Quick Takes #3: The Celtics are off to a strong start this offseason, and here’s why

Happy summer everyone! I’ve been pretty busy with school over the last couple of months, which explains the lack of content recently. However, with summer here, there’s plenty to look forward to on this website starting today.

The NBA playoffs are beginning to wind down as the conference finals are set. Meanwhile most teams, including the Celtics, have moved onto next season. The Celtics have already been busy, as Danny Ainge stepped down making way for former head coach Brad Stevens to take his job. Stevens has began searching for Boston’s new head coach and in the meantime he has made his first trade: dealing Kemba Walker, a 1st round pick, and a 2025 2nd round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford (who returns to the team after leaving in 2019), Moses Brown, and a 2023 2nd round pick.

Initially, I was very confused by these moves. Back in February I wrote about why the Celtics should hold onto Kemba Walker. It turns out that it was too early to judge at that point, when Walker had only played 6 games on the season. It has since become clear that Walker is not the player he used to be, as his knee injury continues to linger. Besides, he didn’t even want to be in Boston anymore. What made me skeptical of the move at first is that I felt like the Celtics settled for an underwhelming return package just to get Walker out of Boston as quickly as possible. Horford and another big man don’t seem like much in exchange for Walker and a draft pick downgrade. However, if you look beyond the surface, this is a good trade for the Celtics.

First of all, it’s important to remember the fact that Walker is no longer a superstar player. It would have taken a package deal with Marcus Smart and possibly others to get a superstar player back in a Kemba Walker deal. With Walker gone, the Celtics have flexibility. They can move Smart or Payton Pritchard into the starting point guard role and fill other positions, or they can go looking for a new point guard in free agency. While Walker isn’t a superstar player anymore, he was on a “supermax” contract. With his contract off of the Celtics payroll, the team has money to make significant moves in free agency. I think they should use the money they have to look for a true third option behind the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Notable free agents this offseason include veterans like Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry.

It does suck to give up a 1st round pick, but it’s rare that a player drafted 16th overall ends up contributing much in the short term, and the Celtics have had a lot of failed first round picks in the years since they drafted Tatum and Brown. Pritchard and Robert Williams have been our best first rounders since then, and neither of them are even regular starters just yet. With the right moves, this is a team that can win now. They invested in the long term when they drafted Tatum and Brown. Now it’s time to invest in the short term. Horford may not be what he used to be, but the additions of Horford and Moses Brown make an immediate difference for our power forward/center depth.

As for the Brad Stevens move, some people have criticized it, and I was a bit shocked at first, but I like it. Stevens was a good head coach, but the players didn’t seem to listen to him anymore. This role allows Stevens to use the basketball knowledge he has without having to interact directly with the players as much. In addition, I think Stevens’ first trade in this role is a sign that he is willing to be aggressive this offseason. Danny Ainge used to be aggressive as well, but has gotten complacent in recent years. Once the Celtics had the firepower to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals, he settled for what the team already had. This year was a wake up call that as time passed, the Celtics needed to make some changes not only to win a championship, but even to win a playoff series. Stevens is willing to execute those changes. It seems he is also prioritizing a head coach that will get along well with the players, and that’s just what this team needs. The players need to have a good connection with the staff, or Boston will become an undesirable system to be a part of. We’ve already seen Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker grow to resent this system. That cannot happen with Tatum, Brown, or any new key players the team signs.

Comment with your thoughts on the Celtics offseason so far, and who you think they should target in free agency.

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