Brad Stevens officially kicked off his tenure as President of Basketball Operations with the Boston Celtics last week by trading away Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder. While it was expected for the Celtics to try to get rid of Walker at some point this offseason, nobody expected it to happen this soon. While it is a shame that Walker’s time in Boston didn’t pan out the way it was expected to, this was a necessary move that the Celtics needed to make to get their team back to championship contender status.
Just two seasons after signing it, Walker’s max contract had become such a burden on the Celtics financial situation that he essentially played his way out of Boston. Bringing in two guys in Al Horford and Moses Brown will save Boston nearly $40 million in cap space over the next two seasons that can be used to revamp a roster that is in dire need of upgrades. In fact, adding Horford and Brown already filled one of the areas of need Boston had heading into the offseason.
After moving Daniel Theis at this trade deadline, the Celtics big man rotation essentially consisted of Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams, the latter of whom was injured for a good chunk of the second half of the season. Even when he was healthy, the Celtics simply didn’t have anyone available to jump into the rotation with them. Grant Williams was too small for most matchups, Luke Kornet was miserable on the offensive side of the court, and Tacko Fall just isn’t quick enough defensively to justify giving him extended minutes.
After acquiring Horford and Brown, the Celtics suddenly have a logjam at their big man rotation, which likely hints to another move being made shortly. Rob Williams won’t be moved based on what he showed when he was healthy this season, and it would be surprising to see Horford and Brown flipped again so shortly after being acquired. Otherwise, just about everyone is a candidate to be flipped, with the most likely being Thompson at this point in time.
Thompson was solid if unspectacular during his first, and potentially only season, in Boston. Pretty much all of his per games averages were down from his previous season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, partially as a result of his minutes going down too. But even when he was out on the floor, it always felt like Thompson was worse than advertised. His offense was pretty much limited to hook shots from the paint, and he was not much of an upgrade over Daniel Theis on the defensive end.
With new faces joining the rotation, it makes a guy like Thompson expendable. Thompson is due to earn $9.7 million this upcoming season, which isn’t worth paying based on what we saw from his this season. A guy like Brown can come in and provide more upside at a fraction of the cost, which makes it seem increasingly likely Thompson could be the next guy out the door for Boston.
Thompson’s departure seems imminent at this point, but another guy who could be sent packing sooner rather than later is Marcus Smart. Smart is due to make nearly $13 million this upcoming season, and he certainly didn’t play up to what he was being paid last season. After a recent report from The Athletic’s Jared Weiss uncovered some concern that Smart was receiving preferential treatment from coaches, there’s a good chance Boston will be looking to turn over a new leaf with a new coach coming in. That could mean Smart, who is the longest tenured player on this team, may have played his last game for the C’s.
Regardless of where Boston goes from here, their potential options are a lot more open than what they were this time last week. Walker had handicapped the Celtics both on and off the court for most of the season, and the Celtics can finally focus on building their team around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown rather than looking to add a star to aid their development. Tatum and Brown are stars now, and while some may suggest moving on from them, Stevens knows better than trade either of the two stars on the Celtics roster.
Armed with more cap space, Stevens can focus on the free agent market to bring in some veterans to take the pressure off of Tatum and Brown. Bringing back Evan Fournier is probably more reasonable now than it seemed a couple of days ago, and giving him a full season in Celtics green may be the best possible option for both sides. With Walker gone, the Celtics now have a gaping hole to fill at their point guard position, and could use free agency to address that. Guys like Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, and Dennis Schroder are all set to hit the market, and could be guys Stevens looks to bring in to help initiate the offense.
There are tons of ways this could go now, and it’s almost certainly just the beginning of what should be a hectic offseason for the Boston Celtics. Moving on from Kemba Walker is a tough pill to swallow, but was necessary for the C’s to get themselves back on track, and maximize their championship window with Tatum and Brown. Now that he’s out of the way, the fate of the franchise now rests in Brad Stevens and co. to pick the right path to lead the Celtics back to title contention. No pressure.