I always liked and appreciated Brad Stevens the coach. His teams generally played hard and overachieved relative to their talent. I had no idea that Stevens was going to be even better as a GM.
That’s not saying that this NBA trade deadline was such a homerun win that we have to make sweeping judgements about him. If anything, this was just another example of Stevens being a solid singles and doubles hitter that consistently moves runners along.
I suppose it boils down to expectations. As a coach, Stevens was taking a team built around a diminutive point guard and a bunch of try-hard role players to the Eastern Conference Finals. As a GM, he just keeps getting guys that nobody thought he had any business getting with the assets that he had available. The best example continues to be Derrick White, who I am convinced will wind up being a critical part of at least one Finals win on the way to a title.
I didn’t have any expectations for this trade deadline. I figured we’d see this year’s version of Mike Muscala added to the team and we’d be done. Xavier Tillman might not be a starting level player, but he’s just a better player than I had hoped for from this deadline.
Everything I’ve read and heard about him makes me smile. He’s a defensive-minded, high-energy big man (despite being listed at just 6’7”) who has a great attitude and won’t back down to anyone. He’s more likely to get his points off of loose balls than spot up 3’s, but the Celtics have plenty of guys that can shoot. Adding a big to the lower end of the rotation who can give Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford a little extra rest is a great place to start. The team has his Bird Rights, too. If he performs well, they can keep him around despite the 2nd apron restrictions.
Jaden Springer was a nice pickup as well, though I think he’s more of a flyer on a young player than an actual upgrade for this season. I’m not sure how much he’ll play, especially in the playoffs. With that said, he does have the defensive chops to stay in front of shifty guards, and that might come in handy at a critical time. Say the Celtics are facing the Knicks or Cavaliers and we’re getting roasted by Jalen Brunson or Donovan Mitchell. As great as Holiday and White are, they are going to need a breather from time to time. Maybe instead of tapping Payton Pritchard, Mazzulla could send in Springer to at least play pestering 90 feet of pressure.
In the offseason, the Celtics took flyers on Lamar Stevens and Danalo Banton. Neither one really made much of an impact. That could very well be the case for Springer as well. But it is at least worth taking a shot on him. I appreciate the fact that the Celtics were not shy about using some of their cache of 2nd round picks as well.
Around the NBA, it seems like the Knicks got better and the Sixers might have improved (pending Joel Embiid’s playoff status). But beyond that, I didn’t really see too many of our rivals improve drastically. Old friend Grant Williams already has a new home in Charlotte. The Raptors are doing things (though I’m not exactly sure what). And the Lakers and Warriors largely sat this one out, which is at least mildly amusing.
Of course, for all the hoopla we make of the trade deadline, I’m not sure how much it really matters. Great teams win in the playoffs largely behind the guys that they had long before the deadline, which is exactly what I hope happens for the Celtics. But having a guy like Tillman around to take on some defensive assignments and keep our bigs fresh for the playoffs couldn’t hurt.
So, bravo, Brad Stevens. Keep spraying that ball all over the outfield.