Early Sunday afternoon, as I destroyed a strawberry banana smoothie while out to brunch with some friends, I checked my phone and saw a text from my mom.
She used the eye emoji perfectly, and simply said: “Twitter.” I opened the app (alright, alright...X, not Twitter) and started scrolling, and it didn’t take long to figure out what she meant.
Whoa. It actually happened. Eye emoji, indeed. The Celtics really did acquire Jrue Holiday. They really did give up Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams and picks. Brad Stevens really decided to go all in this season.
"We're trying to win a championship."— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) October 2, 2023
Brad Stevens talks about paying "a real price" for Jrue Holiday pic.twitter.com/9jTi3YXIuI
I politely excused myself from the very pleasant but not-at-all-basketball-related conversation and “went to the bathroom.” My mind started racing. When Damian Lillard was traded, and the Holiday to the Celtics rumors started swirling, my initial take was essentially, “Do it if you can, but don’t include Rob.”
When I first saw the Woj and Shams tweet, I didn’t notice the part about Rob. Then I saw it, and it didn’t sit right. My mom texted me: “Crazy!!! Dad and I are not happy!” Then a few minutes later, she said: “I don’t know enough about Holiday to really weigh in, but I just really, really like watching Williams and Brogdon play.”
Well, Mom, you’re not alone, but I’m here to tell you that everything will be OK. You’re going to like Holiday; I guarantee it.
On my drive home, the more I thought about it, I realized a simple and overarching truth: The Celtics are absolutely better today than they were yesterday.
Holiday is factually one of the best defenders in the NBA, factually one of the best teammates in the NBA and factually has the one thing every Celtic is desperately pursuing: a ring.
“He plays with a certain force that you can just feel,” Jaylen Brown said Monday at Media Day. “He’s super solid. As a competitor, he’s an assassin. To be playing alongside him it’s going to be a tremendous honor.”
I can’t remember an offseason for any Boston team that’s been simultaneously more draining and exhilarating. Marcus. Grant. Rob. On other sites, they need last names. On this one, they’re family.
This team will look different, but I genuinely believe its ceiling is higher than it was last year. The Celtics’ top six is absolutely, preposterously, loaded. The fact that Stevens assembled a star-studded core of Jayson Tatum, Brown, Kristaps Porzingis and Holiday, with either Derrick White or Al Horford coming off the bench, is laugh-out-loud impressive.
This quote from Stevens says it all: “There’s a list of guys in the league that you always think you’d never have a real chance to get but you think are perfect fits.”
Brad Stevens on Jrue Holiday: “There’s a list of guys in the league that you always think you’d never have a real chance to get but you think are perfect fits.”— Jay King (@ByJayKing) October 2, 2023
Stevens saw what the Bucks did, smirked and swiftly spat in their face: ‘You got Lillard? Well, I’ve got someone to guard him. And guess what? You might know him.’
Holiday beat Stevens to the gym Monday morning.
Something tells me they’ll get along quite well. You could describe Holiday in many ways, but to me, the one that stands out is “dependable.” The Marcus Smart loss will always sting, but this move makes that loss more digestible.
Holiday is a guy who brings Smart-like focus and defensive intensity. He carries himself like Al Horford on and off the court and is widely respected as a veteran leader. He can play point guard or shooting guard, is an excellent passer and playmaker and can create his own shot. When Tatum and Brown need a lift, he’ll provide it. When they’re cooking, he’ll get them the rock.
You don’t just coincidentally win Teammate of the Year three out of four seasons. That’s a heck of an accomplishment and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“Somebody that I respect so much and looked at from afar with admiration,” Horford said. “Just the type of player that he is. The type of person that he is. He’s about the right things – winning and competing. I’m really excited about that.”
When Horford admires you from afar, you’re doing something right.
The emotional side of a largely retooled roster will take some getting used to, without question. Casual Celtics fans will need flashcards for the first few weeks.
“Is that the rookie? He’s pretty good.”
“How do you spell it? OK, I’ll just call him Svi.”
“He’s 6-foot-7 and a point guard?”
“Maybe unicorns are real, after all.”
“Can we actually call him ‘The Jrueth?’”
It’ll take time to adjust without some familiar faces, but time heals all wounds (OK, maybe not the 2010 Finals, but you get the idea).
Yes, the Celtics could use another big (don’t sleep on Wenyen Gabriel, though). Yes, the roster is very top-heavy. Yes, they’re banking on Porzingis staying healthy.
But Joe Mazzulla loves playing the six guys he can trust the most in the playoffs. That’s really all you need in the end. With a Holiday-White-Brown-Tatum-Porzingis-Horford top six, this is the best team in the NBA.
Williams and Brogdon will certainly be missed, but this was, without question, the right decision.
I’m officially all in on the trade. The Celtics got better. That’s all you can ask for. Tatum sums up the Holiday experience succinctly.
“He’s as respected as anybody in this league.”