It is no secret that starting this season without Robert Williams III has hurt the Boston Celtics in more ways than one. Sure, the Celtics have survived his absence on the offensive end. As of Tuesday, they still have the best offensive rating (118.1) in NBA history through 29 games. But Williams — who has yet to play this season due to a knee injury but is reportedly cleared to play whenever he feels ready to do so — is no offensive slouch; perhaps he’d offer offensive rebounding, therefore more chances to score. It’s on defense that they’ve been most impacted. While Boston’s defense is tied for ninth-best in the league this season, it was the NBA’s best defense last season, with a stout 106.2 defensive rating.
Despite missing Williams and spending the beginning of their 2022-23 campaign without a consistent, reliable starting center, the Celtics don’t seem to be in the market for the most talked about center on the trade market, San Antonio big man Jakob Poeltl. According to Yahoo’s Jake Fischer, the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls look to be buyers at the deadline and are particularly interested in Poeltl, while “the league-best Celtics don’t appear very active in the early trade chatter around the league” despite having been linked to Poeltl in the past.
Fischer goes on to note that Poeltl’s “future could very well remain in San Antonio. Re-signing appears to be an option he will strongly consider if the deadline passes and Poeltl hasn’t changed teams.” He writes that league executives anticipate Poeltl’s next contract to fall between $15 and $25 million per year, and the Spurs may not be capable of affording the top end of that price range. The Celtics, quite possibly, could be balking at the idea of adding a potentially expensive-yet-limited big to their ranks, especially given the extension they signed Williams to in August of 2021.
Or perhaps they’re just comfortable playing the likes of Luke Kornet and Blake Griffin as dual center options while waiting on Williams’ ever-approaching return. Neither Kornet nor Griffin has been particularly impressive on either end overall this season, but both have upside as a backup. With Al Horford on the sidelines, they’ve both been tasked with more responsibility (not to mention minutes) lately. Griffin, in particular, has answered the call.
The most recent recipient of the high honor of CelticsBlog Player of the Week has played in each of the team's last five games — his longest stretch of consistent time this year — and during that time, he’s averaging 9.2 points on 51.6 percent shooting, seven rebounds, and 23.6 minutes per game.
It could all boil down to trust in Williams and his health moving forward. To trade for an expiring big like Poeltl would be one thing, but for him to perform well and for the Celtics to later commit to him could be a bad look, given the team’s long-term commitment to Williams. There’s also Horford’s two-year extension and the impending restricted free agency of Grant Williams to consider. Would Poeltl simply be a rental for this season or would re-signing him this summer be a priority?
Of course, though, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. After all, the Celtics were linked to Poeltl more so when he was their idea of a preeminent backup. He’s spent this season further proving that he is anything but a starting big, one who could easily contribute to a contender at the drop of a hat. His 12.9 points on 64 percent shooting and 9.9 rebounds per game this season don’t warrant bench minutes; Boston’s lack of involvement in trade talks with San Antonio might just be about the best fit for Poeltl, nothing more.
Either way, it appears that the Celtics are standing pat. And with the NBA’s best record, plus one of last season’s Defensive Player of the Year contenders nearing his return to action, who can blame them?