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Brad Stevens stressing character while approaching Celtics deadline

Stevens acknowledged — again — the fine line between adding talent to the Celtics given that it could add to or take away from the group.

Boston Celtics All Access Practice Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

BOSTON — Brad Stevens previewed potential trade deadline inactivity from the Celtics in his first mid-season media appearance of the season at Auerbach Center on Thursday. Beyond Boston’s hot start to the season, relatively strong health and top-end talent already arriving in the offseason, Stevens noted the Celtics’ limited avenues to alter the roster without offering top-end rotation players and that an impactful player at a position of need could emerge from within.

He also further narrowed the number of potential players available to Boston by introducing a character clause that’s become central to his tenure as Celtics president. Stevens praised the tone Joe Mazzulla set by emphasizing that Boston’s players complement each other, the players buying into that message and a positive chemistry forming between the members of the room. While he didn’t rule out activity or circumstances changing when he spoke on Thursday, Stevens stressed the fine line between adding talent and taking away from a team dynamic.

“When you add players to your team, they can add to your team or take away from your team,” Stevens said. “You’ve just got to be careful. That’s something to think about when you have as many guys that are complementing each other as well as ours. But we may go on a 10-game skid and then we’re having a different story. I hope not.”

Understandable skepticism emerged when Stevens ascended from head coach to president in 2021 given his lack of experience. All along, prior to his string of savvy moves that boosted the team to the top of the league, skeptics acknowledged that Stevens’ organizational knowledge and understanding of the team’s internal challenges could allow him to make necessary changes. Gordon Hayward said in a podcast appearance that too many individual agendas sunk the Celtics’ last great roster in 2019 — one Boston responded to by pursuing positive personalities like star guard Kemba Walker and Grant Williams alongside other role players in the draft.

Too many of those additions, Enes Freedom, Carsen Edwards and Tacko Fallo among others, couldn’t contribute consistently before veteran signings Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague flopped the following year. Hence balancing addition of good guys with talented ones. Danny Ainge retired following that season and Stevens took over his role — making his first move returning long-time Celtics veteran Al Horford. Joe Mazzulla has stressed the on-court character of Boston’s team since ascending to head coach himself, whether Jayson Tatum’s willingness to do the little things or the selflessness of the role players.

“One of the strengths of our team is guys like Derrick White, guys like Jrue Holiday, they just are so comfortable in who they are,” Stevens said Thursday. “They don’t always use a ton of possessions but the ones they use are unbelievable, everyday they’re positive, everyday they lift the group. When you start talking about finding guys that complement all of our best players, it’s a small group. We just got to keep on the lookout for them.”

It’s a foregone conclusion that Boston’s top-six rotation will remain beyond the deadline, and both Mazzulla, Stevens and the team’s front office have remained high on Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet as the team’s core bench rotation. Stevens, although ever close to the vest in what he’ll eventually do, affirmed confidence in Kornet and Neemias Queta as the team’s depth bigs. He made the team’s desire to upgrade at the wing position known though, and while he subtly pointed toward Oshae Brissett emerging as an internal option there, he affirmed the Celtics have financial permission to utilize their $6.2-million trade exception.

A small number wings fall below that salary number, including Kenrich Williams, Dean Wade, Jalen McDaniels, Simone Fontecchio, Torrey Craig and John Konchar, among others. Some, like Jarred Vanderbilt, can’t move in trades before the deadline for contractual reasons. Others, many on their rookie deals, won’t become available or will command too high of a price. Stevens further narrowed that field by demanding a team-oriented addition who will accept a role where they don’t play on any given night.

Like Mike Muscala last year, a hypothetical addition by Boston will join the Stay Ready crew of reserves who often receive DNP-CD designation. That’s no easy acceptance, but that group helped drive short-handed wins that currently represent the difference between Boston and rival Milwaukee in the standings.

“We got really good players,” Stevens said. “I think what we’re looking for and what’s most likely, especially with where we are from a tools standpoint, there’s really not a ton we can do, big, without touching our main guys. What you look at are, guys that can play, guys that can add value, but, like I said last year, don’t need to play and are over themselves. That’s important. That’s what we have now.”

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