On July 1, 2022, I was sitting in PJ’s Pub in Cranston, Rhode Island, and was perplexed as to why they didn’t have a chicken sandwich on their menu.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, because while I was there, I received a Twitter notification from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the Boston Celtics had agreed to a trade with the Indiana Pacers for Malcolm Brogdon. It was such a big deal that I still remember where I was and what I was doing when it happened.
About 15 months later, Brogdon is no longer a Celtic, and his exit was pretty ugly.
Long before they shipped Brogdon out in a deal for Jrue Holiday, the Celtics had just ripped off a run to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, they ultimately fell to the Golden State Warriors in disappointing fashion. At the time, many pointed to the lack of additional playmaking off of Boston’s bench as reasoning for the Cs’ failure on the big stage.
By landing Brogdon, the belief was that they’d filled the hole and had done so without giving up any key rotation pieces — besides legendary Celtic Daniel Theis, of course.
The former Rookie of the Year was coming off of an injury-riddled season with Indiana, where he had appeared in just 36 games. In those appearances, he averaged 19.1 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game on 44.8% shooting from the field.
He had the perfect skill set to fill Boston’s bench playmaking and scoring void and did just that — all while staying healthy for the Celtics.
Brogdon suited up in 67 regular season games for the Cs last year, which was his highest total since his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2016-17. He was able to fill the exact role that head coach Joe Mazzulla picked out for him and gave Boston the league’s best scoring punch off of the bench.
The 30-year-old averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per contest on his way to winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. Brogdon also had a career year in terms of shooting the ball. He shot the league’s fourth-best percentage from deep, knocking down 44.4% of his long-range attempts.
So, what happened? What went wrong? Why did his time with the Celtics seemingly end in such a bitter fashion?
Well, the playoffs didn’t go exactly the way that Boston and their fans had hoped. The Cs managed to claw their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, despite making things harder on themselves than they needed to be.
The Celtics’ second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers went seven games, even though it could’ve been a sweep if Boston could’ve closed games. It was in that Eastern Conference semifinal round that Brogdon began to feel “golfer’s elbow soreness,” according to The Athletic’s Jared Weiss.
Weiss added that the injury was aggravated further in the Celtics' Eastern Conference Finals opener against the Heat. Brogdon “partially tore” his right forearm while he was attempting to box out Miami forward Kevin Love and wasn’t the same for the remainder of the series.
The injury clearly had an effect on No. 13’s ability to shoot, something he’d been so dependable for throughout the season. He shot a combined 1-of-13 from the floor in Games 3-5, before sitting out of Game 6 in Miami.
Brogdon returned to the floor for Game 7 at TD Garden and it was probably the wrong choice. Boston didn’t exactly get off to a roaring start, but things really went poorly once their injured sixth man checked into the game.
In just seven minutes of play, Brogdon tallied a plus/minus of -15. He shot 0-3 from the field, missing a pair of threes in the process. His short, yet, largely detrimental stint turned out to be one of the major turning points in that game — second to Jayson Tatum rolling his ankle on the opening play.
Later that week, The Athletic detailed the intricacies of Boston’s rough playoff run. Included in the piece was Brogdon’s frustrations with the team’s offensive focus, which was spearheaded by Mazzulla.
“I think we have such a high-powered offense with two great superstars and we have such great role guys that no other team really has with so many of them,” Brogdon told The Athletic after losing Game 7. “I think we tended to focus on offense more than anything and making shots and relying on making shots rather than playing defense. And I thought we thought we could make enough shots at the end of the day that defense didn’t have to carry us like it did carry them last year.”
While there’s no concrete report that highlights any issue between Brogdon and Mazzulla, it doesn’t seem like they had the greatest relationship. Other players like Marcus Smart and Grant Williams, who each seemingly didn’t see eye-to-eye with Boston’s rookie head coach, wound up heading to new homes this offseason just like Brogdon.
A few weeks after the anecdotes of his frustration, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year’s time in Boston was reportedly over. On June 21, reports began to trickle out that Brogdon had been traded to the LA Clippers as part of a deal that would send Kristaps Porzingis to Boston.
Hours later, news broke that the trade had fallen through, due to the Clippers’ concern with Brogdon’s health.
The aftermath of the near trade was not pretty. A good chunk of the fanbase would’ve preferred to lose Brogdon rather than Smart, who was included in a last-minute deal for Porzingis. From that point on, it was tough to imagine that he’d get a fair shake in the eyes of the Celtic faithful because he remained instead of the “heart and soul” of the team.
Much like the fans, Brogdon wasn’t thrilled about the way that things went down either. It didn’t take long at all for rumors to swirl about his reaction to the incident. Brad Stevens attempted to put out some fires a few days later but wasn’t able to prevent a summer of rumors.
“Malcolm is really important,” Stevens told Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. “That was tough. He certainly doesn’t deserve that, and I feel for him. We’ve talked, obviously, since then. There are a lot of narratives out there because of that, that certainly are inaccurate.”
The tone was quite different a month later when Mazzulla was questioned on the organization’s relationship with Brogdon. There was mention of a “healing process” and “conversations as an organization.”
“The organization has had a few conversations [with Brogdon],” Mazzulla told reporters, per CLNS Media. “I think anytime that you’re in a situation like that and you’re in a relationship, you just have to take small steps into it. There’s a healing process, there’s a listening process, and there’s a process towards — this is where we’re at and this is where we have to get to. So, we’ve had some conversations as an organization, but at the same time we understand the situation that it was and as the healing process goes on, we’ll continue to move just forward as well as we can.”
Then, last month, the reports got even worse. The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn revealed that Brogdon was “angry” with the Celtics, during an appearance on CLNS Media’s Celtics Beat.
“Malcolm’s the one I’m concerned about too, because we’ve heard nothing, and he’s angry with the team,” Washburn told Adam Kaufman and Evan Valenti. “I don’t think communication between the two sides has been fruitful.”
There was question about whether Washburn’s report was, in fact, a report, or rather just speculation. However, as time passed and players began to return to the Auerbach Center ahead of training camp, Brogdon was never featured in any social posts by the team. That left many wondering if he was boycotting or was being excluded for another reason.
On the eve of Media Day, the big news broke that he and Robert Williams III had been dealt to the Blazers for Holiday.
During his time in Boston, Brogdon couldn’t have done much more. He chose to come to the Celtics over the Toronto Raptors, willingly came off of the bench, elevated his game to a new level, and won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Unfortunately for him, those things won’t be widely remembered. Instead, the fanbase will be left wondering what could have been had he not suffered the unfortunate forearm injury against the Heat and the subsequent conclusion of the ugly divorce between player and team.
Brogdon’s time with the Celtics is a prime example of how important timing can be in the NBA. Despite him being the best he could’ve been for 99% of his tenure, he’ll be remembered for the 1% when he was injured and unable to contribute when the stakes were highest. It’s why many fans were fine with the idea of him being moved throughout the offseason.
The bitter end goes to show that even the most professional pros can get caught up in emotions at times. Someone whom Tatum described as a “true professional” was just as upset as anyone else would be when he heard that he was supposed to be traded. Add in the fact that it was Smart who was traded instead and you’ve got yourself a broken relationship born out of unfortunate circumstance. Had he stayed, there always would’ve been that “it should’ve been you” vibe coming from many of the Smart loyalists.
To raise the vibes, here are some of his best moments in a Celtics uniform (shoutout, Timi):