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.

NBA 2019 Playoff Predictions: Who Finally Takes Down Golden State?

I know, it’s a little late.  But before we know the surefire winner of each series, I figured I’d share my NBA Playoff bracket.  Believe it or not, I don’t think Golden State’s championship-winning streak will stay alive.  But who could possibly beat the Warriors?  See my prediction below:

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I have the Celtics taking down the Warriors in a 7-game series.  But how will they get there?

I think Boston should easily take down the Pacers.  With Victor Oladipo out of the picture, I cannot see Indiana doing much in these playoffs.  Kyrie Irving ruined the Celtics’ chemistry during the regular season, but I don’t think this will be as apparent in the playoffs, where the whole team will be motivated and willing to do whatever it takes to win it all.

The Pistons may have Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond to lead them, but that won’t be enough to pull off a series upset over Giannis Antetokounmpo and a powerful Milwaukee Bucks team.  However, the Celtics have multiple star players on their roster who will outplay Greek Freak’s teammates and help Boston win in the Eastern Conference semifinals.  I can’t see anyone getting in Toronto’s way until they face the Celtics.  The Raptors are by far the strongest team in their quadrant of the bracket, led offensively by Kyle Lowry and defensively by Kawhi Leonard.

But I do see Boston riding the momentum and overcoming adversity as they take down Toronto.  Their roster is stacked, so if the Celtics are on the same page motivation-wise and get off to a strong start (as I see them doing against Indiana), they could be a threat to Golden State.

The Warriors should not have a hard time with Western Conference opponents though.  Besides Boston, the Warriors are the only team I have sweeping their first round opponent.  The Rockets won’t be as easy an opponent as the Clippers, but a healthy Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will outplay James Harden and Chris Paul.  I could see the Thunder, KD’s old team, making a run as well.  Portland is known for playoff choking, and Denver’s lack of experience could come back to haunt them.  I think they should be able to handle the San Antonio Spurs, but the Thunder might be a bit much for an inexperienced team like the Nuggets.

Golden State, however, will end Oklahoma City’s run.  With Marcus Smart back and the team united by a common goal, the Celtics should have a chance at Golden State and I’m staying optimistic with this bracket.  I’m sick of Golden State winning, and it would make it even better if the Celtics could be the team to finally beat them.  As long as Kyrie Irving’s selfish ways don’t come back to haunt them, the Celtics should have a chance.

That’s all for my playoff predictions this year.  Stay tuned for more Celtics playoff coverage soon.