With Kyrie Irving opting in for the final year of his contract with the Nets to the tune of $37 million, it seems the demise of the Brooklyn Nets is postponed indefinitely, along with any potential Kevin Durant trade scenarios fans have been cooking up. The buzz and hum around the Nets’ precarious situation had many fanbases clamoring for a chance to scoop the Slim Reaper, including Celtics fans. As enticing as the idea of Durant in green was, that ship has long since left the harbor.
Similar to the murmurs of Bradley Beal leaving the Wizards to join up with longtime friend Jayson Tatum, it all feels like a situation of “right place, wrong time.” Boston is fresh off their first NBA Finals appearance since the Big Three era, and they did so against all odds with the roster currently assembled. It wasn’t instantaneous, but this Celtics team proved that they were capable of going the distance.
Fueled by the trade deadline acquisition of Derrick White and the return of Daniel Theis, the Celtics managed to survive a gruesome gambit of teams on the way to a matchup with the Warriors. While the team fell short in the end, it wasn’t for lack of effort; fatigue, depth, and a stark difference in experience is what separated Boston and Golden State.
Marcus Smart responds to the talks about the Celtics needing a "star point guard" pic.twitter.com/fXj7WgdHIT— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 29, 2022
Despite those factors, Boston was two games away from Banner 18, and they seemed *this close* to being champions once more. If a few plays here and there roll Boston’s way, we might be talking about champagne shenanigans and parade routes. So, why would anyone want to make massive sweeping changes to the roster?
The appeal of a big name like Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal is understandable, but not at the cost of rocking the boat and dismantling what has been organically built in Boston. Any stars you are pursuing should complement Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and due to the team’s current financial inflexibility, a path to acquiring another cornerstone via free agency this offseason is borderline impossible. Players aren’t going to turn down upwards of $30 million to sign for the mid-level exception; If it wasn’t obvious before the Irving situation, it certainly is now.
The most popular question I get right now is: "Who can the Celtics get with the TPE?"— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) June 27, 2022
For @celticsblog I gave you all the names worth taking a look at. 25 players + a bonus player who fit inside Boston's NBA-largest $17.1M TPE:https://t.co/yiAE41QWpO
Nothing in this league is guaranteed, and this certainly doesn’t mean the Celtics can stand pat and idly watch as their opponents reshape their rosters. Teams like the Knicks and Hawks regret not making improvements following their playoff appearances in 2021, and both teams were disappointing this past season in comparison. Now, Atlanta and New York are making wholesale changes to their roster in order to get back on track, with the Knicks clearing cap space by any means necessary to sign Jalen Brunson to a massive contract and the Hawks throwing FOUR first round picks to the Spurs for Dejounte Murray.
Other contenders besides the Nets have their own hurdles to deal with, like Philadelphia and Miami. After an underwhelming playoff performance, the 76ers will need to pay James Harden with a $233 million extension potentially in the offing. On top of that, they have to keep Joel Embiid happy and build a competitive roster around the star big man, which most likely means keeping Harden for an exorbitant amount of money.
The Heat have nearly $66 million locked up in 36-year-old Kyle Lowry and 33-year-old Jimmy Butler, and that number jumps to $74.8 Million next offseason. Duncan Robinson’s contract is eating up $16.9 Million in cap space following a down year, and with a Tyler Herro max contract extension looming, Miami will have to get creative in finding ways to create cap space while also fleshing out the rest of their roster. There is a cost to take big swings on stars, and the two situations are a reminder of how patience and timing is key when building out a roster.
It’s not a stretch to say the Celtics are in a much better position than last offseason, with their new coach firmly established and no glaring concerns about the starting five. Add on the fact that Boston has multiple trade exceptions at their disposal as well as some movable salary, and the path to improving the team’s depth becomes a lot easier. Brad Stevens has also made clear that ownership has given him the green light (no pun intended) to spend this offseason, so it’s expected that the team will be taxpayers following the offseason.
Brad Stevens says Celtics ownership has given him and the front office the green light to do whatever they need to do to win moving forward.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) June 21, 2022
The best thing that the Celtics can do as an organization is retool, bolster their bench scoring depth, find a suitable rim runner to be their third center, and run it back with their core intact. After the miraculous turnaround that the team pulled halfway through their season, this Celtics core has earned the respect and trust of ownership to bring this group back to see what they can do in Year 2 under Ime Udoka.
There’s a lot of movement this offseason as teams shuffle the deck, and the Celtics are well-positioned to take advantage of the situation. Free agency negotiations kick off on Thursday at 6 pm ET, and it can be said with certainty that things will get rolling pretty quickly. It’s time to show some faith, trust that the team knows what’s best, and let Brad Stevens cook.