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Celtics had eyes on Jaden Springer since 2021 NBA Draft: ‘He’s a guy that we believe in’

Boston’s trade for Springer at the deadline was anything but a rash decision.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

On November 15, the Boston Celtics were at Wells Fargo Center for a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. With a Jayson Tatum fadeaway jumper to start the second quarter, the Celtics were on a 26-8 run, taking a 39-22 lead over the Sixers in what was looking like a potential blowout.

But then Jaden Springer happened.

The 21-year-old guard, who was fighting for playing time, nailed a three, stole the ball from Tatum, and threw down a dunk in transition. A 5-0 run generated solely by him. Springer played the entirety of the second quarter, and by halftime, the score was 58-57 in favor of Philadelphia.

When the Celtics traded for Springer at the trade deadline yesterday, most looked at his big-time showing against them in November as a potential reason why. But Brad Stevens said that game “wasn’t a huge factor.” Boston already had their eye on the three-year pro.

“We liked him in the draft a few years ago,” Stevens told reporters on Friday. “He was the youngest player in that draft. And again, he’s still a puppy. He’s still 21 years old. And so I would say that the preseason game here had more of an impact than that. So, we were already like, ‘Whoa, that looks like strides.’”

In Boston’s first preseason game, Springer put up 14 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block while shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 2-of-2 behind the three-point line. It was an impressive, well-rounded game, highlighted by a monster block on Jayson Tatum.

With CBA restrictions getting set to pile on this summer and Boston’s already-cramped cap configuration, adding talent to the roster's fringes will be continuously more crucial.

Taking chances on unwanted guys, hitting on two-way players, and finding diamonds in the rough have been staple practices for teams like the Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies, and the Celtics have begun to follow suit. Guys like Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet, and Neemias Queta have all stemmed from those strategies.

Not only is Springer a cost-controlled prospect, but he could help the Celtics in certain spots right away.

“That’s still on his rookie-scale contract,” said Stevens. “He’s younger than most of the guys that we’re looking at in the draft. So, that was just an opportunity for us to bring in a guy who we think is an athlete [who] can play athletically in the playoffs, right?

“But he also has a lot of growing to [do to] get better, and he’s committed to that. He’s got a long runway ahead of him. So, we’ll see how this year shakes itself out for him. See how it all fits with the team. But he’s a guy that we believe in.”

Portland Trail Blazers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Springer has one year left on his deal after this one - a team option worth roughly $4 million next season - which could be a useful trade chip (or an easy way to keep a rotation player around on an expensive team).

Philadelphia originally selected Springer with the 28th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. The Celtics didn’t have a first-rounder that year, as they traded theirs to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the deal that brought Al Horford back to Boston.

But just because the Celtics weren’t able to bring home a first-round talent doesn’t mean they didn’t do their due diligence. They still had guys they liked, and Springer was one of them.

“In the draft that Springer went in, I think we had the 45th pick,” Stevens recalled. “The next year, we had the 53rd pick. Again, this year, even with a late first-rounder or whatever that Dallas second becomes, we’re going to be talking about guys, in a lot of cases, that are older than the guy that we just traded for, [who’s] a third-year pro.”

Philadelphia 76ers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Boston nailed a buzzer-beater just ahead of the 3:00 p.m. cutoff, completing the Springer deal minutes before the window closed. In a subsequent move, they shipped Dalano Banton to the Portland Trail Blazers.

After adding Xavier Tillman in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies the previous day, the Celtics were calm, cool, and collected on Wednesday. They weren’t in a rush and didn’t feel like they needed to add anything. The Tillman addition covered their “biggest area of focus” - a depth big that can “play alongside Al and Kristaps, but also as a standalone big.”

So, rather than seeking out the 76ers for the trade, Stevens relied on past conversations and interest levels to lead the way.

“Jaden [is a guy] we had talked about several times for several months before that we would have an interest should they be desiring to move him,” Stevens said. “So, that kind of came across. We’ve had several, I’d say that that stuff, over the course of two weeks, gets brought up a couple of times, and then you’re just ready to make a decision on the trade deadline day.”

Boston’s past intel on Springer led them to a last-second move at the deadline. Now, they have a 6-foot-4 athletic guard who they feel comfortable letting play in certain spots. And at 21 years old, he’s someone the Celtics are excited to move forward with from a developmental standpoint.

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