are right now.
And that kind of mismanagement from the higher-ups is the type of blunder we could look back on as the turning point should Tatum and Brown begin to think about continuing their NBA careers outside of Boston.